WHAT you say is crucially important in building your brand. But so is HOW you say it. We’re talking about Brand Voice.

Truth: Your brand’s voice is a powerful persuader or impeder of your business’ success. We’ve all experienced this: a brand that makes us chuckle or connects with us on a human level – well, we just like them more, and find ourselves wanting to buy what they’re selling. Brands that come off as rigid or arrogant – we want nothing to do with them.

Here’s the thing: the brands we love and gravitate towards? Their brand voice and tone isn’t accidental. There’s a deliberate and methodical exercise in defining the communications playground so content is “on brand,” and the marketing folks can deliver the right brand voice and tone, accurately and consistently. 

Let’s dive into brand voice and tone, and how your brand reflect can convey the right voice and tone to engage your customers with intention.

Brand Voice and Brand Tone: The Difference

Brand voice is your brand values and mission and vision. It comes to life in your communications and content. Voice focuses on what is being said and should be very consistent with the content you’re communicating. By having an unchanging voice, your readers will see your brand as clear, reliable and consistent.

Brand tone is how colorful and expressive you are with your brand communications. As communications strategist Kelsey Batschelet puts it, “Voice is your brand personality. Tone is how you express that personality.  You’re always you (voice) but how you express yourself to different audiences may vary (your tone).” My caveat to this is you need to be consistent. If you show up in one email blast as hilariously snarky, and then the next time you’re monotonous-serious, you will be off-putting. Strive to create a brand tone that can be flexible but still within the voice that reflects your brand and you want to own. 

 Let’s look at some examples. 

SouthWest Airlines 

One of my favorite examples of a brand voice that is fun, approachable and honest is Southwest. Their hilarious “Wanna get away?” campaign has featured people in awkward situations wanting to disappear, and the tone is always deadpan funny. They infuse humor and a touch of snark in their tone, and we love them for it. 

For the brand strategy of Southwest Airlines they use humor to evoke an image of getting away from it all.

Harley Davidson

This brand has mastered an emotive, irreverent and edgy brand tone, while still keeping it approachable and engaging (and their font is exceptional for driving home their point). You automatically feel something, just looking at their communications. 

The Harley Davidson brand strategy includes communicating that the brand as emotive, irreverent and edgy brand tone while still being a very approachable and engaging product.

How to Craft Your Brand Voice 

Defining your brand voice requires some work. Your goal is to create a filter for your content, so you can ensure consistency and that you’re “on brand.” You’ll want to determine 3-4 descriptors that are genuine, intrinsically already in your communications and reflect how you want your brand to be perceived “when it grows up.” Here’s how you do this. 

  1. Look at your past and current communications: blogs, email blasts, newsletters, articles. Read these as a potential customer would read them, with a focus on brand voice. Now, sift. What content do you love, and why? What are you rejecting, and why? Describe 3-4 characteristics that reflect the brand voice you want, based on the pieces you love. Assess what you value and the voice characteristics you want to keep. 
  2. Turn to your brand values as a guide for your brand voice. What characteristics are emblematic of your brand? What behavior completely defines your brand? Note those values and the characteristics that bring them to life. If one of your brand values is ‘integrity,’ some possible characteristics would be unconvoluted; down-to-earth; and /or uplifting.
  3. If you’ve recently undergone a rebrand, you’ll also want to convey the ideas in your new brand in your voice and tone. Revisit your brand promise and brand’s essence, and the behavior makes that promise / essence come alive for your customers. Consider the other contextual inputs for your brand, such as your brand archetype, the emotional and functional benefit(s) of your brand, your value proposition and what your customers disproportionately value about your brand. Then (as above), uncover the characteristics that bring those to life and write those down.  

Narrow in on three to four characteristics that expressly and instantly convey your brand. These should be an obvious, natural match; your writers shouldn’t be caught off guard or feel like this is a stretch. Create descriptions for these words, with examples, to drive towards the voice you want. Use this checklist against all of your content going forward, so your communications are ‘on brand’ and you’re building your brand with intention.

Your Brand Tone: A Communications Sandbox

With brand tone, you have much more freedom in how you communicate within the parameters of your brand voice. If one of your brand voice’s characteristics is ‘humorous,’ brand tone allows you to choose whether your brand will be slapstick, self-deprecating, witty, punny, sardonic, dark or snarky. 

