By Mark Baird, Global Creative Director, AVB, Inc.
First of all, your brand already has a voice. Is, however, it the right voice? Is your voice so quiet it’s barely heard, or “falls on deaf ears?” Does it accurately represent your brand, who you are and what you do? And, most importantly Is it who you are today? So, by voice, I don’t mean an announcer, jingles, sound effects or taglines. I mean the tone, style and personality of your communications and online and offline content. Brand voice is the purposeful, consistent expression of a brand for all communication and marketing.
Here are six tips to help you create or re-align your brand voice:
Define. First, choose three words that capture the personality of the voice you want for your brand. Then limit those words with three more words. Here’s an example:
- Bold, but not arrogant
- Irreverent, but not offensive
- Loud, but not obnoxious
Differentiate. Don’t be like your competitors. When you sound like everyone else, you’re saying you are like everyone else, so don’t worry about buying from us because we’re no different from or better than the next guy.
Listen. Understand your customers and their needs. Communicate that understanding and present solutions that build affinity and preference for your brand. You want the consumer biased in your favor. Also, keep in mind that different customer segments have needs appropriate to their age, life stage, economics, values, etc.
Inspire. Your brand voice should be inspiring. Be bold. Speak directly to your audience. Have a constant dialogue. Use action verbs and short phrases. Less is more in the digital age. Make every word and image count.
Engage. Every brand needs to engage an audience. The best way to do that is to stop trying so hard. Allow the brand voice to relax, kick off its shoes and just be real. Let your brand voice be you. Chances are your business has been around for decades and was started by your father or even grandfather, or father-in-law, etc. That heritage is important to recognize and honor but build on it for the “now.”
Evolve. Brand voice is not fixed. It is fluid in order to keep pace with your customers, products, services and technology, working across the new communication channels aka digital, and communicating in fresh new ways that are appropriate to the delivery mechanism.
My strategy for developing the right tone of voice to use with your brand on a particular digital platform is based upon defining two key factors:
- Who are you?
First, consider the relationship between the customer and your brand. What exactly is it that the “brand” provides for the customer, and which human role can that be equated to? This strategy can help a brand’s digital voice come across as natural to the customer. Customers still care about that.
- The importance of the online platform
Your crucial second consideration: Why is the consumer visiting the platform?
Are they there to pass the time, to socialize, to find information, to engage in self-promotion, to do something else or to achieve a combination of any of the above?
If you can nail down the most common reasons why the majority of your audience are visiting your target platform, you can significantly enhance your message’s appeal and relevance to them. That’s not to say that good advertising can’t work its special magic irrespective of the context in which it appears – but as an almost universal rule is, tailored content performs best.
Putting the theory into practice
I’ve put forward a lot of theory, but in practice, the key points are easily actionable in a step by step, cadenced manner.
To establish what your brand does for the customer, think about your products and services on their most basic level. Link them to real life processes and challenges. Strip your brand of all its nuances and clichés. Boil it down to its very essence. Define its core proposition, then link that essential service to a human persona and create content with that persona in mind. Doing so is an effective means of making your content and digital ads appropriate to the customer. This tactic can be applied to all B2C communications online or offline, but let’s focus on configuring your voice for digital.
The reasons why a person would visit a digital platform will inevitably vary between demographic/socio-economic groups – sometimes significantly so.
In the interest of correctly understanding what motivates your customers to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn or any other platform, invest the time to understand them.
As a guideline, here are some generalizations about why your customers are using a particular platform, and these primary motivations can be regarded as a reasonably accurate rule of thumb:
- Facebook – entertainment, networking, communicating with friends, planning activities, spying on your kids and grandkids (kidding . . . not really )
- Twitter – entertainment, networking, talking with friends
- Email – professional and personal
- LinkedIn – networking, professional research
- Instagram – inspiration, expression, networking, efficiency
- Snapchat – entertainment, communicating with friends
- Business website – Specific research, shopping
- Search engines like Google – research, shopping, reviews, recommendations
- All of the above – new information
These definitions shouldn’t have a total and absolute effect on your digital persona. Instead, they should subtly influence the voice you adopt and the content you deliver for each.
Let’s assume you’ve gone through the steps outlined and the foundation of your brand’s voice is now in place, and you’re ready to write and create. As you build your ads, posts, videos, web pages and content of all types, bear in mind the following considerations – along with whichever tricks of the trade you have devised that make you, you every day:
- Actionable content – making content actionable is a must. It can mean the difference between providing a shallow experience of engagement and giving your customer an immersive experience that offers significant long- and short-term rewards for your both. Make content actionable by using the imperative (in a recipe or product guide, for example), adding CTA buttons linking to pages further down the funnel, breaking paragraphs down into bullet points where possible and using audience-appropriate language.
- There’s a place for both short-form and long-form in digital marketing – and knowing when to use each one is important. Website content should be relatively long to give search engines enough information to assimilate the purpose of your website and rank it competitively (most first page SERP listings link to pages with 400 words of copy or more). Email marketing should generally be kept concise, and the same goes for most social media.
- Topical – the immediate nature of digital publishing means there’s never any excuse for delivering out-of-date or out of context content to the user. Digital marketers should always be alert to news and information that could affect the way the reader interprets their content.
- Links – you know they’re important, so make sure you include plenty and that you’re thinking strategically about your choices. Avoid linking to low authority external domains and pages, optimize anchor text for maximum SEO benefit and never send a bumper crop of prospects to an internal page with a high exit rate – at least not without optimizing the page first with relevant information and path to action.
- Memes – you may not like them, but memes, GIFs and celebrity-focused content can help you connect with a wide range of audiences. Consider them for use, and if you can identify a suitable opportunity, so hold your nose and dive right in.
- The better the information, the better the content – there’s no point in writing or creating if you have nothing to say. Mentally audit every piece of content: Are they all achieving something – whether through forming the content structure, presenting facts, developing an argument for your brand or evoking a response?
- Formatted for a platform – always preview your work in a mocked-up live environment before hitting publish or send. What looks stunningly beautiful in Word probably doesn’t work on Facebook. Each platform has its own specs. Get smart on the basics of each platform.
Nothing beats originality, but the creator’s idiosyncrasies must always be used expressly for the benefit of the content within its given context. If you’re blogging or experimenting with viral content, you can let loose with form, lexis, and bold ideas – but in most cases, you should imitate before you innovate, as the saying goes. Learn best practices from others, and then let innovation flow.
Finally and most importantly, use the power of video. Today’s digital devices are more accessible than ever, and the picture quality is incredible. In 2019, 80 percent of all consumer internet activity is video and that number is growing. Companies that use video marketing grew 49 percent faster in 2018. The stats go on and on. I’ll cover that topic in detail in the coming months. In the meantime, sing your song by developing your brand voice and sing it loud for all to hear.