Brand voices are tricky things—most content marketers realize their company’s brand voice is important, but few can actually describe that brand voice in a meaningful way. For example, they might be able to write in their company’s brand voice without issue, but if asked to list the tangible characteristics of that voice, or why they chose some words over others, they would be unable.
That’s because “voice” is a naturally intangible quality. Your brand colors are much more opaque—if they’re green and gold, it’s obvious they’re green and gold, and whether you display them or describe them, your audience will get the same impression. However, writing something in a tone of voice that’s “authoritative” and “casual” is far less obvious.
This leads to an important question—if you can’t accurately and precisely describe your company’s brand voice, how can you be sure you’re writing in it correctly?
Don’t worry. Few content marketers can claim they’ve perfected the art of creating or following a company’s brand voice. It’s a difficult and qualitative process. However, there are a handful of exercises you can use to perfect your company’s own brand voice—and they’re tangible enough to do on paper.
This first exercise is especially useful if you have any experience in creative writing. The idea here is to create a fictional character, from scratch, who embodies all the qualities of your brand. Because our brains are hard-wired to identify characteristics and make judgments about other people, it’s difficult to ascribe characteristics or make judgments about impersonal things, like brands. But if you can take your brand and transform it into a person, you’ll have a far easier time conceptualizing a brand voice, and doing so accurately.
First, sketch out the basics—is your brand male or female? How old is your brand? Is your brand tall, short, fat, skinny, or athletic? Then, start thinking about some of your brand’s personality traits. For example, is your brand serious or does it like to joke around? Is your brand soft spoken or boisterous? Is your brand stubborn or flexible? Finally, think about your brand in more abstract terms. What does your brand do on Saturday nights? Does your brand like animals? What would your brand do if it won the lottery?
The more thoroughly you “get to know” your brand as a human character, the better understanding you’ll have about the way he/she talks. Once you’re done with this exercise, you should have a fairly detailed image of your brand’s personality in your head—a literal, human image. Then, whenever you want to say something in your brand’s voice, you can imagine your character saying it, and use that as your foundation.
This exercise is designed to help you improve your range of writing. Some people rely on their own voice as a manifestation of a brand’s voice, rather than actually adopting something specific. With this strategy, you’ll force yourself to write in multiple different voices to experiment and help you isolate the factors that make your specific brand voice unique.
Start by sketching out three or four different characters, using much of the same tactics you applied in the first strategy I listed. Make each of them extremely different, and make one of them your brand’s target demographic. For example, if your target demographic is middle-aged men, make one of your characters a middle-aged man, another character a young woman, a third character a little boy, and a fourth character an elderly lady. Flesh these characters out with a bit more personality, then list them in a row on a sheet of paper.
Next, think of something you want to say to them—it can be something simple like, “I’m looking for the bus stop; do you know where it is?” or something more complex. It’s totally up to you. But once you’ve got the basic message, your job is to write out that message differently to each of your characters. For example, you might say to the little boy, “Hey buddy, do you know where the bus stops around here?” and to the young woman, “Excuse me miss, I’m looking for the bus stop. Do you know where it is?” You should be able to pick out subtle differences in how you approach each character; use these to help define what makes your brand voice unique.
I’ll close with a somewhat simpler exercise. In this one, you’re going to isolate a phrase and experiment with it to test your brand voice fluency. You can select a long phrase you’ve used in brand collateral before, or come up with a phrase of your own—just make sure it’s full of significant words and relevant to your brand. Write this phrase out on a sheet of paper, then for each significant word or sub-phrase, list a series of synonyms. Look at each of those word/phrase synonyms, and explain exactly why the one you chose is or is not better. It will help you formalize your understanding of your brand voice.
Try out these experimental exercises to create a new brand voice or test your precision in following one that’s already been created. Brand voices aren’t a tangible art, so you’ll still need to rely on your instincts to zero in on proper phrasing, but these linguistic exercises should help you better wrap your mind around them.
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