A few factors to take into consideration when deciding on your brand tone: 

Brand strategy diagram. Your brand overlapping how you want to be seen and the client appetite for tone.

Your brand tone is the overlap of what’s authentic to your brand, how you want to be perceived, and your clients’ appetite for your tone. Remember that your brand is for your company but importantly also for your clients or customers. If you want to be seen as “irreverent” and your strategy is to drop f-bombs everywhere, that’s fine, but if that doesn’t sit well with your clients, you’ve achieved the wrong outcome. 

Having defined your brand voice, you can decide how much liberty to take with your brand tone. Important: tight guidelines to create a safe sandbox for your brand tone (and your communications strategists) to play in. For instance, will you allow cuss words, or resort to *%^#@&! to convey a point? Will you always be witty or cheeky in your copy? Being clear is kind. Being vague is unkind. Set your guidelines and help your writers become the exceptional writers you want working on your brand.

Finally, give you and your team grace. Nearly every major brand has had some communications oopsies: we’re talking about global organizations with some of the most-sought-after writing talent in the world getting it wrong. Give yourselves the opportunity to try new things and learn from any mistakes. In the end, we’re just all human, trying to connect to other humans.

Communicating brand tone and voice. What to say and not say in a successful brand strategy
Recent gaffes by major organizations – even super successful brands aren’t immune to screwing up brand tone and voice every now and again.

Need help with your brand tone or voice? Reach out to us for a virtual coffee and let’s chat about how we can make your content magnetic to success.

“Why do I need a brand story? Can’t I just talk about my company?” I work often with tech and B2B leaders and hear this from time to time. Given that many of my clients are analytical and logic-oriented thinkers, I get that the concept of a “brand story” seems squishy. Unnecessary. They much prefer to lean into facts and numbers as opposed to storytelling.

But as I counsel them, a brand story is far more effective than numbers and charts. Done right, a brand story will cause your audience to remember you, develop empathy for you, and ultimately care about you.

What’s A Brand Story, Anyway?

A brand story is a communications mechanism that conveys the crux of your brand strategy in a compelling way. It’s a byproduct of your brand strategy, which zeroes in on and defines your company’s inception, what you do and for whom, your mission today and vision for the future. Your brand story is all these elements, but told in a narrative that’s easy to understand and draws people in. 

Neuroscience proves that storytelling is best way to capture people’s attention, bake information into their memories, and forge personal bonds, so brand strategists use a brand story to crystallize your messaging for the people who matter most to you. A brand story has all the essential elements of a traditional story: a protagonist (your customer) who struggles to overcome a challenge (problem) that your product / service solves (solution) so they can go on to do great things (resolution). 

At this point you might be thinking: Wait.
Did she write that correctly? My brand story and I’m not the protagonist?

Hot Tip: It’s Not About You

Your brand story is about your company and your journey but it’s not actually about you. 

It’s understandable that, in developing your brand strategy, you want to convey what your business is all about. But hold that for a minute because your brand story is actually about your customers. It’s about their journey and struggle, and how your products and services help them meet their goals. It’s for business prospects, partners and future employees. And if your brand story is compelling, your audience will not only remember you, but will like you and develop a preference for you, and ultimately be persuaded by you.

Let’s Get Started On Your Narrative

So perhaps you’re considering writing your brand story and using it to effectively tell your company’s story. What are the elements you should work in? You’ll want to use the basic elements of storytelling: context, protagonist, conflict, resolution, denouement. 

Context – the environment in which your business operates. What trends are happening in your sector that you need to be aware of? What competitors are emerging or growing? How are they communicating, what are they saying, how are they capturing attention? Also think about your customers: what trends are they facing that are impacting them? What’s happening culturally that is relevant to your business? Answering these questions help build the context for your story to take hold. 

Protagonist – let’s shift the focus to your customer. What do they need or want? And what does success look like for them, and what is standing in the way of them achieving it? What will happen if they don’t achieve success? Why have they turned to your company – what do you offer them that they need in order to achieve their wants? 

