The brand voice you use in your marketing is potentially a huge differentiator. It’s also vastly ignored by most companies—especially business-to-business companies.
That spells plenty of opportunity for you and your company.
“Back up,” you’re thinking. “What’s ‘tone of voice’? That thing I studied in Humanities?”
Yes. And also no.
Brand voice is how our writing or copy sounds in a reader’s head.
You can say the same thing in different ways.
If you have an unadorned sausage, for example, you might ask for a condiment by saying…
“Hand over that mustard.”
“Can you pass me the mustard?”
“Pardon me… would you have any Grey Poupon?”
The difference between those is the tone of voice you use.
Brand voice signals three things:
- Who we are.
- Why we do what we do.
- What we are like to deal with.
In marketing, the voice we use when we communicate with our prospects and customers should be our differentiator.
“But we have brand guidelines”
Many of us have developed brand guidelines, too. But most use them as design guidelines—and to police rather than inspire. Others have brand voice guidelines that sit in a metaphorical binder on a shelf somewhere—inaccessible, ignored, forgotten.
Smarter companies treat brand voice guidelines as a living, breathing, evolving asset that helps writers and content creators communicate with similar (but not identical) styles.
Smarter companies think of tone of voice guidelines as bumpers on a bowling lane: They gently guide your communication in the right direction and help content creators avoid a gutter ball.
What’s the best way to keep your tone of voice guide accessible and actionable?
First, define your tone of voice. If this is new territory for your brand, find three adjectives that best match your brand personality and the characteristics of your audience or users.
I’m the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a marketing training and education company. Our three words are…
2. Personal and affiliative
I know, that’s technically four words. (Are we overachievers? Or just bad at math? Maybe both.)
Next, define how to interpret each adjective.
1. Accessible. Clear language. Shorter sentences. Buzzword-free. Simple but not simplistic.
We use jargon sparingly—only when it signals that we understand the market. “Optimize” is a good example. It’s jargon, but it’s a word marketers all use.
Jargon is like cholesterol: There’s a good kind and a bag kind, as my friend Doug Kessler says.
2. Personal and affiliative. You get a sense that a human is writing this. And because we marketing to marketers, we also signal that we are you. We GET you.
So we write to one person. We use lots of “you” and “we” vs. the more formal “the company” or “customers” or “marketers.” The language is focused on how we help you. It’s not focused on MarketingProfs, the company.
3. Smart. We don’t dumb things down. But we don’t overcomplicate them, either, just to SOUND smart.
4. Enjoyable. Relaxed and casual—more backyard BBQ than cocktail party. We use human language whenever possible—“you” or “people” or “customers” vs. “leads.” We use “you’re” instead of “you are.”
🔎 Go deeper here: 5 Keys to Developing a Strong Tone of Voice in Your Content Marketing
How does that get translated into brand voice?
Here’s how we described a recent virtual conference.
“We are super stoked to offer our first-ever Marketer’s Brunch & Learn. You bring your favorite brunch goodies (suggestions provided for each course), and we’ll supply the smarts.
What we didn’t say:
“MarketingProfs is introducing a new virtual conference for marketers who want to know more about technology. We will bring you tech insights from the industry’s top thought leaders in a virtual environment, so attendees can enjoy learning right from their desks.”
Or see how the copy on our B2B Marketing Forum site embodies these attributes:
“MarketingProfs’ B2B Marketing Forum is more than just a quirky (not-so-little) conference. It’s the place where leaders, innovators, and people who make things happen gather to learn about the latest in B2B marketing and share the secrets to success. (Plus belly laughs, creative networking, shenanigans, and marketers-after-dark antics.)”
We could have said something like this:
“The Conference brings together the top thought leaders and practitioners in business-to-business marketing. The agenda provides real-world case study examples and actionable takeaways on how marketers can better target, engage and convert prospects into customers.”
Personal and affiliative? Check.
One more stellar example
Our friends at Uberflip, a content marketing platform, have put their brand voice style guide online for you to see (and be inspired by). See it here.
Your turn. Think about your own company’s tone of voice.
Are you using it as strategically as you could?