A microphone in an outdoor wooded setting - brand voice concept
PHOTO: Adobe

Often, the way a brand believes it represents itself, aka its “voice,” is not in line with the perception that its customers have of the brand. The personality that is infused into a brand’s communications is often counter to the message the brand is trying to get across, such as when a brand infers that it truly cares about its customers but comes across as only caring about profit. Getting these two areas in alignment is key for marketing success.

Brand Voice Is the Personality of the Brand

Whenever a brand publicly makes a statement, posts on social media, sends an email, responds to a customer service ticket, posts a blog, participates in a webinar, or communicates in any way with a customer, employee, supplier, another business, or the community, it is using and sharing its brand voice. Just as with people, each of us gets to know the personalities of one another by interacting and communicating.

The brand voice can be thought of as the personality of a brand. Is the brand light-hearted or serious? Caring and empathetic or impersonal and greedy? Helpful or standoffish? Genuine or fake? It does not take a one-on-one interaction to learn the personality of another person — their observed interactions with others also allow one to determine their personality. It’s the same with brands — customers observe the interactions that a brand has with other customers, employees, the community, and other businesses, and they form a perception of the brand’s voice.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising, thinks that a brand’s voice should be the definition of the personality of the brand, she said. It’s the consistent thread that ties everything about the brand together, from the language that is used, to the imagery. “The voice at the heart of the brand is one of the most effective tools a brand can use for targeting its desired consumer demographics. This brand personality is what gives consumers the ability to become familiar with and connect with the brand,” Hawthorne-Castro said.

When one thinks of a brand, for example, Ben & Jerry’s, what comes to mind? Ice cream, of course, but also creativity, light-heartedness, flavor, happiness, sweetness, euphoria, kindness, community service, the Grateful Dead and Cherry Garcia, colorful advertisements, Wavy Gravy — the brand has built its voice around ice cream, fun, laughter, and love for humanity. While it is most definitely a for-profit business, it has never taken itself too seriously, nor has it ever forgotten its roots and the people and communities that have supported the business.

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Brand Voice Is Not Marketing Hype

Brands have to learn to speak to their customers in the same way that friends speak to one another — not using marketing jargon or fancy terms. When considering the voice of your brand, a good exercise is to personify the brand by selecting those adjectives that accurately describe it, as we have done above, and use them to build the voice of the brand. Do the words, fonts, images, and media used by your brand convey those adjectives? Messaging from the brand should not come across as marketing hype or it will be rejected as just another sales pitch.

“Consumers are constantly inundated with messaging from multiple channels and brands,” Hawthorne-Castro said. “Brands must avoid marketing hype as this type of messaging is easily lost in the noise of other brands’ messages. Consumers connect with authentic products and experiences, therefore brands must craft messaging that is strategically tailored toward their target audiences.”

By using a conversational tone, avoiding jargon or buzzwords, and just focusing on how your customers want to be spoken to, you can approach them as you would a friend, a guest, or a neighbor. Think of being with a group of people in a room. Some people are natural speakers, and tell a story with relish. You can tell that people are enjoying listening to the person even without hearing what they are saying by looking at the people who are listening to them. The speaker is comfortable with themself, they are relaxed as they are speaking, not rushed, and they are using words and body language that the listeners are comfortable with. Their voice is neither too loud nor too soft. This is the voice a brand should strive for as it communicates with its customers.

Sincerity and Legitimacy a Must

Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose when it comes to consumers today. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that 70% of those polled said that trusting a brand is more important today than ever — and this belief is the same among various age groups, genders, and income levels. The report also indicated that 74% said a brand’s impact on society is one of the reasons why brand trust has become more important.

Customers want to trust a brand, but in order to do so, they must feel that the brand’s voice is sincere and legitimate throughout all of its channels. If a brand says that they care about the health and well being of its customers, then the brand must show that it does indeed care through its actions. This has never been more apparent than it has during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers have seen many brands show that they put people over profit. Brands such as Nike, which removed the subscription fee for its streaming workout service NTC Premium, and AT&T, who along with 3 other wireless providers, opened WiFi hotspots across the country for people who could not otherwise afford it, stepped up to the plate to show that they truly care about not only their customers, but the community at large.

