In competitive, crowded spaces you need a unique and compelling brand voice. A strong consistent voice across all of your communications establishes and maintains a relationship with your audience. If you know who you are, they do – and this is essential from getting their attention, to selling, bonding and turning them into advocates.
You can’t be everything to everyone – you must define who you are as a brand and know who you’re talking to and how to reach them. What you say is important; how you say it is crucial. The way in which you communicate – your voice, tone, grammar, style – changes how your words are received and understood. As a result, this can impact the relationship with your audience.
Finding your voice
To start, you need to establish your brand personality. You need to know who you are and what you believe in. From there you can work out how you want to sound.
A tone of voice (TOV). This document needs to be short, easy to use, with plenty of practical examples. Begin by creating ‘dos’ and ‘donts’ – what you sound like and what you definitely don’t sound like. For example, you’re playful and positive but not silly or quixotic.
A style guide. This is a meaty document that backs up your TOV. It should be a detailed account of your brand’s punctuation and grammar rules. These are just as vital to forming your voice.
For example, do you use dashes instead of semi-colons for a more informal, relaxed feel to your writing? Do you emphasise a point with an exclamation mark for a more fun, excitable tone or a colon for a serious, forceful sentence?
Punctuation determines the rhythm of your voice and the piece you’re writing. You may opt for punchier, short sentences or slightly longer sentences divided by commas for a softer flow to the paragraph. This may change depending on the message and type of comms, but should always reflect the brand voice.
When it comes to grammar do you express yourself with plain, to-the-point statements or add colour with adverbs and adjectives? Do you tend to ask more questions or make statements? Do you use contractions to sound like natural speech? Or not, to sound formal or highlight a point?
Keep it consistent
A robust style guide and TOV will go a long way to keeping your communications consistent. It’s a disruptive and confusing experience when a brand is formal and serious one minute, and tongue-in-cheek the next. While tone may change with context, your voice should remain the same from campaign to campaign. You’re one brand, with one voice, though your tone may change depending on the message or channel. Your voice is you, whereas your tone is an expression of emotion.
A connected content strategy will ensure all copywriters are working from the same ideas and messaging. This will help create a cohesive experience for your audience at any point they come into contact with your brand.
Don’t forget to be consistent with your vocabulary. Think about who you’re talking to and only use specialist or industry terms if this speaks to your audience.
Get the basics right
Use a channel strategy and test it
Get a channel strategy in place to ensure you get the best out of each platform. Test your content to see what’s working and what’s not and make tweaks if needed.
Don’t alienate your reader
You should always spell out an abbreviation the first time you use it, eliminate jargon and be careful with culture-specific references.
Be clear and use the active voice
No matter what type of voice you have, you always want your content to be clear, readable and easily understood. And no matter how short or long your sentence structure, you can pack a punch by being direct.
A general rule is to use present tense and the active voice, which helps with the immediacy of a message and clarity. Having said this, sometimes you may want to use the passive voice or a different tense. The passive voice can be useful in storytelling, or if you don’t know the subject of the sentence.
Use your personas
Always use personas (and keep them up to date) – you need to tailor your content to reach more people and bond with those already engaged with your brand.
Pitfalls to avoid
Pitfall #1: No one uses your guidelines
Make sure your guidelines are practical with plenty of actual examples. If you’re fearless, how are you fearless, what does this look like in a sentence? How does this affect the tone, style and grammar?
Make sure your documents are easily accessible – a PDF might not cut it. You might consider creating bots for people to ask quick grammar questions.
Pitfall #2: Only marketers and copywriters use your guidelines
You want everyone in the business to use this document. You don’t want one voice posting on your Facebook and a different voice when someone emails. Share it far and wide.
Pitfall #3: Your guidelines aren’t created by a writer or editor
Make sure a content specialist writes this document. You need someone versed in writing and language to drill into the detail and make it useful and practical. They can also help you watch out for any grammar trips that can impact your content.
To sum up
Defining your voice will set you apart. It’s how you tell your brand story with authenticity. It creates emotion and a lasting, meaningful connection with your audience.
A good example of a thorough tone of voice and style guide is MailChimp’s.
Get in touch to talk to our experts about how we can help craft your strongest content strategy, TOV and style guidelines.
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