You’ll want to go deeper into these questions and get at the customer mindset to address that mindset in your brand communications. What do they believe about your category? What beliefs do they hold about themselves in relation to your category? How do they approach your category: with joy or hesitation? Why do they hesitate (if they do)? What are they currently using (competitor or substitute offering) if they aren’t using your product? Why is this attractive for them? 

In designing your Protagonist section, you will want to be able to frame their mindset, articulate why they turn to you, what they deeply value that you offer. These are important feeds for the next section.

Conflict is the Center of Your Narrative

I always tell clients, “there is no story without conflict.” It’s crucial to every story, and especially to understanding what your clients value about your offering. You’ll want to examine what truly vexes your customer. Where is there palpable tension in their journey to reach success? What do they struggle with? 

Many times, the Context section of your brand story can provide insights into the Conflict – it could be a cultural trend shaping the industry, or a challenge they are grappling with as a result of new market trends. Or it becomes apparent when exploring the protagonist and understanding their mindset, or their hesitation towards the category. 

It’s important to highlight the conflict in your brand story, so your brand can address how it tackles this tension for the protagonist, and how it helps your protagonist win.

Some examples:

  • A timely example for Tax Season: TurboTax’s campaign “All People Are Tax People” focuses on the conflict that ordinary people face in doing their taxes. It seems ordinary people are able to achieve all manner of great things in their lives, but these same people suddenly feel hopelessly confused and incompetent when it comes to doing taxes. As a result, they hesitate and avoid doing their taxes, or overpay someone to do their taxes for them. The conflict in this story is feeling incompetent. The fix is that TurboTax software overcomes that.
  • A client we recently worked with is in the criminal justice research space. In writing their brand story, we realized the context of their story – the increasing polarization of America and the politicization of our judicial system  – was central to how their products and offerings would be received by their target audience. The problem is polarization and politicization. The fix is unbiased, nonpartisan and high caliber criminal justice research.
  • Hello Fresh!, a food service and delivery company, realized its target customer desperately wants to cook but lacks the time for grocery shopping, prep work (like chopping), or creativity in coming up with new meal ideas. The conflict is prep time, shopping time, and research (coming up with creative meal ideas). The fix is to provide everything needed except the cooking so their customers can feel like a creative chef at home.

Resolution: The Focus Shifts to Your Role

Once the Context, Protagonist and Conflict have been mapped out, your story shifts to focus on how your brand addresses these issues. In the resolution section, the basic brand aspects are addressed, such as:

  • brand features and attributes (what your offering delivers);
  • functional benefits (what your customers get when they partner with you);
  • emotional benefits (what they feel as a result of working with you); 
  • your key differentiator – that which sets you apart from the competition that your customers deeply value that few can emulate;
  • your values – what behavior informs you and your team and allows you to live into your brand promise;
  • what you promise your customers with every interaction;
  • proof points – important reasons for your customers to believe in your brand promise and trust your brand;
  • your brand mission and your brand vision;
  • your brand archetype (for more on this, you can read this post), and
  • the Big Idea behind your brand – what you ultimately stand for.

Denouement: How it All Comes Together

The Denouement section pulls it all together. It shows how the resolution section is conveyed in your tagline, your brand colors, font selection and logo design. It showcases how your brand attributes and differentiator comes together on your website with suggested copy that explains how you do what you do better than anyone else (and why it matters to your target). There might be a particular methodology to help explain your approach in a way that highlights how your approach is unique. Or there might be a creative mechanism to better bring your brand archetype and brand personality to life. 

The idea in the denouement section is to show you how your brand articulation – the resolution section of your story – addresses the protagonist’s struggle and the conflict they are wrestling with, and demonstrates how to “solve” that conflict in various communications touch points.

If you’re designing your own brand story, you can definitely do a lot of this heavy lifting on your own! This article might be helpful in getting at your protagonist’s mindset. And this article might be helpful in understanding the nuances of functional versus emotional benefits. This article might also be helpful in articulating your proof points – what they are, and why you need them spelled out succinctly.

Finally, if you’re stuck and need help, or want to bypass the DIY and hire a bonafide professional strategist, we’re here to help. We’ve got over two decades of branding experience helping make brands magnetic to success. We can do that for your company, as well.

