Brand voice is a simple yet powerful tool to set your brand apart from the competition.

Look at the world’s most successful brands. They all have a few things in common: they’re unique, they’re meaningful, and they’re instantly recognizable.

Brand voice plays a key role in each of these qualities. It gives you the power to creating deeper, more human connections with those you serve.

But what is brand voice, exactly? And how do you create a brand voice that’s sure to be heard above the din of the modern media landscape?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the answers to these questions and more. We’ll unpack a brand voice definition, walk you through five steps to creating an authentic brand voice, and look at some brand voice examples in the world’s most recognizable brands.

Better understanding brand voice is the first step in using this powerful tool to set your business apart from the crowd.

CONTENTS

What is Brand Voice?

Brand voice is the distinct and recognizable way a brand speaks and writes. Creating a unique and memorable brand voice is a powerful way for a brand to differentiate itself from the competition. Brand voice also facilitates deeper connections with customers by making a brand more human and relatable.

Every time a brand speaks or writes—whether it’s through brand messaging, website copy, social media, or advertising—its voice should be instantly recognizable.

Ideally, customers should be able to identify a brand’s voice as easily as recognizing an old friend on the phone after just a few words.

What’s the Difference Between Brand Voice and Tone?

A billboard illustrates and example of brand voice
So, is brand voice the same as brand tone? Well, not exactly.

As we’ve already seen, your brand voice should be highly consistent, regardless of where audiences experience your brand.

Your brand tone—or tone of voice—on the other hand, is the inflection within a unique piece of messaging that conveys emotion. The different tone of voice your brand uses depends on the context of the messaging in question.

A social media post about a fun, last-minute sale will have a much different brand tone of voice than a website page describing company culture. Where the former might be a branding tone of voice that’s urgent and playful, the latter might be a tone of voice that’s more earnest and proud.

So, branding tone of voice differs from message to message depending on the emotion you hope to elicit in the given circumstance. Conversely, brand voice, is consistent across channels and touchpoints, and unchanging over time, from the earliest days of your brand launch until the time comes to rebrand or redefine your brand voice entirely.

Why Brand Voice Matters to Your Business

A couple shops online
Now that we’ve unpacked our brand voice definition and seen how brand voice is different than brand tone, let’s take a closer look at why brand voice is so important to your business’s success.

As we’ve already seen, brand voice matters to your business for two important reasons. First, its key to competitive differentiation, helping to distinguish your brand—and your business—from a crowded field of competitors.

From social media to online marketing to TV advertising and beyond, we are inundated by a noisy cacophony of voices these days. Those that rise to the top are bold, differentiated, unique. They have authentic brand voices that make us chuckle or nod unconsciously in agreement. They tell pithy and revealing anecdotes that come together in a compelling brand story.

Customers more easily recognize brands with well-defined, authentic voices. And they remember them when the time comes to make a purchasing decision.

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The second reason brand voice matters is that it connects your brand to customers in profound, personal ways, creating the foundation for customer trust and, ultimately, brand loyalty.

Customers are simply more likely to trust a brand that speaks to them in a consistent, reliable, and human voice. And research shows that 46 percent of customers are willing to pay more for a brand they trust.

One final point about the importance of brand voice: it matters just as much for B2B brands as it does for B2C brands. Just because you sell to businesses doesn’t mean you aren’t speaking to people. It’s critical for B2B brands to sound human if they hope to connect with the people who make the important decision of whether or not to partner with them.

How to Create an Authentic Brand Voice

A person writes on a laptop
So, how do you cultivate the type of brand voice that will connect with customers and create a lasting impression? The best way is to define an authentic voice that sets your brand apart from the competition in the minds of those you serve.

An authentic brand voice isn’t something that can just be tacked on to an existing brand, though. Your voice should be a natural by-product of thorough brand research and deliberate brand strategy.

The following five steps are designed to help you do just that—find the voice that will ensure your brand stands out from the competition and connects with those you serve.

1. Understand Your Audience

The first step in defining your brand voice is knowing who you’re talking to.

Authentic brands don’t appeal to everyone, after all. If your goal is to create a voice that appeals to every conceivable customer out there, you’re going to wind up with a bland, diffuse brand that appeals to no one at all.

Maximizing the impact of your messaging starts with precisely targeting a specific audience. To do that, you have to understand the unique characteristics of that audience. And the best way to do that is through in-depth customer interviews.

Talk to a handful of your best customers and find out what makes them tick. Ask them about the challenges they’re looking to solve by engaging with your brand. Ask them about the goals they hope to achieve.

Use the insights you gather from these interviews to create an audience persona. Audience personas are a great way to put a face on the person your brand is speaking to.

