A brand is defined by a combination of attributes, from its values to its visual identity to its voice and tone. To connect with audiences, a brand needs a strong voice to communicate clearly and consistently. At a minimum, a brand’s voice shares its organization’s values and mission – but when a brand voice is successful, it can motivate audiences to engage that brand in meaningful ways.

What is a Brand Voice?

A brand voice expresses your organization’s personality. It encompasses everything from the words and language you use, to the image your marketing assets evoke. 

Brand voice doesn’t determine what you say, but it does determine how you say it. This voice stays consistent, but your tone may change depending on your audience. Your tone is the emotional nuance in your voice. It changes depending on the medium of your message and the audience receiving it. For example, you might use one tone when you're out with your friends, and a different one in a meeting with your boss. You also adjust your tone based on the emotional state of the person you’re addressing. You wouldn’t use the same tone with someone who’s scared or upset as you would with someone who’s looking to laugh.

Why is Voice Important?

Using your brand’s voice in a consistent way can cultivate emotional relationships with your audience. And with that emotional connection comes brand engagement and loyalty; in a Deloitte study, they found that “44% of those surveyed endorse a product based on emotional criteria. And, in these recommendations, 60% of customers tend to use language such as ‘love,’ ‘happy’ or ‘adore,’ typically reserved for family or friends.”

Failing to identify and use a consistent brand voice results not only in missed opportunities to connect with your audience, but also leads to disconnected, uninspired content.

How We Identify Brand Voice and Tone

While a brand’s voice represents a single personality, it is typically formed by the collective values, beliefs, and personalities within an organization. At Velir, we’ve found that it’s easiest to identify a brand’s voice and tone by looking at the brand’s core identity.

Velir's brand framework for establishing a brand. We start with the core brand (mission, values, core attributes) and then identify the voice and tone, visual identity, and look and feel.

Velir's framework for establishing a brand. We start with the core brand (mission, values, core attributes) and then identify the voice and tone, visual identity, and look and feel.

A Brand’s Core

Like a person, a brand’s personality begins with core beliefs and values. Regardless of an organization’s maturity in the brand journey, it’s important to document and align on a singular mission and set of values. These, in addition to your brand attributes, drive your brand’s philosophy and shape your voice and tone, look and feel, and overall identity.

A brand’s mission is its reason for being. It’s an aspirational, evergreen public statement about why the brand exists and what it stands for. A brand’s values are principles that guide its unique behavior and way of doing things. These are also public evergreen statements that reflect the brand’s community and beliefs. Brand attributes are characteristics and personality traits that distinguish the brand. They are internal attributes about the brand's mission, values, and personality that help teams express and apply the brand.

Identifying Voice and Tone in a Workshop

After we develop a solid understanding of a brand’s core identity, we rate a brand’s voice and tone on various personality scales with clients. This rating exercise, held in a workshop format, is meant to encapsulate both the brand’s current-state and an aspirational but realistic future-state. We ask workshop attendees, “what does your organization sound and feel like? What might you want your organization to sound and feel like in a year from now?” Asking stakeholders to balance both future-state and current-state can result in an interesting gap in brand expectations.

Some of the scales used to quantify a brand’s voice in a voice and tone workshop, from casual to formal; idealistic to realistic; radical to traditional; unapologetic to empathetic.

Some of the scales used to quantify a brand’s voice in a voice and tone workshop.

To set stakeholder expectations and align on what “casual” or “formal” may sound like, we provide examples of a casual brand voice contrasted with the other end of the spectrum, formal, to illustrate how much language can shift depending on a brand’s voice.

A few examples of brand voice that we provide during our workshop: Slack (casual) uses contractions and slang: "get stuff done." Microsoft (formal) uses wordy language with professional lingo.

A few examples of brand voice that we provide during our workshop.

When asking stakeholders to rate their brand voice, we provide a survey that measures each scale from 1-4. We don’t provide a rating in the middle to challenge stakeholders to choose a clear direction for their brand voice rather than a neutral one. We believe that a brand voice can still sound diplomatic and fall on one end of our provided spectrums without becoming neutral.

For each pinpointed mark on the voice scales, our content team has defined a voice attribute. For example, between “unapologetic” and “empathetic,” we find “confident” and “agreeable.” These terms are only shown to workshop participants after the rating exercise has completed and we have taken an average of ratings for each scale.

How to Document a Brand Voice

After our workshop, we provide a list of agreed-upon voice attributes based on the rating exercise. We also provide explanatory statements for each voice as further context for copywriters or designers to use. This statement often uses a “this, not that” framework to define nuance in the brand voice and tone. For example, when we define a brand voice as being “direct,” we would provide a statement like: “We are straightforward and avoid fluff, but we aren’t blunt.”

We also provide examples of what a client’s brand voice looks and sounds like based on various copy samples for social media, emails, web copy, etc. These samples provide the last step of alignment with stakeholders and content creators so they can maintain a consistent brand voice moving forward.

What Comes Next

The brand voice we’ve identified is ready to be used across channels but can also be the launching point for further brand definition. For organizations looking to get more insight into their shared language, we recommend a brand vocabulary exercise to investigate words specific to your organization that may require further definition so your employees can use them in a consistent way.

If you’re looking to establish your brand’s voice and tone in your content marketing, reach out or read more of our thoughts on content strategy.