How to Create a Brand Voice: Telling Customers Who You Are

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Everybody Writes" by Ann Handley. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Does your brand have a strong voice? Does it appeal to your target customers? Should it include humor?

To write good marketing material, you must hone and convey your brand’s voice. A strong brand voice offers an identity for the customer to align with, and it can be the deciding factor when customers are choosing between you and your competitors.

Read more to learn how to create a brand voice.

How to Create a Brand Voice

A strong brand voice tells your customers about the culture of your business and what type of clientele you’re looking for. Ideally, your voice will appeal specifically to the customers you want and will signal to those you don’t want that you’re not a good fit for them. 

(Shortform note: Since your voice needs to appeal to your target customers on a personal level, write as though you’re having a conversation with the customer, and use language that makes them feel welcome and close to your brand. If you’re not yet sure who your target customers are, consider researching your target audience. To do this, you can use online tools like Google Analytics or monitor how your customers interact with your social media.)

Bestselling author, speaker, and digital marketer Ann Handley offers advice on how to create a brand voice in her book Everybody Writes. She says you’ll first need to identify what type of voice your brand needs. Consider how formal you want to sound and how much emotion and humor you want to infuse. Come up with a few adjectives for how you want your voice to sound, such as “energetic,” “down-to-earth,” “instructional,” or even “zany.” Choose specific, meaningful words that give you a strong sense of what you want your voice to be. Then flesh them out into elaborative sentences that describe your voice and reflect your brand. 

For example, if you identify “silly” as one of your adjectives, you may elaborate with the following sentence: “We want our reader to feel free, relaxed, and in touch with their inner child when they read our writing.” This description then becomes a feature of your brand voice. 

(Shortform note: In addition to identifying how you do want your voice to sound, experts recommend that you identify how you don’t want it to sound. It may be easier to start with that and use your “don’ts” to identify your “do’s.” They also recommend studying your best-performing or most brand-defining content and using that as a guide in creating your voice. If you’re still struggling to form your voice, study other successful brands and see what tips you can get from their voices.)

Once you’ve determined your ideal voice, create a style guide—a written compilation of the rules and principles for maintaining your brand voice—for your brand. You might be the writer who creates this voice, but it’s unlikely you’ll be the only one who ever uses it. Be sure to document the guidelines for your brand voice so that other writers or future writers can adopt it and keep your brand’s voice consistent over time. You can base your style guide on an existing one to save yourself time. 

(Shortform note: If you base your style guide on an existing one, consider choosing the guide that best matches your brand’s purpose. One of the most commonly used style guides is MLA, which provides detailed guidelines for citations but not much on writing mechanics and is usually used for academic writing. APA style also features citation guidelines but is more geared towards scientific writing, and it does include writing mechanics. For more commercial writing you may consider Chicago style, which includes mechanics plus two different methods of citations. But for most marketing purposes, the go-to is AP style, which includes mechanics and also guidelines for cultural and news topics.)

Tools for Establishing Voice

You can establish your voice using tools like humor and analogies, Handley explains. If you choose to add humor to your voice, it should be relatable and reveal a common interest your audience shares with your brand, which can build loyalty. For example, if your company makes sporting equipment, a joke about baseball is likely to have a broader appeal to your audience than a joke about something unrelated, like parenting. 

(Shortform note: There is scientific evidence that people can remember information better when it is presented humorously or accompanied by humor, and this effect is even stronger when the humor presented is directly related to the information you’re learning. However, most brands are hesitant to use humor when engaging with customers out of fear of saying the wrong thing and being “canceled.” The best way to infuse humor into your brand without alienating customers is to know your audience and appeal to their values.)

Another way to use your voice is to create strong and relatable analogies. Analogies can help clarify or explain ideas, make your writing more memorable, and convey a lot about your brand. If your purpose is to market a new type of antivirus software, for example, you could compare your product to the body’s immune system, explaining that they both identify and attack harmful intruders.

(Shortform note: Not only can analogies help define your brand and clarify your message, they can also provoke your audience to think more deeply and in different ways about your brand. Analogies promote lateral thinking, which reframes your brand in your audience’s minds and invites them to think about your offering from different angles. This, too, will make your brand stand out from competitors and stick more in your audience’s memories.)

Identify areas where there could be confusion in your writing and use analogies to clarify your meaning. Analogies can be particularly helpful for presenting and explaining data or demonstrating scale. For example, if you have a statistic about 40 million people, you could help the reader understand that number by describing it as “around the same number of people who live in California.” Handley recommends that you avoid clichés and come up with your own analogies that connect to your audience

(Shortform note: Handley writes that analogies can be particularly useful in helping your audience understand scale, such as very large numbers that are difficult to conceptualize. Understanding scale is an important part of information literacy in general. Some argue that while we consume daily news about catastrophes affecting large groups of people, we fail to understand the scale of those catastrophes and thus fail to understand their true impact. Drawing comparisons in such articles—like through analogies—can help readers grasp the severity of such events.)

Exercise: Establish Your Voice

One of the most important aspects of writing is establishing a voice. Use Handley’s advice to create a strong voice for your writing.

  • First, identify the purpose of your writing: What are you trying to accomplish with this piece, what’s its main idea, and why should it matter to your audience?
  • Now, list four adjectives that describe how you want your audience to hear you. Consider things like how formal you want to sound, whether or not you want your voice to be humorous, and how much emotion you want it to have.
  • Finally, elaborate on those adjectives by turning them into descriptive sentences about your voice. Write one sentence for each adjective. (A sentence might be: “I’m intelligent and can help my reader overcome their challenges.”)
How to Create a Brand Voice: Telling Customers Who You Are

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  • Why there is no such thing as a bad writer
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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