Brand Identity: How to find and refine your brand voice.
Your brand identity goes much deeper than your logo. It’s the feeling a customer gets when they interact with your company, products, or services.
That means you need to think beyond how your brand looks to how your brand feels and sounds (and sometimes smells).
Customers aren’t loyal to a logo. They’re loyal to the feelings they associate with the brand mark, including how the brand communicates with them.
Much like your visual brand is a combination of icons, colors, fonts, and patterns, your brand voice is an amalgamation of your brand’s values, aspirations, headlines, and front-facing communications.
Finding your brand voice seems daunting. But once you do the work, the rest of your marketing strategy is a cakewalk. Well….not a cakewalk, but it should be about 10% easier. Your headlines will be halfway written, your website will be a little easier to update, and your target audience will be clearly defined.
Content Workshop Creative Director Tony Garcia put it best: When it comes to branding, “the solution is in the process.”
So let’s get started.
Four Steps for a Better Brand Voice
Every marketer has a slightly different approach to finding a brand’s voice, but the good ones typically contain some version of these four steps:
- Discovery—learning more about yourself and your customers.
- Brand Audit—examining your current materials and messages.
- Competitor Analysis—observing your competitors.
- Message Mapping—creating new examples of your own messaging.
You can’t create a brand or determine your brand’s voice without taking a hard look at what your target audience already thinks. Your adjectives have to match your verbs. If your brand’s voice doesn’t reflect its actions, it will come off as tone-deaf.
Imagine the Chief Marketing Officer at McDonald’s is planning to rebrand the fast food chain as a white-glove, high-touch dining establishment. McDonald’s can renovate every store and run thousands of hours of new commercials, but it won’t receive a Michelin Star because of a rebrand—no matter how good the creative is.
The first step in finding your brand voice is discovering who you already are.
A brand’s voice has to be honest, which means it has to come from within. In fact, parts of your voice probably already exist in your company culture.
Brand discovery is like reading a map. How can you reach your destination if you don’t know your current position?
If you’re like most companies, you’ve already created a brand mission or brand values document. That’s a great point of origin. Dig it up, take a look, and ask yourself, “Is this true of our brand in its current state?”
It’s ok if your brand has changed since the last document update. Most of the time, those documents are more perfunctory than reflective. But with your mission statement in hand, you can document and refine your brand’s mission, vision, and values.
These are three very important and distinct factors in establishing your brand’s voice. Just to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s a quick primer on the three:
- Mission: What is your brand’s purpose for existing?
- Vision: Where do you and your stakeholders want your brand to go?
- Values: What are the things your brand stands for or against? What do you support, and where do you draw red lines?
If the first step to finding your brand voice is looking inward, then the next step is to look outward and learn more about your audience.
Relying solely on demographics can mean marketing to wildly different personas with the same message. Personas can help you understand your target audience on an individual level and develop a brand voice that resonates with them.
Ask some deeper questions about your target audience to create personas:
- Who do you help most?
- What value do you think you provide them?
- What value do they think you provide them?
- Why do they choose you over your competitors?
- What are their biggest challenges?
- What are their expectations of your service/product?
- What are their personal and work habits and routines?
Depending on how long your brand has been around, you’ve probably got a locker full of branded assets. And if you’re like most companies, the tag lines, logos, target audiences, typefaces, and overall styles are wildly different from year to year and piece to piece.
So grab that old company polo, a couple of different business cards, and those brochures from last season. Print off a page from your website and a couple of social media posts.
Now that you have a better understanding of your target audience, try to look at these branded materials through their eyes.
- Which materials conflict with your mission, vision, and values?
- Which materials resonate with your audience?
Keep the pieces that still serve your brand, update the pieces that can serve your brand, and destroy the pieces that don’t (or put them in your brand museum).
Your competition is any brand your audience could go to if you didn’t exist—whether you think they’re on the same playing field or not.
Are you an online boutique? Amazon, Etsy, and your aunt’s MLM are all competitors.
Make your competitor list, and start stalking. Watch all their ads, click through their website, and go deep on their social media pages.
You can’t differentiate yourself if you don’t know what everyone else is doing.
This is the time to revisit your value proposition—your one sentence that tells your target audience why you’re the best.
Look for places where your brand has an opportunity to be different. What messages can you get away with that the competition can’t? Which parts of your audience can you better serve than the alternative brand?
Plot Your Brand’s Messaging Map
Message mapping is where your brand’s voice truly begins to take shape.
It’s time to box your brand in by setting rules and guidelines for how your brand communicates with its audience.
Start by listing adjectives. Are you professional or casual? Are you a straight shooter, or do you speak with more nuance and tact? Are you chill or urgent? Are you quiet or boisterous?
Now it’s time for some writing assignments. And this is just your first draft, so don’t spend too much time worrying about making it perfect.
- Rewrite your value proposition while thinking about your adjective list.
- Try out a few taglines and headlines. What do they look like written down? How do they sound out loud?
- Write a few generic ads or social media posts using the following hierarchy:
- Headline 1
- Headline 2
- Body Copy
- Call to Action
There you go. You have your first draft of your brand voice guidelines. Now you can identify patterns in the strongest messages to create tighter guidelines and rules.
Example guideline: Speak to every client like they are a high-touch, high-wealth client.
Example rule: Always say, “client.” Never say, “customer.”
Evolving and Refining Your Brand Voice
Don’t worry about nailing your brand voice on the very first try. Your voice can, should, and will evolve.
Take time to experiment with different tones and approaches in your marketing materials. But don’t make wild swings during the experimentation phase. You don’t want to confuse or alienate your audience.
Be sure to observe your audience and collect feedback. The more you interact with your audience, the better you can refine your brand’s voice.
Once you find what works, remain consistent across all your marketing channels, from social media to your website, from your print pieces to your front-facing customer interactions.
Consistency builds brand recognition and keeps you in control of your brand.
As your business grows and your target audience evolves, periodically reassess your brand voice to ensure it remains relevant and continues to resonate with your audience. Make adjustments as needed while staying true to your brand’s core values.