Magnetic Brand Strategy is located in Northern Virginia and serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” 
-Roy Disney

Brand values are a set of guiding principles that shape every aspect of your business. They’re at the very core of your brand and dictate your brand message, identity and personality. They affect every single aspect of your business: the people you hire, your company culture, the business decisions you make, the way in which you grow your business, the customers you decide to engage with and the customers you decide to fire. And yes, values are the main reason customers will connect with you over the competition. In other words: getting your values right is vital not only to your brand but to your business as well.

But we often overlook this exercise in favor of focusing on ‘success’ and generating revenues. Mistake. Growing your business with a revenue focus instead of a values focus may yield revenues in the short term, but sooner or later there will be plenty of struggle and dilemmas and no peace of mind. Let’s avoid this for your business and your brand and set you up to grow with intention. 

When I work with clients to identify their values, I rely on a number of inputs; most of them come from the “brand’s DNA” – those qualities that distinctly make up the brand, that are authentic to that brand and, if removed, would fundamentally alter the brand for the worse.  Today I’m sharing with you how I map out brand values for my clients; hopefully this can be a guide for you to gain clarity about your values so you can grow your business in a way that fully supports your goals and vision. Side effects include having a clearly defined brand identity, personality and brand tone & voice and knowing your brand boundaries. 

Start With Why

One of the first things I uncover with my clients is why they decided to start their business. As I point out to them, “You could literally do anything with your life. Why did you forego the other myriad possibilities and choose this option? What was the driver? What was so clearly missing in the market, or what was so compelling about your idea or approach that you felt you had to start your business?”

Reflect on your business and take your time. This answer should carry a foundational brand truth: how you saw an opportunity to do things differently, or approached the same market from a new perspective, or changed things up in an innovative way such that the customer experience became distinctly different and better from what was being offered. From this answer, you should be able to glean a few core value words. Write those down. 

The Behavior Behind the Brand

Next, I ask my clients to talk through the behavior that exemplifies who they are at their natural best. You know… when the whole team is firing on all cylinders, everyone’s in sync and knows their mission, and there’s a true rhythm and joy in the company. I ask,  what behaviors are visceral to creating that type of environment? 

My goal is to uncover the 4-5 behaviors that are inherent in best performers and so genuine to the business that if the team were to suddenly stop doing those behaviors, the business would be fundamentally different and no longer your business. You’ll want to do this with your brand, considering the behaviors you feel exemplify the best version of your company. 

Finally, I turn to customer insights to uncover the behavior and characteristics that customers gravitate towards. Often, there are qualities overlooked by a client who takes for granted that expertise is everywhere (it’s not) or that everyone offers exceptional customer service (they don’t) or that people will tell you what you need to hear (if only). What comments do you hear on repeat about your team and how they have handled the work? What do your customers deeply value about the way in which you conduct yourselves and do your work? Note these words. 

At this point, you should have a decent list of words, you’re aiming for between 10-15. Begin by systematically reviewing them and noting which ones more strongly resonate with you. Avoid words that are too close to one another; each value should be distinctive. As you narrow down your list, aim for 3-5 values.  

Verbs, Not Nouns

I avoid nouns when defining values. Particularly in the case of brand values, nouns tend to be conceptual ideas and these get distanced and removed from actions and behaviors that we want to manifest in our company. If I say “integrity” or “innovation” there’s a gap. What exactly am I supposed to do to be innovative? Of course I have integrity, but I’m not entirely sure how I show it at work. Which means there’s room for mis- or -interpretation. 

But if I say “do the right thing, even if – and especially when – it’s easier to do the wrong thing,” or “see the problem from a different perspective” there’s no question. Every employee will instantly know what to do if a customer asks for services they really don’t need. Every employee will immediately know that conventional thinking isn’t going to cut it at this place, they need to dig deeper.

As you think through your brand values, push yourself to use verbs and don’t hesitate to define your values in clear terms, so everyone knows precisely what you mean.  Define the behavior you want from your team – internally and maybe even externally.  For one of my clients, an accounting firm focused on doing accounting and also teaching financial literacy as a means to develop stronger business leaders, I chose “Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Success” as one of their values for the employees and their customers alike. They loved it so much that it ultimately became the tagline for Monarch CPA.

