Establishing your brand voice is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a company. Here’s how to get it right.

Who are you?

It seems like a big, weighty question, but it informs every interaction you have with your customers, vendors, and shareholders. It’s a question that’s constantly on the minds of smart brands. Who are we as a company, and how can we convey that to the world?

If you’re just starting to find your brand voice, creating something unique to your company can feel like a daunting challenge. Maybe you’ve fallen into the generic “corporate casual” wormhole or your writing just doesn’t feel like you. Maybe you’ve never written anything about your company before and don’t know where to start. In either case, we can help.

What is Brand Voice?

What marketers call “brand voice” is really comprised of three ingredients: voice, tone, and style.

Voice
In essence, voice is the persona of your brand. A strong voice communicates your brand’s values to your audience and helps that audience connect with your content. Your voice should be consistent across every piece of copy you write, from your Twitter bio to your tagline.

MailChimp does an excellent job of defining its voice in its enviable style guide. Here’s how the company describes itself:

compelling brand voice - screenshot

By plainly defining its brand characteristics in this way, MailChimp shows that it knows who it is as a company and provides a grounding framework for all future communication.

Tone
If voice is your brand’s persona, tone helps you adapt that persona to different situations. You wouldn’t communicate a piece of information the same way in a Snapchat story as you would in an annual shareholder report. Tonal shifts give you the freedom to approach many different audiences in contextually appropriate ways — without forgetting your voice.

Wendy’s (yes, the fast food joint) plays with tone to great effect. Take a look at its website as opposed to its Twitter feed. Notice a difference? The company’s persona on social media is irreverent, bold, funny, and blunt, while the corporate page is a little more toned down. The same voice comes through in both instances, but mastering different tones allows the company to convey its message to multiple audiences.

Style
The last piece, style, is all about how you communicate your tone and voice. Style covers everything from a content piece’s narrative structure to the choice of words within it, and these choices can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your writing.

In the Wendy’s example, subtle language choices differentiate its website from the Twitter feed. Check out this example from the site:

compelling brand voice - wendys

In just three sentences, Wendy’s communicates a friendly, casual, and welcoming brand persona. The language is informal without sacrificing authority, giving the reader a sense that Wendy’s cares about its customers’ well-being (and makes a great burger to boot!).

Now look at this Tweet from the Super Bowl.

Here, Wendy’s chooses very different language (here’s your primer on jabronis), not to mention the reference to ongoing feuds with other fast food chains. These stylistic decisions make the Wendy’s brand seem like a cooler, snappier version of itself.

OK, That’s Cool. So How Do I Become Wendy’s?

Not so fast. The first rule of brand voice is: be yourself. It’s fine to incorporate style or tone choices from your favorite brands, but your voice should still feel authentically yours.

To start out, make a list of things you are — and things you aren’t — to set parameters for your brand’s persona. How do you want your brand to come across? What characteristics define you? Are you smart? Relatable? Quirky?

A lot of our clients ask us about humor. Humor — and especially unexpected humor — can be a powerful tool, but it can also feel forced. If it’s a part of who you are as a brand, feel free to incorporate it into your writing. If not, let it be. Serious writing is almost always better than unfunny writing.

Once you’ve identified your voice, think about how you want that voice to come across to your respective audiences. What will different people need and want from your brand, and what will they expect when they interact with you on specific platforms?

For a great example of how this looks in practice, read through MailChimp’s voice and tone guide. In each example, MailChimp imagines how a specific type of reader might be feeling and presents copy that responds to those emotions.

Enough Talking — Let’s Do Some Writing

By the time you put fingers to keyboard, you should know what your brand sounds like and how your voice applies to a given situation. Now is your opportunity to translate that voice and tone into sentences and paragraphs.

Think about how words and structures convey meaning. If you’re a law firm with a professional voice and tone, you might use more conventional language, but a beauty company with a fun, bubbly persona might opt for slang and sentence fragments.

Pick a few of the scenarios above — your Twitter feed, a blog post, your annual report, etc. — and write some sample copy. Play around with the language until it lines up with the feeling you want to convey, and don’t be afraid to add some creative flourishes. If you like telling stories, use stories as a structure for your blog posts. If your company’s made up a word to describe something you do, use it!

How Do I Stick the Landing?

You’ve done all this work — now how do you make sure that it lasts?

Brand voice lives and dies by consistency — across platforms, publications, and writers. We highly recommend creating even a basic style guide so you can easily and effectively communicate guidelines with everybody who writes for your brand. This guide doesn’t have to be super rigid — you want to allow some room for flexibility and creativity — but a written reference helps everyone get on the same page.

Remember: your brand voice isn’t a fixed entity. If something isn’t resonating with your audience or your values, you’re at liberty to change it. Don’t fall prey to “this is what we decided our voice is and we have to stick to it.” You can be the change you wish to see in your content.

Your brand voice is an integral part of who you are as a company. It’s worth committing the time and energy to figuring out how best to express yourself.

Author Margot Gerould

An experienced writer, editor, and strategist, Margot serves a diverse set of B2B and not-for-profit clients as a Content Manager. Before L&T, she worked with a boutique brand strategy team that advised companies like eHarmony, Verizon Ventures, and Walmart Technology. Margot holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Yale University, where — other than conducting some original research about food security in Connecticut — her life was eerily close to the plot of Pitch Perfect.

More posts by Margot Gerould