If you were to turn off the lights in the middle of dinner, would you still be able to carry on a conversation with your family? Of course, because you would easily recognize the voice of each person in the room. Just like people, companies have voices and tones that they convey through their content.
One of the trickiest things to manage is making your company’s voice as recognizable as the voice of a family member. If you removed your company’s name from a blog post, would your target audience still be able to tell it was you? Could they pick your name out of a lineup?
But a brand voice isn’t natural. It’s something you create, and as such, you have total control over it. You get to decide what your brand’s voice sounds like to the world. This voice is how your company portrays itself, and it may be time to change how you sound.
What is brand voice?
In short, your brand’s voice is how your audience perceives you. Voice is an effort to keep all communication within a certain tone. Doing so makes your company unified and consistent.
Voice is more than just words. It can be conveyed with images, behavior, and design choices, too. In fact, an overemphasis on words alone is detrimental in the end. Your voice is also how your brand behaves. Are you retweeting content early in the morning or late at night? Does your website host professional headshots of your employees or casual photos of them cuddling kittens? All the details define your voice. In fact, think of voice more like your company’s personality.
Tone versus voice: is there a difference?
Technically yes. The tone of your company is more flexible, an attitude or mood that may change depending on the context. Voice is your brand’s style, and is a bit more consistent. For the purposes of this article, we won’t worry too much about the minutiae of this difference. Many copywriters don’t differentiate between the two terms, and for right now, neither will we.
Nothing gold can stay
Our voices change as we age. A deeper voice is a sign of maturity. Just like a person, a company’s voice may change with time. This is often necessary for survival in the modern day. The world is a dynamic place and people and cultures change. The brand voice that worked so well for a company forty years ago may not connect with audiences today.
If the oldest companies in our world trotted out some of their ancient slogans and advertisements, they’d be hilariously ineffectual. (Admit it, you’re imagining that cliched 1950’s advertising voice in your head, aren’t you?) The world has changed, and it pulls brand voices with it. No company is immune from the effects of time, especially in the digital age.
5 signs your current voice is no longer working
So how can you tell that your voice needs a makeover? After all, a concerted effort to alter tone and voice can be a big undertaking. You don’t want to do so unnecessarily. So take a long, honest look at your brand’s overall image. See if you spot any of these warning signs that your current voice may be at the end of its lifespan.
Your audience is changing
This can happen more frequently than you think. Demographic changes, consumer trends and even government policies can affect your target audience. Perhaps your audience is aging. (Millennials are starting to be taken over by Gen Z.) Is your product aging with them? Or are you going to set your sights on the next generation? The answer depends on your product, but either way, your brand voice is going to need some adjustments.
You’re not getting the results you want
Something just isn’t quite working. Maybe your marketing isn’t reaching the right audience. Perhaps your website isn’t generating enough leads. Whatever the case, you’re not seeing the sales you should. This could be a sign that you need to rethink your tone. Doing so will have a domino effect on all areas of your marketing and outreach.
You’re too similar (or dissimilar) from the competition
A lot of branding decisions, including voice and tone, come down to competition. With tightly competing brands, you need to set yourself apart from your competitors without alienating your target audience. In other words, be different but not too different. (We’ve all confused Pandora with Paypal at least once.)
You’re introducing a new product
The introduction of a new product line or a change in your sales lineup is the perfect opportunity for a voice shift. It’s more natural to switch tones with the arrival of new products. Your voice should match your product, not the other way around. Don’t limit your innovation only to ideas that fit within your current voice and tone. It’s stifling. Instead, adjust your tone to match your products.
Selecting a new voice
Before you select a new voice, you need to get a good grip on your current one.
Keyword strategies and tone
SEO is very important for online content to rank well. If you don’t have a keyword strategy, then get on that, pronto. People don’t thumb through the yellow pages anymore, so putting three A’s at the start of your company name won’t do it anymore. You need to pop up first in online search results.
But as crucial as SEO is, sometimes overly zealous keyword strategies can get in the way of an effective brand voice. Talk with your content creators to make sure they prioritize your voice over keyword placement, and be open to suggestions on repositioning SEO practices.
Flexibility is key here. One of the reasons content creators are in such high demand is that they often have this crucial skill set: the ability to mimic any tone when writing and to ensure that your content stays on brand. Don’t sabotage them by asking for SEO requirements that don’t mesh well with your desired tone. So if you want the voice of your clothing brand to convey authority, quality and prestige, don’t ask your content creators to get you a high rank for the keywords “cheapest online jeans”.
How to implement a change in brand voice
Once you’ve decided to take on the task of updating your brand voice, you’ll want to make sure you do it right.
Leave no content behind
A tone change needs to be consistent. Employing a more casual voice for your onboarding emails won’t make much sense if your website copy still reads like a professional document. The major areas that show off your voice include blog posts, logos, social media, email communications and web copy, but there are some additional places you shouldn’t ignore.
- Website minutia (links, 404 error message text, etc.)
- Color palette (Well-chosen colors could boost your recognition by as much as 80 percent!)
These areas are often forgotten. Remember, your voice is in the details.
Consistency is key
Remember that your voice needs to stay consistent across all platforms and media. It can take up to 7 impressions before even a molecule of brand awareness sticks in a customer’s mind. If you let your voice waver, it could take even longer!
A voice change versus total rebranding
You can alter your brand’s voice without completely rebranding. Think of a voice change as a new way of presenting yourself to the world. It doesn’t change the fundamentals of your company or your product.
A total rebranding, on the other hand, involves reworking your brand from the ground up. Rebranding is a way to succeed in a new market and a significantly larger undertaking.
Rebranding is more of a hail mary pass, something a company does when they need to reinvent themselves fast. It’s not uncommon for rebranding to be the result of increasing obsolescence or a public relations nightmare. A voice change isn’t quite so dramatic.
How NOT to go about a voice change
The best laid rebranding plans of mice and men. Sometimes attempts at a tone shift can go horribly awry. Let’s take a brief moment to appreciate some of the most common mistakes companies make when looking to revamp the voice of their content.
Misreading the audience
Don’t change your voice to give your audience what you think they want. Do you research and make sure your changes are going to match up with what your audience really wants. This can be done the old fashioned way with surveys and phone calls, but I’d recommend social media interaction. Get to know your audience before investing in any brand updates.
Copying another brand
You should absolutely take tips from successful competitors. However, if you mimic another brand too closely, you the risk of undermining your own brand. People may see you as a derivative, or they may not notice you at all. We all remember the Cola Wars. Don’t be a Pepsi.
Everything at once
Implementing a new brand voice is a gradual process. A complete overhaul of all your content can be startling for your audience. You may lose your footing if you act drastically. Instead implement your new voice in several waves. Group your brand voice into broad segments and adjust each one independently.
What’s in a voice?
Remember, your voice needs to ooze from every corner of your brand. Whether that voice is casual and spunky or high-brow and technical, make sure your whole team is on board.