The longer you’re in business, the more you start to realise that you can’t do everything consistently without having something in place to guide you. Your brand voice is one of those things, especially if (and when) you start to outsource your writing to other people. Whether that’s a copywriter writing you sales pages, funnels, email sequences and so on, or an assistant or VA to tackle your social media posts for you. Without some kind of document that outlines your brand voice, those people can never hope to be able to write in exactly the same way as you. Your voice won’t be consistent and that stuff gets noticed (even if people don’t understand what they’re noticing)! It’s about time you have something documented to capture your brand’s voice and tone. Here’s how to create a simple brand voice guide in four steps.
Step 1: Define Your Brand’s Personality And Values
At the very heart of your brand voice is one super unique aspect… YOU. Yes, lovely, you are the special-sauce behind your business. It’s your personality and the values of your brand that underline exactly how your brand voice and tone is going to sound. Being clear on what these are before you go any further is key.
When you think about your brand’s personality, what ideas come to mind? Is it a fun and playful brand? Something more serious and professional? I relate your brand very much to you because I do believe it’s linked to who you are as a person. Someone who’s super warm, friendly and encouraging, for example, is going to struggle with a brand personality that’s impersonal, distanced and neutral. That’s why I refer to you as much as your brand. The two things, in a personal brand business, are tightly woven and interlinked. So, when you think about the brand personality, think about what comes naturally to you, too. To be able to maintain that personality, you have to believe in it and understand what it’s like to be in it, you know?
Your values are very much a part of you as well. I don’t know any business owner who expressed a single value for their business that they didn’t believe in themselves. What would be the point of that? The disconnect would be so obvious and you’d never be able to get past it. So why do it? Stick with what you know and believe to be true. What are YOUR values, as much as what are your brand values?
Step 2: Who Is Your Audience?
Ah yes, back to that question again. But it’s a key part in getting to the bottom of your brand’s voice because who your audience is says as much about you and your business as anything else.
Let’s put it this way… you’re hardly going to want to work with the kinds of people that don’t align with your personality and values, are you? Which means your audience is likely going to be a version of you and your brand, people you know and understand in ways you can’t explain.
By knowing who your audience is, you immediately know how to talk to them. You know what their issues and problems are, the very reasons they’re seeking someone like you out. It means you immediately know how to talk to them in ways that connect so they find themselves interested in what you offer and want to work with you.
Step 3: What’s Your Message?
Look, I know this all seems very repetitive and you’ve been asked these questions before when it comes to laying down guidelines and plans for your business… but there’s a reason for that. Being super clear on your messaging is integral to how you write your words. Because if you don’t know what it is you’re talking about, how can you then speak about it with confidence and clarity in language that feels most natural to you?
Do the work, folks. Get clear on your message and then let’s move on to the next all-important step.
Step 4: Create Your Simple Brand Voice Guide (Like, Yesterday!)
This is it, the key element in all this. Building out your style guide which will clarify all the ways you write words for your business so that others can take up the reins when you’re ready to hand them off. Or, you know, just help to keep YOU on track when you feel like you’re struggling to write for your business consistently.
A brand voice guide, or style guide, should include guidelines on things like grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and tone. But let’s jump into those areas in a little more depth, shall we?
#1: Tone of Voice
While brand voice is all about expressing your personality through your words, brand tone is just one part of that and can be used in different ways for different situations. For example, you might use a joyful, celebratory tone of voice for your enquiry emails but use a more punchy, in-your-face tone of voice for your social media captions. So, while your tone of voice should reflect your personality and values, it doesn’t have to be the same across the board. How you talk to a potential client is going to be different to how you speak to someone who’s never come across your brand before, right?
When you’re noting your tone of voice, think about all the ways you write for your business and consider what your tone is likely to be like for each of them. Then write them down and define them. Also write about the kinds of tone you DON’T want to show in your copy. And define both sides by giving some examples so anyone writing for you can understand exactly what you mean.
Yes, the specific words you use have a bearing on your brand voice. There are going to be words that you use more than most other brands in your niche will, for example. These are words that aren’t necessarily UNIQUE to you, but in your world, most people will think of you when they hear certain words. If you’re not sure what words you typically use, try this little exercise. Pull up your website, open your social accounts, grab some of your recent emails you’ve sent to your clients and start reading through them. What words, in particular, jump out to you? Which ones do you find yourself using a lot? How do you feel about swearing in your copy? These are some of the words that make up your specific vocabulary.
