You’ve built a great product, you’re gathering interest and gaining customers. But finding the right way to talk to current and potential customers is one area where many companies just don’t excel. There are literally hundreds of articles that have been written on creating a brand voice, but nobody really talks about why you should do it. With that in mind, let’s dive in for a bit and add some clarity to a sometimes-confusing subject before we give you a bullet-point primer on creating your own voice.
What Is Brand Voice?
Your brand’s voice is its personality. Just like you, your brand will have traits that can be identified and recognized by your customers. Think about Apple for a moment. Its brand voice is one of friendly confidence. By way of contrast, Google’s brand voice tends more toward the problem-solving hacker. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign helped shape the company’s brand voice of a partner for life’s physical goals. For every one of these companies, you could see their advertising without their name or logo and still likely identify who was sending the message.
But you don’t have to be Nike, Google or Apple to have a solid brand voice. You just have to spend some time to figure out what works best for the message that you’re trying to send. It needs to be personable, it must be consistent and it should align with your company values.
Why Is Brand Voice Important?
In person, we have a pretty good opportunity to dictate the first impression that we give. But when someone is looking at a company they’re not often in a position to walk up and shake the hand of someone who represents that brand. The potential customer has nothing more to rely on than the communication that they see, so it needs to be incredible.
But as your company grows, more people are going to hold the responsibility to speak for your brand. Having a strong brand voice helps to ensure that those people are sending the right message in the right way. At FullContact, for instance, our Twitter accounts have two people who run them. But if you connect with us on a live chat support, you could be talking to any number of people, some of whom have never worked in a support role before today. We want to make sure that we’re sending out consistent messaging, no matter who’s doing the talking, so we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the voice of FullContact. That way, the experience that you have today can be replicated by any one of our team members at any point in the future.
Where Do Brands Go Wrong?
Oh so many places, but we only have a limited amount of pixels so we’ll focus on a few.
All too often, social media gets relegated to intern duty. But many brands just don’t know how to talk to people on Twitter, Facebook and the like. For example:
In times of remembrance or tragedy, brands are typically best served by shutting up. Unfortunately, we see all too many examples of brands screwing up instead. Bear in mind that just because your brand should have a conversational tone, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would want to hear how your brand “feels” in these moments.
That one stung a bit. But the hits just keep on coming.
Remember the World Cup and Brazil’s humiliating loss to Germany? Visa would like to remind you. Which makes perfect sense being that Visa is a sports commentator right?
Being personable and friendly is good. Trying too hard to wedge in to a topic? Not so much.
And finally, from the “Why Bother” department:
My local cable Internet provider, Charter is on Twitter, and you used to be able to get customer service from them on the service. But then something changed. One day the reply that I got went from “sure, we’ll help” to “we can’t help you, call this number instead”.
The company also wins an award for the world’s most confusing tweet, telling me that the account isn’t staffed but I can tweet to them to get help:
So why bother? If you’re not going to actually do something on social media then why dedicate any resources to being there? You might as well be invisible, with a Twitter account that says nothing but “get in touch elsewhere because we’re not listening.”
The Quest for Friendship
You could mark this one up under the “trying too hard” category as well, but there’s more to be said. Not every brand gets to be Taco Bell, and not every brand should try. I don’t want to hear “that’s great news, dude!” from Xerox or Cisco. I want a professional conversation that’s in line with the product that I’m using.
There’s a marked difference between friendly and friendship. The voice of your brand should be warm and welcoming, but trying to be everyone’s friend is not only unsustainable, it’s often inadvisable.
Forgetting the Audience
Who are you speaking to? In many cases, companies can rely on customer personas to get a picture of a single person who is representative of their customer. But sometimes brands screw it up by not finding the audience, or (perhaps even worse) spending the time to find the audience and then speaking to another one entirely.
Without a focus on the right audience, your messages are going to fall on deaf ears. Whether it’s a white paper, tweet, Facebook post or website text, it’s imperative that you’re talking to the people who actually use your product.
How to Build Your Brand Voice
We’ve seen the ways that things can go wrong, so how do you make them go right? It’s really as simple as making certain that you avoid the common pitfalls that we discussed in the previous section.
Start With The Audience – Figure out who your customers are. Use data, use research and use your gut. Now take the qualities of that person and build a persona. Figure out how you would talk to them if you were standing face to face. Never sway from that tone of voice once you have it right.
Use Your Core Values – What’s important to you and your company? When you’re coming up with the language that you’re going to use, focus on aligning those words with your values. For example, here’s a look at our core values at FullContact:
- We Are Customer Focused
- We Are A Team
- We Respect Every Person
- We Communicate With Candor
- We Never Stop Improving
- We Always Keep Shipping
- We Move At The Speed Of Trust
While it’s obvious that some of these are focused internally, you’ll notice that a few of them point externally (or cover both). So when we’re coming up with our brand voice, we’re focused on it exemplifying our core values. Staying true to the values of your own company will help to guide the language and tone that you use.
Express Personality – Nobody likes talking to a brick wall. Don’t be afraid to inject real personality into your brand voice. It helps your brand to not only come off as personable, but it can turn an otherwise-frustrating experience for a customer into one of ease and (dare we say) pleasure.
Taking things a step further, your brand’s personality should welcome humor and emotion while exuding confidence and compassion. Error messages are a prime example of where this personality can shine.
Train Everyone – No matter their role in your company, every person should know how to use your brand voice. At some point, they’re going to need that information, and you’re doing them a disservice by thinking that a newly-hired intern is any less important than your most senior developer in that regard. Make the brand voice part of your on boarding, and give regular refreshers to keep people in the right mindset.
Building a brand voice doesn’t have to be hard. With a bit of time and attention to create the core pieces, the rest will fall into place naturally over time. When you’re talking about the business of building a business, there’s a lot to be said for being someone that your customers actually want to talk to.