Have you ever recognized the voice of a close friend or family member sight unseen? Yes? Then you have at least an inkling about the meaning of the term “brand voice,” even if you’ve never heard it before.
It’s a good one to know if you’re pursuing B2B copywriting because many companies rely on brand voice to help them convey their message.
In this article, I’ll define the term “brand voice” by sharing a few examples and how it affects you as a writer.
Think back to those voices you know — spouse, children, parents. They’re each distinctive.
Now, think about the various things you read. Magazines, novels, blogs… they all have their own recognizable style too, don’t they? If you can’t think of anything specific, then have a look at The Harvard Business Review and Buzzfeed for contrast. The first is authoritative and scholarly. Buzzfeed is snappy and full of pictures.
Those differences in style are what we mean by brand voice.
And it’s not unlike the voice of a family member. You’d probably recognize your child’s “voice” even over text.
When a business develops a strong “voice,” people will recognize it — just like a family member. And that recognition builds a strong brand.
There’s a local car dealership in New York who’s signature is the word “HUUUUUGE.” All over New York State, residents know whose message, whose brand, that is.
Brand voice establishes personality. Is it formal? Is it quirky? Sophisticated? Does it seem like a company you’d care about or does it sound the same as its competitors?
One of my favorite examples of a quirky brand voice comes from the email marketing company MailChimp. For starters, they have funny name with a monkey as a mascot and the language they use is similarly silly.
Here’s their current homepage.
“You’ve got big ideas. Now what? Get a smarter all-in-one Marketing Platform to start growing your cat harness business. Or your not-cat-harness business.”
It’s silly. But it’s on brand.
Their customers — small business owners looking for an easy-to-use, affordable marketing platform — will appreciate their approach. However, it won’t attract a tradition-bound Fortune 100 company. And that’s okay.
The point of a brand voice is to stand out and connect with the target market. It’s a differentiator.
No matter whether the writing style is silly, formal, or somewhere in between, having a brand voice keeps the marketing consistent. Can you imagine The Harvard Business Review adopting the MailChimp voice? That would rock both subscriber bases to their core!
What Do You, as the Writer, Need to Know?
As a B2B writer, you’ll want to understand the brand voice of the company before you write for them.
Fortunately, this isn’t difficult for a company with an established history of marketing communications. Many businesses will have a guide they’ll give you. They may call it their Brand Voice or Brand Guidelines. They may even call it a Style Guide. Every company is different.
This guide may tell you whether they want you to write using “you” or the more formal “they.” It will tell you if they want a sense of humor or a hint of snark — both are popular with some lifestyle brands and Software as a Service (SaaS) products. Or, if they want to convey a sense of sophistication, they’ll let you know that too.
There’s a lot you can pick up on by simply reviewing existing copy also. From the design to the writing, it all fits together and a formal guide will probably mention specific colors and other design elements.
When a new client gives me such a guide, I review it before I start writing. I also read several pages of existing client copy — whether it be the blog, current website, emails, whatever I can to get a better feel for the voice.
Next, I draft my copy, review the brand voice document again, revise, and before I send it in, I review it one more time. As a writer who wants to work with clients long-term, you want to make them happy and following their guidelines is important.
What If They Don’t Have a Brand Voice Document?
A lot of businesses don’t. That’s okay. You can read existing material and see what the overall tone is. Is it silly, serious, sophisticated? Is it written with a lot of action verbs or is it passive? What type of vocabulary do they use? Are they going to be upset if you start a sentence with “And?” Do they use short sentences or long ones?
If it’s not obvious to you, then ask. A simple “Would you like this written in a modern conversational style or do you want it more formal” is a reasonable question. Better yet, ask your contact to share examples they like (and ones they don’t like for contrast).
That way, you can follow the brand guidelines even if they haven’t been formalized.
What about Your Own Brand Voice? Do You Have One?
Many freelancers and entrepreneurs have built their business around their brand voice.
Just look at an email from Ben Settle (Email Players). His tone is not warm, comforting, or friendly. But his readers like and appreciate his tell-it-like-it-is style.
When you write copy for your own marketing purposes, you should also have a “voice” that conveys your message in a way that is authentic and consistent.