Think, too, about the reader level of your vocabulary. Do you lean towards shorter, simpler words? Or do you find yourself using longer, more complex words? A good example of this is “utilise” instead of “use”, for example. While I advocate for easier words, there’s nothing wrong with using more advanced vocabulary… as long as you’re clear that your audience will understand it, too. If your audience isn’t as well read as you, then it’s worth considering making some tweaks to your words to create a better connection.
At the same time as working out what words appear in your writing, think about the words that you absolutely can’t bear, too. I have a general loathing of those “girl boss” kind of words and phrases, as an example, so I make sure they’re not used in my copy. I also make a concerted effort to write with more consideration of gender neutral tones as much as I can—so words like “guys”, “manmade” and so on are words I avoid.
So, in this section, write out the words that you love to use and the ones you never want to see in your copy!
#3: Grammar & Punctuation
Before you run screaming from this English lesson of a blog post, thinking about how you use grammar and punctuation doesn’t have to be as scary as you might think. BUT it is a defining part of your brand voice that needs to be considered. How you put your sentences together and what punctuation you use says as much about your voice as your tone and vocabulary. It’s just that it might be a little harder to define.
There are a lot of grammar rules out there and, frankly, a lot of them are outdated (in my opinion!). But it does help to know the rules of grammar before you decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to disregard in your writing. Yes, this whole section is ultra-nerdy and I don’t expect everyone to understand it fully (even as a self-confessed word nerd, I don’t understand all of it!). But think about things like what slang words or jargon you use. What kind of punctuation do you use? Are you a big fan of the exclamation mark? I know I am! What about parentheses? (I bloody love using them for little interjections and ideas.) How do you use capitalisation? (For the love of David Rose, don’t capitalise everything, ok?)
Use this section to note the kinds of grammar and punctuation you’re most likely to use. Things like cadence (how long your sentences are on average) can also be noted here. And be explicit about the things you really don’t like (Oxford commas, anyone?!). Get it all down in this section.
#4: Brand-specific Terminology
Here’s where you get specific on terms and words that are unique to your business. Think about the names of your services, for example. What about any acronyms you might use specific to your services? Are there specific names or terms you use to describe your followers or audience (like Beliebers)? Brand-specific terminology speaks very much to those terms that could ONLY be about your business. Like if you see Genius Bar and FaceTime, which brand immediately springs to mind? So, think about that for your own brand and business. You might not have anything for this section right now, but it’s worth considering as your business and brand voice evolves.
#5: Brand Personality
Of course, one of the most important areas to consider with your brand voice is the personality of your brand and how you can convey that in your words! Be specific here about what your brand’s personality is. Handy hint: don’t just write that it’s friendly. As a customer-facing business I should bloody well hope so! Get more specific. Is it cheeky and bouncy? Is it calm and like a gentle flowing river? Is it bold and forthright? All these businesses can be friendly, but see how wildly different they can also be, too?
Get super specific in this section about your brand’s personality and give examples. Use this formula if you need a little help:
My brand is [personality trait]. It uses words like [example words] but not like [words you don’t want] to show this.
#6: Other Things You Can Consider
There are all sorts of things you can look at when it comes to your writing and the headings above should cover most of it. But a brand voice guide is all about getting specific. The more detailed you can document your brand voice, the easier it’ll be for someone to pick it up and carry on writing in your voice. So, think about things like whether you use certain emojis on a regular basis (and list them out!). Do you write a number out as a word or use the figures (so ten or 10)? How many exclamation marks is too many? What tense do you write in? Do you refer to your business as ‘I’ and ‘my’ or ‘we’ and ‘our’? Do you write your bios in the first or third person? Do you capitalise your headings and if so, how? All the words or do you stick to the grammar rules? Do you use bullet points? And on and on it goes. Go deep. Get it all down. I promise you, it’ll be the best thing you ever do for your business.
Yes, putting your brand voice guide together isn’t a quick and easy task. But, once it’s done, it’s one you won’t have to repeat for a very long time and it’ll be the key document that keeps your brand consistent and cohesive from now on! If you’d rather talk to me about building out your brand voice and messaging guide for you, hit the link and drop me a message. Believe me when I say you’ll be so glad you did this!