It isn’t touchy feely mumbo jumbo to think of your brand as a person. Not unlike a person, your brand is wholly unique. It has a personality with emotions, behaviors, and characteristics. And just as each person does, your brand has a unique voice.

Your brand’s voice is central to its interaction with the world. It differentiates your brand from the competition by conveying its values, culture, and idiosyncrasies. It connects your brand to customers by making it humanized and identifiable.

Every time your brand speaks—be it through website copy, advertising scripts, or marketing collateral—its voice should be consistent and recognizable. Your customers should be able to identify your brand as easily as recognizing a friend on the phone after just a few words.

Authentic brands have voices that resonate. They make us chuckle or nod unconsciously in agreement. They tell disparate but revealing anecdotes that come together to comprise a compelling brand story. Even the best stories fall short when not in the hands of an affable and relatable storyteller. That’s why the voice of your brand’s story is so important.

An authentic voice isn’t something that’s tacked on at the end of the branding process, though. It can’t be willed or manufactured. It should be a natural by-product of brand strategy and introspection. Your brand voice isn’t developed, it’s discovered.

So, how do you discover your authentic brand voice? These three essential steps will ensure that when your brand speaks, it’s heard—loud and clear.

1. Know Who You Are

In order to discover your true brand voice, you first have to know who is speaking. The branding process is one of self-discovery. It asks your brand to have a seat on the psychologist’s couch for some cathartic analysis.

What motivates your brand at the deepest levels? What’s its purpose in the world? What are its most cherished values? What type of behaviors and characteristics define its personality? Is it excitable and outgoing or pensive and demure? What’s its favorite color? What type of music does it like?

Defining your brand as you would a person is an effective way to get at both the profound truths and subtle quirks that make it unique. Authentic people are intriguing and magnetic because they possess the bold confidence to be themselves in any situation. So it is with brands. By knowing who they are, authentic brands speak with a voice that’s impossible to ignore.

2. Know Who You’re Talking To

Once you know who you are as a brand, it’s critical that you further refine your voice by getting to know your audience. Authentic brands don’t appeal to everyone. That’s not their goal. Rather, by knowing their unique audience and competitive landscape through rigorous brand research, authentic brands maximize the impact of their messaging. They know how their ideal customers talk to each other, and insert themselves into the exchange by becoming a natural topic of conversation.

Developing comprehensive and nuanced customer personas for your primary, secondary, and even tertiary target audience segments, is a great way to put a face on those you’re talking to. A functional customer persona should answer questions like:

  • What is your ideal customer’s gender?
  • How old are they?
  • What industry do they work in?
  • What are their motivations?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • What are their desires and aspirations?

Starting with this foundational information, a good customer persona comprises a short narrative that paints the picture of a single archetypal customer. This is who your brand voice should be addressing—the friend on the other end of the telephone.

3. Know What to Say and How to Say It

Knowing what to say when talking to your audience is a pretty straightforward proposition. There are two main things you want to convey: what you’re offering and how you’re different from your competition.

Messaging regarding your value propositions should center on the unique qualities of your product or services. Content describing your differentiation should reveal distinct core values and positioning. A good content strategy should take into consideration which piece of messaging is best served by each stage of the customer’s journey.

Knowing how to say these things is where the art of brand voice comes into play. The way your brand voice is conveyed can be broken down into style and tone. The style of your messaging is the manner in which it is written. Style lives in decisions like sentence structure and word choice, and conveys volumes about your messaging well before you get your main points across.

This is where knowing your ideal customer is key. Are you speaking to high-level executives in the technology industry or cynical young adults savvy to irony and meta-branding. Your style should be aligned with your unique target audience.

Tone is where your message becomes a voice. It’s the underlying attitude of your brand that breaks through the prescribed conventions of style. It’s the difference between boring, expository content and messaging that is engaging and relatable.

Tone leverages humor to better convey your most important arguments, and relies on measured quirkiness to reveal your brand’s personality. Where style is the outline of the picture your brand paints, tone is the colors that bring it to life.

Think of the above three steps as a roadmap to finding your brand voice. Voice is your brand’s most articulately expressive attribute. It defines the way you speak to your customers and the way they interpret your message. It stands to reason, then, that finding your brand voice is an important quest. Once you’ve found it, your brand’s voice will infuse its story with a living, breathing personality—conveying much more than the facts alone.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has more than a decade of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post, and Brand Quarterly.