What is a brand voice, and how do you find yours?

8 min read
Cathy Ngo

The term “brand voice” (or “tone of voice”) is often used to describe what you say about your business and how you say it. It not only helps your company stand out from the crowd, but also communicates your brand’s personality, values and unique selling position - all of which can help your business to be more successful in the long term.

Your brand voice should communicate your company’s personality and values.

This includes the words, phrases and stylings you chose when conveying messages — from the words on your website to your order confirmation emails. For instance, is your business super corporate and professional? Or is it more laid back and relaxed? In short, your brand voice gives your business a special persona in order to make it stand out.

Person typing on a computer keyboard on a white desk
The way you use your brand voice is a core element of your overall business brand, just like your logo, colour palette and imagery style.

How to develop a unique brand voice in 5 steps

Now that you know what a brand voice is, let’s discuss how to find your own. Below are five steps to get you started.

1. Do a communications audit

Take a look at the various communications being written by your company and note the different people and departments involved. Depending on the size of your venture, this could include:

  • The social media team
  • The marketing team
  • The PR team
  • Any external company that handles outsourced projects

Then, consider doing an audit for each department. This can be conducted by your staff, but also try and get the opinion of an objective outsider. Look at examples from all communication sources like:

  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Blogs
  • Internal and external newsletters
  • Press releases

Anything and everything that is communicated to people outside your business needs to be included.

Look for pieces that are strong and convey your business personality perfectly.

Take the strong pieces and look for common threads in voice and tone. Consider the specific words or phrases they use, along with the type of emotions they convey or evoke with your audience.

Nike just did it hashtag painted on a gym wall
The most successful businesses in the world pick a brand voice and stick with it.
Photo: George Pagan III on Unsplash

Thankfully, we are lucky enough these days to get immediate feedback from our audience via social media posts. Look at the best-performing posts to see what made them so successful. Were they:

  • Casual, like notes from a friend
  • Formal, like a bank or telecommunications message
  • Emotional or playful

Try to weave those words, phrases and tone throughout all your forms of communication.

2. Research your audience

Your audience interacts regularly with your brand, so ask them a few simple questions about how they see you (more on how to do research here). Some examples could include:

  • How would you describe the business?
  • Do you like the tone we use when talking to you — why or why not?
  • What stands out about the business? What makes it special?
  • If the brand were a person, use three words to describe it.

Take time to learn from your audience and research who they are:

  • How old are they?
  • What are their interests?
  • Where are they geographically?
  • What books do they read or tv shows do they follow?
  • Are they predominantly male or female?
  • What professions are they in?
  • What politics do they follow?

Write a list of words that come to mind as you consider your typical audience member. Then, write a short brief to describe them or create a customer persona. It might sound something like:

 “Our typical customer is female, between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. She’s witty, sarcastic, kind-hearted and cares about the world and her community. Her communication style is direct and she prefers blunt natural messaging, without waffle.”

Once you know your audience, you’ll be better equipped to speak to them in the way they like.

3. Find your tone of voice

Your brand voice is your permanent persona for messaging, while the tone of voice is the way you convey that message. Consider how you want your brand to “sound” when someone reads your messages. You can ask yourself the following questions to help determine which tone of voice matches your style best:

  • Is it funny or serious?
  • Is it irreverent or sophisticated?
  • Is it laidback or straight-laced?
  • Do you sound like an excited toddler or a staid adult?

Once you know how you want to sound, your tone of voice will develop naturally. Remember to keep your target audience in mind and know who you’re speaking to. This will help you communicate better with your audience.

It needs to be consistent and should connect with readers on a personal level.

Using a brand voice that is familiar and natural can help your audience connect with you. There are exceptions of course: banks, healthcare providers and IT firms often take a more professional tone to inspire trust.

4. Know when to change your tone

With all the communications, there are times and situations when the tone of voice needs adjusting.

For instance, the refund/exchange page on your website is full of legal language — using a relaxed tone here would totally be out of sync. But you will be thankful for that dry legal page when issues arise, given it’s still worded in a way that’s clear and easy for your customers to understand.

Knowing when and how to adjust the tone of voice is a vital skill. You want the reader/hearer to receive your message correctly.

As with real life conversations, you might find yourself changing your tone of voice depending on who you’re speaking to. Don’t be afraid to switch up the tone to match a particular situation.

25 pictures of a woman showing a range of emotion

When responding to a customer, take your tone from the person you are responding to - even if it’s on a less formal platform like Facebook. When an audience member praises you, you can afford to be a bit joke-y. But if the person has a problem with your company, then don’t be dismissive or funny when replying.

5. Document your brand voice

Chances are you have more than one person writing your communications and these people will come and go.

So, having a brand voice document or brand guidelines for new people to reference is essential. This could include:

  • Your brand’s personality traits/tone of voice
  • Common words your audience responds to
  • Unique phrases that make your brand voice stand out
  • Examples of tone and how this can flex depending on the situation

It’s also good to have plenty of examples of various communications. This will help showcase how to write accurate messages that capture your brand’s voice.

Don’t just rely on text from your website, blog posts or social media feeds.

Include communications like newsletters, press releases, letters and pamphlets, too.

3 tone of voice examples worth noting

To help inspire you, here are a few tone of voice examples from companies that have developed a distinctive brand voice.

1. Frank Body

In the crowded skincare sector, Frank Body’s brand voice makes a memorable impression on their target audience: young women

They know their customers don’t buy products only for function. This realisation has led them into developing a unique identity that relies on a cheeky, playful male persona like Frank.

Peek at the captions on this Facebook post to get an idea of how they pull it off.

Brand voice: Irreverent, quirky, naughty, slightly flirty

2. Lorna Jane

This brand is all about positivity and making its target audience of young women feel good about who they are. Though they sell activewear, they don’t preach to their customers or tell them they need to be fitter or healthier. Check out this successful post on their Instagram page that garnered over 1,800 likes.

Brand voice: Positive, empowering, cheerleader

3. Greenpeace Australia Pacific

Their core audience is the segment of the public that identifies with the Greenpeace vision. They use clear friendly language, while constantly calling for action.

The goal here is to be inclusive, yet not get people’s backs up. They set themselves up as the authoritative voice within that space. You can see how they achieve this through this Instagram post.

Brand voice: Inclusive, factual, trustworthy, inspiring

Why does brand voice matter?

The world is cluttered with many different businesses vying for attention. Most brands try to stand out by coming up with a:

  • Colourful logo
  • Snappy slogan (e.g. Just do it)
  • Unique product

But paying attention to written content is another important part of brand-building that shouldn’t be ignored.

The Sprout Social Index study asked consumers to rate the most effective ways businesses can stand out with their messaging. Here were some of the top results:

  • 40% percent said memorable content
  • 33% said distinct personality
  • 32% said compelling storytelling

When crafting your brand voice, make sure to consider these areas throughout all forms of content. They play a major part in how people view and respond to your brand.

Related: The secret to great storytelling

Final takeaway on brand voice

Your brand voice is how you announce yourself to the world. It helps you stand out and, in a world of lookalike products and services, provides a punch of personality. Do your research, learn what your audience likes and then go for it!