“A brand’s voice is an important factor in establishing sincerity and legitimacy for the brand but the brand must be thoughtful about how it uses its voice in order to achieve these traits. A brand can convey sincerity and legitimacy by personalizing its content and ensuring that it only partners with influencers and other brands whose values align with the brand’s values,” Hawthorne-Castro explained.

Transparency goes a long way towards showing customers that a brand is sincere and legitimate. Owning up to mistakes, being a customer-centric, people-first business, and showing that the brand takes care of its employees, all play a role in the way that customers perceive the brand voice.

Brand Voice Is Connected to Brand Vision and Promise

A brand’s vision is based on what the brand hopes to achieve and is linked to the brand’s mission, which defines its purpose and what it does for its customers. The brand’s promise is a value or experience its customers can expect every time they interact with the brand. If the brand tells customers that it will provide piping hot, ultra-fresh chicken wings, its customers expect that to be the case every single time they order from the brand. “A brand’s voice should encompass its vision, promise, and values because these are the things that make the brand unique,” Hawthorne-Castro said. “Consumers are more likely to buy from brands whose vision and values align with their own, so brands should weave these elements into their voice and messaging to clearly communicate them to consumers.”

The voice of a brand is going to be unique for each brand. Each has a different vision, mission, and promise, and as such, each brand’s voice will be unique to itself. A nursing home’s voice will be different than that of a shoe retailer, which will differ from that of a chiropractor. This is important because a brand’s voice should make it stand out from those of its competitors.

Be Consistent Across Channels

Customers expect every interaction they have with a brand to be consistent across all of the brand’s channels. Whether the customer is on the brand’s website, social media presence, or in the brand’s brick and mortar store, the brand voice should also be consistent.

Julie Guest, CEO and chief marketing strategist at Bolder&Louder, an LA-based marketing consultancy, told CMSWire that the biggest disconnect that brands suffer from is what she called frankenstein marketing. “There is no consistent brand voice, no consistent brand message across each marketing platform. Instead, the campaigns and messages are bolted together which at best creates mistrust, at worst it can result in customers jumping ship to the competition.” Guest said that, surprisingly, many businesses don’t realize that brand inconsistency can be so damaging.

“Equally troublesome is if the brand's voice is the wrong one for their target market!” Guest cited medical marketing as an example of when a brand is using the wrong voice. She said that although most healthcare centers focus their marketing message on patient health and well being, many times patients have to sit in the waiting room for an extended period of time or hand over their credit card before they are seen. “Their ‘brand voice’ is [then perceived as] nothing more than marketing noise. That's what causes customers to leave in droves.”

Hawthorne-Castro said that consistency allows the brand to be more easily recognized by its audiences and helps to make it distinguishable from other brands that operate within the same space. “Consistency across all channels is essential for ensuring core messaging and competency are not lost,” she suggested.

Brand Voice and Social Media

Social media is the place where brand voice can shine. The informal nature of social media facilitates open communication, and it’s one of the places where customers feel like they can be themselves. It’s also a place where brands can build working relationships with their customers, as well as actively listen to what their customers have to say about the brand and its competitors, as well as the language and tone with which they speak. Customers, as with people in general, appreciate it when those with whom they are speaking match their own tone and voice.

A brand can show more of its personality on its social media presence, and let its hair down, so to speak, allowing its customers to see the people behind the brand. That said, the brand’s voice should always remain consistent. “A brand can be a bit more casual on social media in order to fit the tone of the platform, but the overall voice must remain consistent with all other messaging to preserve the identity of the brand,” Hawthorne-Castro said.

Along with being a learning tool for understanding their customers, brands should use social media as a channel to capture the interest of customers, Hawthorne-Castro said, as well as to show them how they stand out from other brands.

Final Thoughts

Much is said about brand values, but it’s the brand voice that customers relate to each day through each of a brand’s channels. The brand voice is perceived as the personality of the brand, and should not be presented as marketing hype. Brand voice equates to sincerity and legitimacy, and is connected to a brand’s vision, mission, and promise. The brand voice should be consistent across all channels, although a less formal voice is acceptable through a brand’s social media presence, as that is where customers get to know the people behind the brand.