Your Values are Not Aspirational

Finally, as you come up with your list of values, please note that your brand values shouldn’t be a stretch for you and your team. They shouldn’t be the company you want to evolve into, in five years.Your values need to reflect the best version of your business today, and the behaviors that make that possible. Be honest with yourself and your team about the behaviors that make up your values.

Still need some inspiration for your brand values? I like brand strategist Lisa Furze’s list of brand values that I’ve included, below. This might spur some creative thinking for you. 

Finally, if your brand needs some help and you’d like to work with me to help define your brand values, please reach out. I’d be so delighted to help make your brand magnetic to success. 

A list of Lisa Furze's brand values. Magnetic Brand Strategy, Northern Virginia

Magnetic Brand Strategy, located in Northern Virginia, serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding

Magnetic Brand Strategy, located in Northern Virginia, serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.

When business leaders start considering branding for their business, there’s a desire to focus on visual design factors: naming, colors, fonts, logo and so on. ​​These are important, but there’s much more to branding than visual assets. Your brand is what you do and say consistently. It doesn’t matter how great your brand strategy is; if you haven’t got brand consistency, you haven’t got a brand or an effective strategy.

If you want to grow your business intentionally – as opposed to accidentally – you need to:

  • Define what your brand stands for, 
  • The value your brand brings, and 
  • Who will most benefit from it

and then convey that consistently at every touchpoint. It’s not just enough to refresh your website; you need to relay this message over and again until your message sinks in. When your prospects can clearly identify you with distinction, that’s the moment they recognize your brand, trust your brand, feel connected to it and want to engage with your brand. 

Is consistency responsible for growing your business? In short: absolutely. But before we explain the benefits of brand consistency and how you can build it for your business, let’s define it so we’re on the same page. 

What is Brand Consistency?

When developing a sharp brand strategy, a critical component is brand consistency. Your marketing and communications messaging has got to match with the experience of your customer at every touchpoint. Brand consistency is when your marketing and communications reflect what your brand is all about: the benefits you deliver, the values your brand embodies and the promise your business makes to every customer. Brand consistency is when you’re walking the walk and talking the talk, and everything is aligned.

This also extends to your brand look and feel (your visual identity elements, including brand tone and voice) so every aspect of your brand is in sync with what you put out there. Brand consistency is what you do and what you say about your business, day in and day out, with every touchpoint and for every customer.

Why be consistent?

Let’s take an example: a personal interaction. When you start getting to know a person, you begin to develop opinions, ideas and assumptions about them based on your interactions. If they are dressed in a business suit one day, Bermuda shorts and a shredded t-shirt the next, and then they show up in a Spiderman suit another time, it may be hard to nail down exactly who they are and what they are all about.

Hilarious. But reliable? Dependable? An extension of your brand? 

Now imagine this person is someone you’re considering hiring. Wouldn’t you be concerned about their consistency in their work based on their inconsistent appearance? You might think twice before bringing them into your business because while they’re hilarious, they’re also unpredictable, and you never quite know who’s going to show up at work.

Your customers can feel the same about your brand if you aren’t consistent. If your social media voice is whimsical and silly but your product packaging is sterile and plain, you’re sending mixed signals that will confuse and leave them feeling like your brand is incoherent and can’t be trusted.

The Benefits of Brand Consistency

The truth is people trust brands they recognize. But brand consistency goes beyond recognition; it’s about helping your customers get to know you on a deeper level. When a customer feels like they know your brand and can trust you, they are more likely to connect with your brand and engage with your business. 

Consistency Builds Recognition

One of the many reasons you should build a brand is so customers can recognize and remember your business. When people recognize your brand on their social media feeds, at a conference or in their inbox, they are more likely to think of your brand at purchase time.

Note: This can take a while!

On average, a prospect needs to see a brand message many, many times before taking action. And while constantly putting your brand out there might feel repetitive for you, remember that your customer isn’t only thinking about your brand. She has a zillion different things on her mind and your brand is just one voice of many. But know that if you are consistent with your messaging and it’s compelling, over time, your message will sink in.

