Your brand tone of voice is your brand’s verbal identity. It reflects your personality, style, and point of view, which – together with your colours, fonts, and imagery – create your brand image.
When your clients read your text, they understand it on two levels: The facts and descriptions tell their analytical left-brain what’s going on logically, while the tone tells their creative right-brain how likeable and credible you are and what you’d be like to deal with.
Essentially, your brand tone of voice gives you the best chance of attracting and connecting with your ideal audience and building your authority with content that’s recognisable across platforms (even when your logo is out of sight).
So how do you find (and define) your brand voice?
Finding your brand tone of voice
Right now, you’re probably approaching voice like a feeling.
Sometimes you write things that sound great, but other times it might sound a bit “off.”
The problem is that you can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes a piece sound “right” or “off.”
If that sounds familiar, I have some good news for you: Brand tone of voice isn’t a vague or woo-woo concept like many believe – quite the opposite! How your brand voice sounds comes down to three variables: Vocabulary, Tone, and Cadence.
All three of these elements can be measured. And you can adjust them in any way you want to match, mirror, or evolve your voice in any direction (depending on how you want to come across).
For example, if you want your brand voice to have more authority, you’d opt for a higher vocabulary and longer cadence. Whereas, if you want your brand to have a “friend at the bar” type voice, you’d opt for a lower vocabulary and shorter cadence.
When you know exactly how you want to come across, you can put in place specific voice rules and guidelines to help you write on-brand every time.
But how do you decide the way you want to come across?
This is where you need to dive a bit deeper and explore your brand personality traits.
Figuring out your brand’s personality traits
While many brands describe their personality in a vision statement or a list of core values, few demonstrate it in their branding. Unless you can show your clients what makes you unique, you’ll struggle to stand out or connect.
To demonstrate your brand personality, you need to bring it to life in your writing through your brand purpose, vision, mission, and values. If you haven’t got these sussed out already, then that’s the first step.
Otherwise, here’s a quick run-through of how you can integrate these “personality traits” into your brand tone of voice guidelines.
Let’s start by looking at your brand purpose.
Your brand purpose
Your brand purpose is why you exist, distilled down into one short sentence.
But how does your purpose sound?
Your purpose guides what you say – rather than how you say it. It should come through in the content of the messages you convey.
Everything you say should be aligned with your purpose. For example, your purpose influences which examples you use, which benefits you focus on, and which stories you tell in your writing.
Your brand vision
Your brand vision captures your big fat overarching goal in terms of where you are heading.
It’s your “why” – the guiding principle behind the actions you take on a daily basis.
It’s not something you explicitly talk about with the outside world, but rather something to measure your words against. For example, in your writing, you can assess whether the words you use are in line with your vision.
Your brand mission
Your mission describes what you do and who you do it for.
Pinpointing who you serve and how allows you to strike an appropriate tone when talking to your audience.
A good way to do this is to take your mission statement and use it as a benchmark to measure your writing against.
Let’s take the mission statement of GISTIC as an example – “The mission of the GIS Innovation Center is to coordinate, educate, guide, and assist the implementation, maintenance, and development of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology in the country”
Given this mission statement, GISTIC could use the following questions to benchmark their writing:
- Is our writing educational?
- Is this content helpful? (I.e., does it guide and assist the reader?)
- Does it explain the coordination process?
Assessing their writing with these questions – and adjusting their content accordingly – ensures that all content is in line with their mission and, thereby, demonstrates their brand personality traits.
Your brand values
Your values are your guiding beliefs – your brand’s personality traits. They determine how you think, speak, and act in all situations.
In your writing, try to bring these personality traits to life.
For example, if your brand values are Innovation, Passion, Trust, and Expertise, ask yourself, how does someone speak who is an innovative, passionate, trustworthy expert?
This is where you can create specific rules for each of your brand values.
Let’s take trust as an example. You could create writing guidelines like the following to show that you are trustworthy:
- We keep our writing clear, simple, and down to earth (no fancy lingo)
- We are approachable, and use friendly and helpful language
- We strive for simplicity by leading our customers along their customer journey with clear guidance, so they feel safe and supported (clear storyline, clear call to action, clear instructions, targeting the right stage of awareness, helpful structure, i.e., placement of buttons and links, visible FAQ section, being contactable)
- We showcase our expertise by publishing helpful and enjoyable content
- Provide social proof when relevant (i.e., share experiences and testimonials)
- We use detailed explanations to help guide our customers through technical processes and to make it as easy as possible for them
- We remember our audience’s needs and contextualise our solution to their problem (i.e., highlight what’s in it for them)
- We distil complex messages into key points
- We speak the language of our audience and don’t use words or phrases that may alienate any user groups (e.g., slang)
- We use friendly greetings, personal pronouns, and our clients’ names to make our audience feel valued and build trust
Your values (personality traits) will also dictate your voice (i.e., how you employ the elements of vocabulary, tone, and cadence mentioned earlier).
