Think of the closest person to you. Someone you have known and been around for a long time. You can recognize them from a mile away by their clothes, a certain pair of shoes they wear a lot, their gait when they walk – and of course, their voice when they speak.
Voices are one of the common identifiers in our everyday life. Similar as they might sound when people speak the same language or with the same accents, you typically can’t mistake the voice of someone you know too well.
This applies fascinatingly to brands.
Defining Brand Voice
A brand voice is defined as the unique language (or choice of words) that a brand uses when it communicates to its target audience.
Like people, every business with a brand can speak recognizably to its audience.
It is correct that the human voice varies slightly in nature from a brand voice. While a brand voice is perceived with the mind, the human voice is heard using physical ears. However, these two concepts overlap in that distinctive communication transpires between two parties with a mutually-understood language.
Every time a brand reaches out to an audience, an impression is created in their minds that defines that brand’s distinctive identity and personality.
Brand voice can be expressed through the company’s content in words. This voice must be consistent across the multiple platforms on which the brand engages with its customers.
Just like you can call to mind the voice of someone close to you, a consistent brand voice can become unmistakable to customers.
Types of Brand Voices
A wide range of adjectives are used to describe different human voices: deep, baritone, loud, silvery, squeaky, brittle, raspy, alluring – it’s a nearly endless list. You can recognize a friend’s raspy or high-pitched voice, same as you can tell it’s them by the unique words and slangs they speak, or their style of texting.
Brand voices are more related to the latter, and their unique styles of expression make them recognizable to people who know the brand. Brand voices belong to three broad categories, but can be further defined by extent.
The Serious (Formal and Respectful) Voice
Brands with serious voices typically (but not always) target people in corporate settings and do not employ blatant humor or informalities in their communications. They keep it professional, straightforward, and concise. A serious brand voice may be formal, respectful, or both.
Forbes is a classic example of a brand with a formal voice. Forbes is a world-famous business magazine with interests in politics, business, science, and technology. In line with its values of integrity, boldness, and purpose, Forbes articles and lists are strictly formal in tone. Here is the opening excerpt of a feature Forbes article:
“Property tycoon Alexander Tedja’s net worth dropped 18% to $1.19 billion due to a roughly 21% drop in the stock price of his developer Pakuwon Jati. With demand eroded by the pandemic, the company reported a 42% decline in sales that dragged net profits down 72% in the first nine months of 2020.”
Like the typical Forbes article, this excerpt uses concise words without employing world play, jokes, or casual lingo. Many brands in corporate finance, fashion, science, education, and technology adopt a formal brand voice.
Uber personifies a respectful brand in their communications. Although not strictly formal, this globally-recognized ride-hailing and delivery service brand communicate in short, simple mannerisms that reflect in its app, emails, and social media relations with customers. For instance, the signature “Where to?” on the Uber app expresses in a helpful, yet straightforward style.
Generally, a formal or respectful brand voice is often associated with class, elegance, and professionalism, however, brands choose other types of brand voices for flexibility.
The Not-So-Serious (Casual, Humorous, and Irreverent) Voice
Brands with a more dynamic consumer demographic or diverse products prefer to take on the not-so-serious persona. This is because the casual type of brand voice is modifiable to multiple branding nuances and is compatible with nearly every industry – including corporate businesses. A casual brand voice accommodates the use of witty puns, wordplay, humor, and even cheeky irreverence in their communications. The goal is to relate with customers beyond the limited confines of professional or corporate settings.
Burger King, a famous multinational hamburger fast food chain of restaurants, uses a casual tone of voice that occasionally branches out to humor. This is reflective of its identity as a family-friendly brand with customers from all walks of life. The poster copy “We don’t Chicken Out” is a play on words, highlighting the brand’s jovial brand voice.
According to a recent study, over 70% of customers prefer brands that can make them laugh. Brands such as Mailchimp and Spotify amplify an edgy, rather humorous outlook, with brand voices that only ever tell a joke, a pun, or a witty catchphrase to amuse customers. This type of brand voice is common with lifestyle brands or such that reach out to people who don’t mind a good (or bad) joke for laughs.
While humor creates a disarming sensation that endears customers, it is often emphasized as best practice that humor remains within reasonable confines to avoid coming off as offensive.
Interestingly, brands like DeadHappy don’t play by this rule book. Instead, they take humor to a whole new extreme. DeadHappy employs a most outlandish brand voice for an insurance company; famous for using dark, irreverent humor in its communications. For example, the brand describes having an insurance as “making a deathwish.” Despite this, the brand is favorably reviewed across multiple platforms.
With the scope of the not-so-serious category of brand voices stretching from mildly casual to nearly offensive, it is not amiss that most brands find their place in this massive spectrum.
The In-Between (Inspirational and Helpful) Voice
Very few things are black-and-white, and brand voices are definitely not one of them.
While some brands have an affinity for sounding strictly formal, or strictly informal, a considerable number of brands strike a balance between both categories, avoiding extremes as much as possible in their communications.
An inspirational brand voice borrows from both formal and informal brand voices. It creates the perception of a motivational brand, and this requires a measure of seriousness to be believable, and yet, be relatable to the target audience. Disney exemplifies such a brand voice; possibly drawing inspiration from its founder’s story. Disney’s communications and storytelling are typically hinged on themes of magic, dreams, and superheroes – all to inspire its audiences.
Nike, a sportswear designer brand is also renowned for its uniquely motivational brand voice expressed in its entire communications, including its famous tagline “Just Do It” and its many heartfelt campaigns. This type of brand voice reassures the audience by helping them see positivity and purpose.
Finding Your Brand Voice – Curiosities Answered
Who chooses a brand voice?
When should a brand voice be created?
What determines a brand voice?
Nothing cements the efficacy of a brand voice better than consistency. Across every channel of communication, a brand voice should be uniform and true to type.
After all, if for a moment, that person whose voice you well know suddenly sounds nothing like the usual, you’ll have a hard time recognizing their voice.
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