For this reason, you should brand your business, and your brand should be consistent, not just in look and feel, but in messaging across all marketing channels and most especially in the customer experience. Customers should see your brand values in action, and they should be able to recall those values when they see your logo. When you and your team create “on-brand” experiences that positively resonate with your customers, you are building recognition, differentiation and loyalty over your competition. For more on this, see the section below on customer experience.

Consistency Builds Trust

Brand consistency also builds a dependable experience and people crave dependability. As the past year and a half can attest, uncertainty is unsettling. There’s great comfort in knowing you can get exactly what you expect from a known brand. A big reason we frequent Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s is that we know the experience we’re going to have, and there’s comfort in that consistency, even if we aren’t getting the world’s best donuts or burger.

Consistency makes customers have more positive feelings toward your brand. Customers should know what to expect and what the outcome will be. When it comes to brand consistency, dependability is critical because it builds trust. If your message is clear and consistent and your content matches the customer experience, you will be seen as dependable and your prospects will develop a deep trust in your business. If they feel like your brand is constantly changing, they will be confused and assume that they can’t trust your business. They will start thinking that your business and its values could change at any moment.

Consistency Builds Connection

When your customers know your brand, it is easier for them to identify with your mission and values. That connection will increase the chances of them purchasing one of your products or services, or recommending your business to others. In fact, 64% of consumers say that having shared values is one of the top reasons they trust a brand.

You want your business to trigger certain positive emotions in your customer. Those emotions can then be evoked when the consumer sees your brand’s logo or hears your brand’s name. Consumers that feel connected to you and your mission are more likely to be loyal to your business.

How to Develop a Consistent Brand

How do we build a consistent brand? Two simple steps: 

1) it requires you getting your brand and story straight; and 

2) you need to put it out there on high repeat. 

To do this, you need to get clear about your branding: what your brand stands for, the value you provide, and who you’re targeting (this blog post can help and this one is good as well). Then you’ll want to design all aspects of your brand (the customer experience, your content, your team and customer interactions, your site and also design elements like your colors, font, logo, etc.) to mirror your brand. This way, your customers and prospects start to see you consistently, from every angle. Below are a few additional pointers to develop brand consistency. 

Nail Your Core Brand Elements, First

Many people feel they need to focus on visual brand cues, but brand values, your brand promise, and even your brand voice and tone are much more important to the impact your brand will leave on your customers. What do you promise your customers, with every interaction? How does your brand treat people? What do you promise your customers, with every interaction? How does your brand treat people? What do you want people to think of when they imagine your business? Answer those questions before getting caught up on the visual assets. Your outward appearance might change, but your core identity should remain.

Once you have these core elements down, take them to a trusted graphic designer who can bring them to life visually and stylistically, so your appearance matches your brand essence.

Build an extraordinary customer experience

Your brand is nothing without an extraordinary customer experience. For all the branding elements I talk about regularly on this blog and in my business, brand strategy is just hype if the customer experience doesn’t live up. It’s critical to make sure your customer experiences the version of your brand you have always sought to deliver. You need to map out what you envision the customer experience to be, and how you and your team can bring that to reality. Then seek out KPIs and other measurements to ensure these are being met.

Not sure about the experience your customers are getting? Ask them. I can’t stress enough how important it is to check in regularly with your customers and ask them for honest feedback. We all have blind spots. Many leaders are often so driven on certain aspects of our business that we overlook other important aspects to the detriment of our long-term brand health and business growth. This blog post on reaching out to customers for their insights can be a good read. 

Develop a Communications Strategy

Once you’ve got your brand developed, you need to get it out there. A consistent communications strategy and schedule can help identify your target audience, the right messaging and where to intercept them, and can help you time your marketing communications, so your brand appears regularly in front of your target customers. This article can help you design your communications strategy and put it into action. 

Above all, remember that your brand is what you do and say consistently, so lean into that. Be realistic about what you and your team can deliver from a marketing and communications standpoint. If you need help in bringing a robust, consistent brand to life, reach out to us; we’re here to help and ready to make your business magnetic to success. 

 

Magnetic Brand Strategy, located in Northern Virginia, serves a global market seeking a methodical approach to branding. Learn more about us.