A typical audience persona answers the following questions about a representative member of your target audience:

  • How old are they?
  • What part of the country do they live in?
  • What’s their education level?
  • What industry do they work in?
  • What role do they play at their company?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?
  • What are their motivations and goals?
  • What are their needs and challenges?

In addition to a bulleted list outlining demographic information like age, location, and job role, a good audience persona also features a short narrative that paints a more nuanced picture of your archetypal audience member. It unpacks the needs, challenges, motivations and goals of this specific audience member in a way that’s instructive to your marketing team, or whoever will be tasked with bringing your brand voice to life.

2. Understand Your Competition

Your customers aren’t just hearing your brand voice, of course. They’re also hearing all the voices of your competitors, trying to steal their attention away. Only by understanding these other voices can your hope to set your brand apart and rise above them.

One of the best ways to get a comprehensive understanding of the voices that populate your brand’s competitive landscape is with a competitive brand audit focused on verbal brand identity.

A good competitive brand audit includes five important steps.

  1. Identify 5 to 10 of your top competitors
  2. Gather samples of their messaging and communication from channels including websites, marketing materials, social media voice, etc.
  3. Catalogue and compare verbal identity assets like brand names, taglines, above-the-fold messaging, brand compass messaging, positioning messaging, etc.
  4. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor brand and identify trends that exist in the industry.
  5. Finally, use those trends and weaknesses to identify opportunities for differentiating your brand in the marketplace.

Better understanding the voices that exist across your competitive landscape will give you a better sense of what is appropriate for your industry.

It will also help you identify which tropes and industry jargon you should avoid. And it will allow you to pinpoint valuable opportunities to differentiate your brand voice from those of your competitors.

3. Understand Your Brand

Just as important as understanding your audience and competition is understanding your brand itself.

The most authentic brand voices are those born from rigorous brand strategy. This means taking the time to understand the messaging and tenets at the core of your brand before you set out to craft its voice.

Critical brand strategy assets that will help to hone your brand voice include things like:

Taking the time to define these strategic pillars will only serve to strengthen your brand voice. Each provides a different layer of nuance and depth to your brand, including why it exists, where it’s headed, its human characteristics, the abiding pledge it makes to customers, and the overarching story it seeks to convey.

By first understanding who they are and what they’re trying to achieve, authentic brands speak with a voice that’s hard to ignore. They clearly convey what the company stands for, how it’s different than the competition, and why customers should trust it to meet their needs.

4. Create a Brand Voice Chart

Armed with an understanding of your brand strategy, the next step in crafting an authentic brand voice is a tool that both defines and documents your voice: the brand voice chart.

Start by choosing three attributes that best describe your brand voice. These should be informed by your brand personality but are not necessarily the same attributes that define your brand personality.

For each attribute you choose, write a short description that unpacks the attribute as it relates to your brand, as well as the most important dos and don’ts when it comes to how that attribute informs your brand voice.

An example of a brand voice chart

The purpose of the brand voice chart is to provide creative guardrails for anyone tasked with writing messaging in your brand voice, including members of your marketing team, freelance copywriters, etc.

Whenever someone sits down to bring your brand to life on the page, your brand voice chart should be used as a handy reference tool.

5. Create Brand Voice Guidelines

Finally, as with other areas of branding, one of the most important qualities of an effective brand voice is consistency. This is because consistent voices are recognizable voices.

We learn through repetition, after all. Repeatedly exposing customers to a consistent brand voice is one of the most effective ways to boost brand awareness and build brand equity.

Consistent voices are also familiar. Familiarity leads to reliability, reliability leads to trust, and trust leads to the ultimate goal of branding: customer loyalty.

As we touched on in the brand voice chart, the only way to guarantee a consistent brand voice is to ensure that everyone who is tasked with creating that voice has the guardrails they need to reliably recreate the voice at every touchpoint.

Your brand voice chart is an important part of those guardrails, but to convey a complete picture, you need comprehensive brand voice guidelines.

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Brand voice guidelines include your brand voice chart as well as important strategic context, like your brand personality, brand archetype, and brand story.

Brand voice guidelines should be part of a larger brand guidelines document that clearly outlines all the dos and don’ts involved in executing your brand.

These guidelines should include plenty of examples that illustrate how to write in your brand voice and what types of choices fall outside of your defined style.

Brand voice guidelines are a valuable resource for anyone tasked with brand management, where ensuring brand consistency is a top priority.

Brand Voice Examples

The world’s most successful brands have voices that seem effortlessly unique. These are the types of brands whose messaging is identifiable even without an accompanying logo.

