Brand Voice: You Are What You Say

Danielle Vincent - Outlaw Soaps - Pyragraph

Outlaw Soaps is fun. We take baths with rubber duckies and cute dogs. Photo by Chuck Revell.

I’ve heard it one too many times that I’m lucky to have a natural voice for marketing. People don’t know that I actually have gone to great lengths to define this, not just for my current company, but for companies all the way from indie film start-ups to big media representations like ABC Family. Though I’ve always loved writing, “luck” has less to do with it than people think. I’ve had 10 years of school studying communications and English, and more than six years of experience in content positions.

I’m not sayin’ the brand voice I have now doesn’t represent me at all, but the brand voice of Outlaw Soaps is a lot more fun than I personally am (I know…surprise, surprise).

Here’s how you can start building that natural-sounding brand voice you’d be “lucky” to have.

When developing your brand’s voice, it’s important that you stay authentic to your own way of communicating.

If you’re selling a service or product, even just to friends, having a distinctive and consistent brand voice is very important.

What’s a brand voice? It’s the tone/attitude, words, focus, and duration of every communication you put out into the world.

For a big company like Disney, that’s represented in terms of positivity, friendliness, family-appropriateness (i.e. no swearing), entertainment-focused, and simplicity.

For an entrepreneur or solopreneur, that voice is entirely up to you and how you’d like to represent your company. Because this voice is a representation of your company, it will permanently affect how people see you and, most importantly, your company.

If you’ve hired someone to help you with your content or social media, it’s even more important that you have a clearly outlined brand voice. If he or she is an experienced content person, you may be able to work on your brand voice with them. Don’t wait for them to define it for you and then course-correct as you go…the internet is filled with hundreds of examples where an off-color or off-brand Tweet or Facebook post went viral and damaged the credibility of the company.

Defining the tone/attitude, words, focus, and duration can give you a really great start in developing brand voice. Yes, I’m recommending that you actually write this down, so you or anyone who is managing your content strategy can refer to it as needed.

It may help to find one or two people you feel are perfect examples of your ideal customer. I don’t mean imaginary people, I mean real people who you interact with. Look at how they talk and write and see if you can identify your voice in terms of what would speak to them, not just how you want to be perceived.

Overall, it’s important to be positive in your communication and voice. Even if your organization’s overall aim is to root out corruption of those mean ol’ government fat-cats, people tune out if the voice is 100% doom and gloom.

If you’re working on your own brand’s voice, it’s also important that you stay authentic to your own way of communicating. If this means that you need to hire someone to help you communicate with an audience outside of your own way of communicating, it’s better to hire someone than to risk coming across as phony.

Danielle Vincent - Outlaw Soaps - Pyragraph

Can you hear our “voice”? Photo by Arlette Thibodeau.

Here are four things to think about when defining your brand’s voice: tone, words, focus and duration.

1. Tone

The tone of your writing is defined by how you want the reader to view you and your company. Do you want them to think of you as a trusted friend? As a secret pleasure? As a luxurious escape from reality? A wild and crazy drinking buddy? A high school beffie? An authoritative source of information? A political rabble rouser? A comedically struggling parent?

2. Words

If you’re writing to Baby Boomers, wr1T!ng !n L0Lsp33K W1Ll dr1v3 +h3M Cr@Zy! (It sure drives me crazy.) But if you’re writing to Niki Manaj fans, using the King’s English isn’t going to make you any friends either. It’s also important that you’re consistent in the words you use. For example, if you use “until” somewhere, use “until” everywhere (don’t switch to “till” or “‘till”). If someone uses a “user name” one place, don’t ask them for their “login” somewhere else.

The best way to figure out the preferences of your customers is to see what they post.

A few more words about words: certain words elicit violent hatred from some people when used incorrectly. Review this Oatmeal article about the 10 words you need to stop misspelling.

3. Focus

Many entrepreneurs think that marketing is about selling. It is, but it’s also so much more than about selling. Through your brand voice, you have the opportunity to develop a relationship with your customer. If your goal is to be an authoritative source of information, you can gain credibility by posting information that is not about your products and services (though it should be tangentially related).

A great example of this is All Things O’Natural. On her facebook page (and on Instragram and Twitter), business owner Dominique not only highlights amazing hairstyles and customer stories, she also spreads positivity and love through photos and quotes. I know she has hard days sometimes (everyone does!), but her focus on All Things O’Natural is 100% positivity.

4. Duration

Some people like in-depth posts and stories, giving lots of color and information. Some people have the attention spans of goldfish. (Me!) The best way to figure out the preferences of your customers is to see what they post. Do they link to huge articles about 1860s anthropological explorations or do they post pictures of dogs passed out on the porch with “DOG TIRED” as a caption? People never post beyond their attention spans.

Danielle Vincent - Outlaw Soaps - Pyragraph

Me just being me. I’m not actually in costume all the time.

If you’re working on this brand documentation for someone besides yourself (like a social media marketer or a blogger), you should also include some examples of Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts that typify your brand voice.

And VOILA! You have a brand voice! Now, when you’re getting ready to post anything (ANYTHING!), run it through the brand voice filter and make sure it matches. If it doesn’t quite fit, decide whether it’s worth posting anyways. Because sometimes you just gotta be you.

About Danielle Vincent

After more than 10 years as a corporate digital product manager for such sites as Oprah.com, ABC.com, and ABCFamily.com, Danielle Vincent quit her career and pulled up her rubber gloves to make a living manufacturing and selling soaps as Outlaw Soaps. Her experience with social media, product management, web analytics, business, and design have made Outlaw Soaps into a personal experiment as she finds out what happens when she applies her largely digital learnings to the real world.

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