“Who are these people?”
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld humorously made that simple question famous in his eponymous ‘90s sitcom. Today, the question could apply to a lot of the marketing we see circulating around the Web. Too often, businesses fail to clearly communicate who they are — making it difficult for consumers to “click” with the brand. It’s an issue that can affect companies of any size and in any industry, and it’s wholly solvable, even if you’re a small business that doesn’t have the marketing budget of Apple or Nike.
When consumers interact with your marketing content, whether online or in the real world, your brand voice is how they will know who you are, what you sell and what you stand for as a company. Successful marketing depends on clearly defining your voice and consistently communicating it across every type of content marketing you do.
Defining ‘brand voice’
Brand voice is the personality of your company. It’s how your brand expresses itself across all marketing activities. It’s the intentional development and consistent use of that personality. Because your voice infuses every communication between your brand and consumers, it’s how your customers will know content is yours, even if your name and company logo never appear with the material.
Your brand expresses its voice through word choices, tone (conversational, humorous, formal, informational), and what your company chooses to talk about (current events, social issues, your products and services).
You can’t afford to be without a brand voice
Small business marketers are always trying to maximize the impact of their efforts while staying within a tight budget. That’s likely especially true if a company’s chief marketing officer is also the owner, founder, president, chief cook, and bottle washer! Creating a clear, consistent brand voice is one of the best ways to enhance the efficacy of all your marketing efforts, from traditional advertising to SEO marketing.
Brand voice is critical because it:
- Humanizes the link between a company and its customers. Your brand voice “puts a face” on your marketing campaigns, and allows customers to view your brand as more relatable and understandable.
- Differentiates you from the competition. Your brand voice should be distinctive to your company, and clearly communicate to customers what sets you apart from the competition. Remember those Apple commercials with a cool, young guy representing Apple and an older, nerdy fellow playing the part of the competition? Those ads clearly established Apple’s brand voice as youthful, cool, and progressive — and clearly different from the competition.
- Nourishes trust between the brand and consumers. It’s human nature to feel more comfortable and trusting with people — and brands — that are familiar to us. Establishing and consistently communicating your brand voice helps consumers become familiar with who you are, and can make them feel more trusting toward your messaging.
- Encourages action and interaction. Who didn’t want to hang out with the cool kids in high school? What professional doesn’t want to associate with successful peers? Your brand voice should inspire consumers to want to interact with your brand in every way possible, from commenting on your social media posts to actually purchasing your product or service.
The steps to creating your brand voice
Have you ever heard the momism “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are?” Mom’s message was that the people you associate with influence who you become — something that could be positive if you hung out with the “good kids” and very negative if you fell in with the “wrong crowd.” Creating an effective brand voice requires you to know who your customers really are.
1. Your first step in creating your brand voice should be to describe your customers.
How old are they? Where do they work? Where do they live? What issues do they care about? What social media do they use? How many hours a day do they spend online? What problems do they have that your brand can solve?
Write down the answers to these questions and create a customer profile. As a small business owner who does his or her own marketing, you have an advantage — you likely interact with your customers one-on-one on a daily basis. That personal interaction can be every bit as effective as the data mining, focus groups and market research done by big companies, at a far lower cost!
2. Now think about whom your customers would want to do business with.
When politicians over-adjust their persona to appear more appealing to a particular group of voters, we consider them “wishy-washy” at best, and outright untrustworthy at worst. When companies overdo it, consumers perceive them as only concerned with making a sale. Yet every good communicator tailors the message to appeal to the audience.
Who do your customers want to do business with? Are they interested in companies that support causes important to consumers? Do they prefer to do business with organizations that practice environmental stewardship throughout their operations? Are they looking for companies that are on the leading edge, or those that can deliver the fastest service? The cheapest prices? The trendiest styles?
Understanding who your customers want you to be should influence the process of crafting your brand voice.
3. Decide who you want to be.
Knowing who your customers want you to be is only part of the equation. You must also establish that you want your brand to share their vision. Your brand voice needs to be one you can live with and be proud of, even as it evolves to keep pace with changing customer tastes, needs and the marketplace.
Do you want your company to be seen as an innovator? An authoritative voice in your industry? An organization that cares about humanitarian causes? A powerful influencer of political decision-makers?
4. Describe your voice as you would a person.
Now that you know what you want your brand voice to be, create a personality profile for your brand. If your company were a person, how would you describe him or her? Start by choosing just three or four words (no more than five) that describe your brand. These words will become the template for your voice.
The Content Marketing Institute suggests you plug your descriptive words into a brand voice chart that can help you further develop your voice. Head four columns “voice characteristic,” “description,” “do,” and “don’t.” List your descriptive word in the first column, and in the second detail how it describes your company. In the third column, list the ways in which you can illustrate this trait, and in the fourth, describe things that you wouldn’t do because they are counter to this trait.
5. Create a style guide.
Consistency is imperative across all communication channels when it comes to expressing your brand voice. Creating a style guide can help. Your guide should detail the tone of your content (humorous or serious, traditional or quirky, intellectual or goofy), list words that do and don’t fit with your brand voice, provide guidelines for anyone who writes content for your company, and offer examples of how your brand voice looks/sounds across key channels such as email, social media, and direct mail.
Your style guide should be concise (just a few pages), clear and focused on the persona you want your brand voice to convey. Store it somewhere everyone can easily access it, such as on an internal server.
Wrapping it up
The human voice changes as an individual grows, from the high, sweet voice of childhood to the richer, experienced tones of adulthood. Your brand voice should also evolve as your company and customer base grow, yet remain true to your company’s personality.
When a clear, consistent brand voice infuses all your marketing communications, your current and potential customers will never have to wonder “Who are these people?”
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