Speak Up! The Keys to Finding Your Brand Voice
Rebecca Bredholt leads the Vocus Marketing Consultants, helping Vocus customers achieve marketing success.
It happens in a meeting or two: your teams sit around a table and list a bunch of words on a dry erase board, or maybe a few sentences are scratched out. Finally an agreement is made about how the brand’s products and services will be described, and a few words are put on the “no fly list,” then the marketing copy flies out the door.
Commonly referred to as “messaging,” this copy ultimately sets the baseline for every word that gets approved on press releases, blog headlines and promotions. It’s hallowed ground to those who worked so hard to identify it, create it and get it approved.
Brand message is what you are saying, while brand voice is how you are saying it. To clarify your company’s brand voice, you need to first identify a few things that English majors should immediately recognize: diction, syntax, and tone.
The choice of words means your company has chosen to use certain words and not their synonyms, usually for a reason of connotation. While more than one word can lead to the same or similar meaning, the ideas or feelings associated with those words might lead to a different conclusion. For example, happy and joyful both mean the same positive thing, but when Coca-cola says “Open Happiness”, it implies one’s mood can change with pop of a soda can. Pepsi’s similar “Joy of Cola” message was completely different. Similar but different. After choosing a specific set of words, it may help to list why those words were chosen over their synonyms.
At one public relations conference, a speaker from Lockheed Martin explained how they specifically avoided the use of “on fire” or “exploding” in any of their language to describe the growth of the company, for obvious reasons.
Phrase choice is equally important, as many marketers strive to avoid clichés, double entendre, and vagueness – the last of which is a somewhat recent trend as transparency has emerged as a trust builder among brand marketers. Language has the awesome power to craft a brand with unique identifiers, which can truly set a brand apart from its competitors when done correctly and consistently. Once you have choice words, look at syntax.
3M’s website splashes “Innovative Technologies for a changing world” across the home page. Next, it reinforces the choice of “innovative” again in its Stories section, where the banner introduces the page’s content as a place where “innovative” ideas live on. Choosing to place the word innovation before technology or ideas communicates what is most important to 3M. Being thoughtful in word placement is a good practice because these words will be iterated across other platforms, such as social media and even media coverage.
Once diction and syntax come together, adding adjectives and adverbs will help set the tone that should carry through all your marketing materials.
Here’s where the marketing engine can really roar. While word choice and order can make your brand stand out, your messaging’s tone is what drives people into action because it relies on communicating emotion. John Lennon seemed to think there are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. A fun excerise in brand messaging is to look at the advertisements you see during the day and determine if they play into one or the other. And if the message doesn’t have an underlying tone or emotion in it, does it actually motivate you to make a decision about the product or service it’s promoting? (Notice that “like” isn’t a motiving factor, it’s love, read: Facebook vs. Pinterest.)
Now look at your marketing materials. Can you clearly identify:
- your common word choices and phrases
- the order of importance of those words
- the mood your words and sentences communicate
If you can’t, then the rest of your company and your writing team will have a hard time replicating what you would like to communicate about your brand. Set the brand voice clearly and consistently to inspire others to follow suit.
Image: Beverly & Pack (Creative Commons)
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