In the early days of a business, branding can often be put on the backburner. The pressure of generating sales, meeting the day-to-day needs of clients and organising the processes that will take you into the future can be intense, and distracting.
This can make the more ethereal – but equally important – task of creating a strong brand identity slip in your priorities. However, just as you wouldn’t operate a business without a company name and logo, there are dangers with writing website copy and promotional material without a considered brand voice.
Entrepreneurs in the startup phase already have a lot to think about, but defining your tone of voice is an integral part of how people perceive your business. As the Internet increasingly becomes our main method of communication, the likelihood is that many of your customers will experience your brand through the written word. A social media account that people want to follow, killer website copy and compelling content marketing all contribute to what people think of your business.
Make your startup status work for you
Larger corporations face challenges that small business and startups don’t, such as the problem of shaking off their status as a huge, faceless and uncaring entity. Some customers may already feel hostile and combative when they engage large brands on social media – expecting them to be unhelpful and distant. Customers don’t want to be talked to as if they’re nothing but a potential sale. But by presenting the more human side of your businesss, you can form relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
Things like community spirit, stronger relationships with customers and a more easy-going manner are all benefits of being a smaller organisation, and large brands spend huge amounts of time and effort attempting to mimic the more human tone of their smaller counterparts. You can utilise these advantages by listing what makes your business unique, and thinking about how you speak to customers. Knowing how you communicate naturally will allow you to channel this individuality into a more refined tone of voice.
Think of your brand in three words
What exactly defines a brand can be difficult to pin down, making it easy to lose focus. Simplifying the process will keep your ideas anchored. When attempting to boil your brand down in this way, thinking of the three words that sum up other companies is good exercise. It will make choosing the descriptors that define your business easier, and highlight how important tone of voice is to your brand identity.
For example, at one end of the scale you have the cool-headed, aspirational and restrained tone of a high-end luxury brand, and at other the exuberant, cheeky and laddish language used by a betting company. Both tones of voice work perfectly for each brand, instantly communicating who they are and what they represent.
A clear idea of their brand identity also helps companies avoid any inconsistencies, something that undermines the image you’re trying to build, inhibiting the rapport that you’re trying to build between you and your customers.
Think of your brand as a person
It can be something of a headache trying to think logically about how the choice of words, order, rhythm and pace create a brand voice, because the way we talk and write as individuals isn’t a process we often have to think consciously about. One way to settle this issue is to picture your brand as a real person (often called a persona) and imagine how they would express themselves, and respond to various situations.
Maybe they are cheerful, entertaining and imaginative person – how would they deal with an online complaint over social media? Perhaps they would be effusive in their apologies and offer a positive solution to the issue immediately and publicly. On the other hand, a cool, professional and extremely capable person may deal with this situation entirely differently, even if the end outcome of a “happy customer” is the same.
Finalise the details
Paying attention to the details is important in creating a coherent tone of voice. Take social media – is your brand going to have a professional distance, or will it interact with customers more casually? Sainsbury’s used social media to engage in so-called “brand-ter” and have a now-famous conversation made entirely of puns, and this tactic can be a great way to raise your profile and cement a friendly reputation.
Another important consideration is how you’ll use grammar. For some brands, informal use of language could reflect badly on their capabilities, ensuring they have to be scrupulous at all times. However, for others, using slang and even making up words is completely fine. It doesn’t really matter what you choose as long as it makes sense and has its own internal logic.
The most important consideration however is that it has to feel authentic. There’s no point defining how you speak to potential customers in a written format, if this is at odds with how you and your staff communicate with people in real life. Finalise these details and you won’t be caught off-guard.
With all of this in mind, the ultimate goal is to create your tone of voice guidelines so others can replicate the voice you envisaged. In the early days of a startup, content is often written by multiple people – website copy by web developers, social media by digital agencies, promotional material by members of staff etc. Having a set of guidelines provides a framework that everyone can follow, ensuring that company tone isn’t influenced by their own ideas – or hangover.