How to create a brand voice

Posted by Tiger Marketing on 20 June 2024

When we help businesses with their branding, whether that’s a refresh or the development of a new brand identity, a key part of our work focuses on the brand voice. But what do we mean by brand voice – and how do you create one?

What is ‘brand voice’?

Quite simply, your brand voice refers to how you speak, or write, to your audience. It is deeply connected to your business’s personality and brand archetype – it’s almost impossible to decide on a tone of voice if you haven’t nailed down your core values and mission statement. But once you’ve established those aspects, it’s time to get creative with your brand voice. Because a unique, distinctive and consistent brand voice will help you stand out in your industry and foster a sense of community among your target audience.

Brand voice needs to be consistent across your website copy, marketing emails, social media, internal communications and PR. And don’t forget things like your terms and conditions and privacy policy; these pieces of copy can still be written in your brand voice; they don’t have to be dry and technical just because the content is, well, a bit dry and technical. There may be a little bit of variation across channels – for example, on social media you can afford to be chattier and more informal than you might be on your website – but consistency is what cements your brand’s identity.

So how do we create a voice that’s unique to your organisation? Once we’ve established your business’s personality, core values and target audience, we apply that knowledge to the specifics of language…

Casual or formal?

One of the first things you need to consider is where you land on the ‘formal – casual’ scale. If you’re running a burger restaurant, you’ll likely want a tone of voice that’s casual, fun and a bit cheeky. If you’re in the health or financial industries, you’ll most likely want to convey a more serious, authoritative tone. So, how do we use language to create the right level of formality or fun?

  • Sentence length. Shorter sentences are more conversational and ‘everyday’, while longer sentences are more sophisticated, formal and educated – and not as easy to read
  • Use of punctuation. This depends on sentence length. Simple sentences need simple punctuation like full stops, commas and exclamation marks, which will keep your writing easy to read. Semi-colons and em-dashes belong in more complex writing intended for a slightly more educated audience, but can still be used to create a conversational, chatty tone. Bullet points and numbered lists make copy easier to read and digest, and so can be used within all brand voices
  • Long words. Longer words are more formal, while shorter ones are more casual and easy to read
  • Question tags. e.g. ‘You’re a busy person, aren’t you? You haven’t got time to shop around..’ Informal, conversational, good way for creating rapport with your reader
  • Personal pronouns, e.g. ‘you’. Warm and conversational, and without them, copy sounds dry, corporate, and overly formal. Whether you’re creating a serious or lighthearted brand voice, a good rule to keep in mind is to use the word ‘you’ three times more than the word ‘we’
  • Slang. Slang can only be used in more casual brand voices, and should be used in moderation, as it’s highly audience-specific.

Expertise

There are several ways you can communicate your authority and expertise:

  • Jargon. Too much jargon and your audience will immediately zone out – readers quickly get a sense of when they’re being blinded with niche terminology. But a little industry-specific jargon is often essential when communicating with particular audiences. Speaking the ‘right’ language is especially important when writing B2B copy; you need to prove to your intended audience that you’re embedded in their industry and you understand their problems 
  • Use the language your audience uses. One great way of connecting with your target audience is to look at what your existing customers are saying about you. Track your online reviews and note the kinds of things that come up repeatedly. As the advertising legend David Ogilvy said: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” 
  • Attitude. A bit of sass works well in creating a conversational, almost conspiratorial tone, where you want to create a sense of exclusivity. For example: ‘You could go to the trouble of finding an Airbnb and doing it all yourself. Or you could stay at our hotel and have everything taken care of for you. It’s up to you…’ 
  • Assumptions. One of our frequent sayings in the jungle is ‘never assume’ – but it can work for your brand voice, e.g. ‘We don’t think you’re going to love our product. We know you will.’ It’s more informal than serious, and you need to be absolutely confident you can deliver on your promise – and it can be off-putting if overdone, so it’s a tactic to be used sparingly

Humour

Conveying humour in your copy can be tricky to get right – what one person finds funny might offend someone else; it’s highly subjective. And how you incorporate humour into your brand voice depends on the level of formality you’ve chosen. Innocent Drinks and Oatly are classic examples of informal brands who do humour well, while formal brands tend to stay away from humour – but it can be done in a more subtle, arch, knowing way. 

  • Asides – between dashes (or in brackets) – to the reader. Slipping little remarks into your copy creates a conversational, almost conspiratorial tone. Too many asides will put readers off, but the occasional comment shows you’re not taking yourself too seriously – which is an appealing quality for a fun, informal brand
  • Being brash. Remember fashion brand French Connection’s logo in the 1990s? The ‘FCUK’ logo printed on t-shirts and bags made half of us smirk and half of us roll our eyes. Swearing or hinting at swearing is risky, as you’ll definitely put some people off. But the point of creating a distinctive, unmistakable brand is to attract the customers you really want to attract; not everybody has to love your brand
  • Deliberate incorrect spelling and grammar. Being playful with spelling and grammar communicates that you’re a fun and casual brand, e.g ‘It ain’t gonna work’ or ‘we don’t want no trouble’, and so on. Deliberate double negatives, which sound clunky in other contexts, can also be effective if used very sparingly. For example: ‘We’re not saying we’re the best. But we’re not not saying that…’
  • Surreality. One way of incorporating humour is to just be a bit weird. This can be effective in the context of a fun, casual, informal brand voice – but can also risk sounding a bit too silly and like you’re trying a little too hard
  • Archaic language and old-fashioned terms. For example: ‘The lady doth protest too much’ or ‘too darned expensive’. This can be effective in making your brand sound arch and knowing, and can be especially effective when you mix your registers and slip in an old-fashioned term into an otherwise ‘modern’ line of copy, e.g. ‘do you find cloud storage too darned complex to understand?’

Other ways to add flair to your brand tone of voice 

  • Mixing up your register. Dropping a casual or slang turn-of-phrase into an otherwise fairly formal piece of copy can be powerful – but can also be jarring. A tactic to be used with care and edited ruthlessly 
  • Foreign words. Dropping foreign words and phrases into copy can either sound academic/educated or playful. E.g. ‘je ne sais quoi’ vs. ‘mamma mia!’
  • Literary references. ‘Miss Havisham’, ‘Scrooge’, ‘Pollyanna’. It depends on the reference – most people know what a ‘Scrooge-like’ person is, not everyone will know who Miss Havisham is. This can come off as pretentious, but it can work when writing for educated audiences
  • False reticence. ‘Might you be interested in a free trial?’ Or: ‘If you’d like to sign up to our newsletter, we’d be delighted to have you on our list, but we know your inbox is probably chock-full already. Give it some thought, we’re in no hurry…’

 

Ready for your brand to stand out?

That may have demystified what goes into the creation of a unique, distinctive brand voice – or you may decide you’d rather the experts handle it. We love immersing ourselves in new businesses; getting to know their mission and core values, and helping draw out a brand personality that stands out from the crowd. Looking for an agency who can breathe new life into your brand or help your business find its true voice? Get in touch with us today.

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