All businesses have some form of communication with their customer base, but why do some brands resonate with us while others do not? Brands that are strong have a cohesive way of speaking to the public, whether it is on their site, in print or video. These companies have taken time to think about who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist. They have also made an effort to define their voice and tone.
Business is all about trust, and people trust companies that sound the same on a consistent basis. These highly defined brands don’t suffer from an identity crisis. They know who they are, and that same voice and personality is reflected in everything they say and do. Today’s post is for businesses that need help finding their business voice and are focused on better defining their brand.
Part of finding your business voice is figuring out the thoughts and motivations behind the business. How did the company start? What is the company trying to accomplish (beyond making money)? What values does the company embrace, and what practices does it admonish? Answering these questions will give you a clearer picture of what your brand voice is, what it wants to say and who it wants to say it to.
Reason For Being
Every company has a reason for existing that goes deeper than turning a profit. Why is it important that your company continues to exist? Who are you seeking to help and what do you want to do for them? If you were to meet those people face to face, how would you talk to them and what would you say?
Define Your Core Values
If you are able to articulate why your company exists, that should lead you to internal company values that support those goals. Make a list of things you stand for and things your company stands against. What are the values you want your company to live by?
Making a list of adjectives that describe your brand, and ones that are the opposite of your brand will help you define the characteristics of your brand, and these will shape its voice. By writing down what principles are guiding your company, you are beginning to define the type of culture you want your business to have. You will also attract clients who stand for the same things that your company does.
If your brand voice was a celebrity who would it be and why? If your brand voice was a regular person, what would they look, act, and sound like? Would that person be able to influence your target audience?
You cannot be all things to all people. If your brand values fluctuate on a regular basis, your words will be hollow to your audience. Define your core values and let those guide your communication with your customers. You may choose to write these values down as a mission statement for the benefit of your internal team.
A good way to test your material for comprehension and tone of voice is to read it out loud. Does this sound like you? If not, what can you do to make it sound more like your conversational voice? You should not feel uncomfortable reading your copy out loud. The closer your marketing copy is to your natural voice, the more authentic it will feel to your clients.
Things To Avoid
These are worst practices — some sure signs that your business voice needs to be more clearly defined.
Back in the day, we had a family friend with a plaque on their wall stating, If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. Sometimes I will come across a website, and that’s exactly how it feels when I read their copy. It’s difficult to keep bluffing people with fancy words that mean nothing. Your prospects have a finely tuned BS meter; don’t let your marketing efforts set theirs off.
Jargon and Marketing-Speak
Many brands fail to reach their audience because they use marketing speak and jargon. If someone outside your industry wouldn’t understand it, don’t use it on your website or in your marketing materials. While using jargon may be normal for you and your peers, to your clients, it sounds like gibberish. When your copy is intimidating or confusing, the confidence of your potential clients is shaken. Superfluous statements may impress others in your field, but to a prospect, it sounds like the teacher on the Charlie Brown cartoons.
People can sense when you’re being inauthentic. In the immortal words of the band Pantera, you can’t be something you’re not. Don’t try to be someone you admire, just be yourself.
In school, there would always be one kid who seemed to be copying other kids, wearing the same clothes, adopting their mannerisms, using the same phrases. These kids were shunned because their peers found it annoying. Why did these kids copy other people? They were likely trying on identities to try to figure out who they were, but also they were trying too hard to fit in.
Don’t let your business resemble that kid in the corner that no one respects. Instead of trying to be someone else, figure out what your business stands for, and speak with conviction and originality.
Clarity of message is why it is important to decide on your business values and tone of voice. If your business adopts one persona on Monday and a completely different persona on Tuesday, your customers will be confused, and your words will cease to have impact. Mixed messages and conflicting tones of voice are warning signs that a business is still trying to figure out who they are. Make sure your business does not have an identity crisis, but speaks in a consistent manner, no matter what you decide that voice is. You are more likely to attract people to your business by establishing who you are than by trying to adopt personalities that are not your own.
Well-defined brands have guides not only for the way they look, but for the way they sound and talk. The tone of voice may depend on the target audience. While professionalism should always be present, the tone of voice could be playful, irreverent, serene, uplifting, empathic or refined, just to name a few. The tone depends greatly on the guiding values of the company, who they are trying to reach and why.
Try creating a Communications Guide for tone of voice, the brand personality traits, and phrases to use and avoid. This guide may also list ways that your brand voice guidelines support your brand goals and values.
Finding Your Business Voice Takes Thought
These exercises require some introspection. Defining tone of voice may be a little easier for a solo entrepreneur, and may take a little more time, energy and discussion for a larger organization. Whatever that brand voice ends up being, it has to come from within you and your organization. People have an uncanny ability to sense when something is disingenuous. Your business voice and tone have to come from a place that is real and a company culture that already exists.
I hope this has given you a few things to think about — there are some additional resources to check out below.