Let’s take a closer look at three such real-world brand voice examples to get a better sense of how the best in the business execute timeless, engaging brand voices.

Apple Brand Voice

An Apple advertisement is an example of brand voice
Few companies do branding quite as impressively as Apple does. The company’s signature clean, minimalist brand design has spawned legion fans and as many imitators. It’s a style that extends seamlessly to the company’s brand voice as well.

Apple’s Brand Voice is

  • Simple
  • Creative
  • Profound

From its website copy to its social media voice to its TV ads, Apple’s messaging is always simple and concise. Like its products, the brand’s advertising and marketing messaging feels personally designed with thoughtful precision. There are never any elements that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Beyond its pithy style (or because of it) the Apple voice appeals to the artists and iconoclasts within its target audience. From its early “1984” commercial to its “Think Different” campaign to its “Mac vs. PC” campaign, Apple has always spoken to the individual in us all, in a way that few other brands have been able to do.

Coca-Cola Brand Voice

A Coca-Cola is an example of brand voice
As one of the world’s oldest soft drinks, Coca-Cola has had plenty of time (and money) to create the kind of timeless brand voice that one would expect from a wildly successful consumer brand. The company’s brand voice is informed not by its primary offering (a sugary, bubbly, caramel-colored drink), but rather by the feelings that drink evokes.

Coca-Cola’s Brand Voice is:

  • Happy
  • Encouraging
  • Refreshing

At the end of the day, Coca-Cola sells joy. It uses its positive, refreshing brand voice to assure its customers that when they crack open a can of Coke, they will simply feel good. But more than just individual joy, Coca-Cola’s brand voice encourages customers to “Share a Coke,” or “Buy the world a Coke.”

Coca-Cola’s customers don’t just pop the top of a soda, they “Open happiness.” The type of happiness that everyone from Santa Clause to Polar Bears to Taylor Swift enjoys, as well.

MailChimp Brand Voice

A MailChimp billboard
What happens to a brand like MailChimp when it outgrew the email marketing offering that’s literally part of their name? MailChimp decided to use it to its own advantage by cultivating a pithy, at times self-deprecating, brand voice that poked fun at its own inherent challenges.

MailChimp’s Brand Voice is:

  • Humorous
  • Quirky
  • Entrepreneurial

MailChimp’s funny, quirky brand voice came to life in messaging like “Bad at future-proof names. Good at more than mail.” The brand also encouraged customers to “Make a name for yourself. Then outgrow it.”

This latter message is evidence that even as MailChimp pivoted to a more humorous, knowing brand voice, it never lost sight of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s at the heart of its offerings. Its focus remains on helping small business owners get the most out of their companies.

Slack Brand Voice

A screenshot of the Slack website
Ben Pieratt says that great brand names have a “special wrongness” to them, and few brands embody this quite as perfectly as Slack. After all, a synonym for laziness might not seem like a natural choice for a tool that would go on to revolutionize workplace communication, but Slack found a way to make it work.

Slack’s Brand Voice is:

  • Easy
  • Personal
  • Helpful

The Slack brand voice is easy and personal, but above all, helpful. Similar to Apple, Slack uses short, declarative sentences that deliver the maximum amount of information in the fewest number of words.

Its brand tone is fun and engaging, like a friendly HR rep introducing you to a new company. And Slack is skilled at using questions to engage users and maximize their productivity.

Harley-Davidson Brand Voice

An Harley Davidson advertisement is an example of brand voice
Some of the best brand voices are those that take risks by being unapologetically in your face. Harley-Davidson isn’t afraid to push the boundaries a bit when it comes to brand voice in the effort to capture the individualistic, rebellious spirit that their products have come to symbolize.

Harley-Davidson’s Brand Voice is:

  • Rugged
  • Patriotic
  • Masculine

Not unlike its target audience, Harley-Davidson’s voice is rugged, patriotic, and masculine. It pokes fun at those who aren’t in the Harley tribe, not-so-subtly implying that they’re slaves to routine and decorum.

The Harley-Davidson brand voice celebrates the freedom of the open road and the one-of-a-kind characters who heed its call.

The Takeaway

The fact is, you simply can’t have a strong brand without a well-defined brand voice. Its voice sets your brand apart from the competition and connects it to customers on a deep and human level.

The strongest brands speak with authentic voices that seem effortless and engaging. Defining your authentic brand voice is the first step towards boosting brand awareness, fostering customer trust, and building the brand equity that leads to measurable business growth.

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A prolific blogger, speaker, and columnist, Brian has two decades of experience in design and branding. He’s written for publications including Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, HuffPost, and Brand Quarterly.