Certain personality traits correspond to more authoritative voices, while others are more accessible.
To figure out where on the voice spectrum your brand should sit, assess how your brand values position you in terms of the 9 distinct voice types outlined below.
The 9 Codex Persona voice types
Based on the Codex Persona framework1, there are three main voice styles (voice of authority, voice of outlook, and voice of accessibility), each of which is split into three voice types.
Every brand falls into one (or more) of the 9 voice types, depending on their brand personality and who they are talking to.
Let’s take a quick look at the 9 voice types, and how they are characterised by vocabulary, tone, and cadence:
- Translator (Voice of authority): Translator brands makes the complex simple and are often speaking to readers on the lower end of the awareness scale. You can nail this voice by using a short cadence, upbeat, empathetic tone, and basic vocabulary.
- Parent (Voice of authority): Parental brands are protectors who want to keep your from making the same mistakes they did. They openly talk about their struggles and learnings to help you succeed. You can nail this voice by using a medium cadence, cautionary, empathetic tone, and basic vocabulary.
- Voice of god (Voice of authority): Voice of God brands are experts who know their stuff and aren’t afraid to show it. They use a more advanced vocabulary. A serious tone, and longer cadence.
- Eternal optimists (Voice of outlook): Eternal optimist brands are excited and exude positivity (think Marie Forleo). Like the translator, they employ a short cadence, but what sets them apart is their encouraging nature (as opposed to the translator’s “matter of fact” approach). To nail this tone, aim for optimistic tone, moderate vocabulary, short cadence.
- Anti-establishment (Voice of outlook): Anti-establishment brands refuse to settle for status quo. They are dissatisfied with the current system and are on a mission to seek change (justice). To nail this voice, aim for irreverent and snarky tones, moderate cadence, and a varying vocabulary.
- Underdog (Voice of outlook): Underdogs are brands fighting the good fight for something (as opposed to Anti-establishment brands who are dighting against something). Usually smaller brands who are trying to stand out by being purposeful. This is a humble voice defined by a moderate to long cadence and a moderate vocabulary. The tone is often softer, tentative, and, even at times, dejected.
- Friend at the bar (Voice of accessibility): Friend-at-the-bar brands are down to earth, natural, and easy going. In contrast to the translator – who remains focused on the mission – friend at the bar brands are happy to drift off topic if the occasion calls for it. To nail this voice, opt for a casual tone, basic vocabulary, short to moderate cadence.
- Learning as we go (Voice of accessibility): These brands are experimenters who like to try new things and take their audience along for the ride. Sometimes they make ground-breaking discoveries that shake up their industries, other times they fail miserably. To dial in this voice, use a curious tone, basic vocabulary, and longer cadence
- Yogi (Voice of accessibility): Yogi brands tend to be more artsy and poetic – soft, flowy, and emotional. To nail the yogi voice, aim for long cadence, unique vocabulary, and an introspective tone.
Knowing which voice type you’re aiming for allows you to turn the dials up or down on each variable to fine-tune how you want to come across.
For example, if you want your brand voice to have a “voice of god”, you’d opt for a higher vocabulary and longer cadence. Whereas, if you want your brand to have a “friend at the bar” type voice, you’d opt for a lower vocabulary and shorter cadence.
There are some great online tools you can use to measure your vocabulary, tone, and cadence.
Creating your brand tone of voice guidelines
When you know exactly how you want to come across, you can put in place specific brand tone of voice guidelines to help you write on-brand every time. This also ensures that you’re using your voice consistently across all platforms.
Your brand voice guidelines should include both what you want to say (brand personality traits) and how to say it (voice type).
For instance, you could include:
- Which examples, benefits, and stories to focus on based on your purpose
- Benchmark verbs and nouns based on your mission
- Specific rules and guidelines based on your values
- A target vocabulary score (measured in Hemingway app) to match your voice type
- A target cadence (measured in Analyzemywriting.com) to match your voice type
- A company-specific lexicon with word choice dos and don’ts
- Company style choice and conventions (e.g., British or American English)
You can distil these elements down into a set of checklists to benchmark your writing against and distribute to your team to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Having a brand voice guide like this allows other team members and writers to match your tone, which allows you to easily (and quickly!) scale your content and build your brand.
Abbey Woodcock & Justin Blackman (2022). Codex Persona Framework; URL: https://www.codexpersona.com/