Does your brand have a distinctive voice? It needs one

By Christine Hall

As communication professionals, we operate in a globally linked information society where the rate of change continues to grow exponentially. Public relations principles have evolved and each brand we work with seems to look at the world through its own hand-crafted lens.

Christine Hall is Vice President and Business Development Director at Wordsworth Communications. 

Christine Hall is Vice President and Business Development Director at Wordsworth Communications. 

In this ever-changing, multi-channel, no-rules communication environment, the role of PR has also evolved from earning publicity to content creation and curation, social dialogue, thought leadership, influencer relations, and much more.

As communication experts, writers and relationship builders, we must find ways to stay true to our brand’s voice so it can be successful in the fight to gain relevant share of the conversation in this environment.

One way to help our brands do this is to root them in communication fundamentals. A set of brand beliefs – rather than rules – define who the brand is and what they believe in. Of the communication fundamentals brands can choose to develop, the one every PR professional should understand is brand voice, often called tone of voice. Voice is the verbal style brands use to communicate with their audiences. Developing a clear and ownable brand voice will help establish equity across multiple channels.

Here are a few tips to consider:

Understand what a brand voice is and is not.

While messaging guides WHAT you say, audience guides WHO you say it to and WHERE you engage, voice guides HOW you say it. Voice consists of a set of attributes to guide word choice for writing and speech. Voice is no longer just for written copy only; it should be considered for everything from speaking engagements, social media content and dialogue, to owned content and earned media pitches.

Understand your audiences to determine if modulation is appropriate.

Today, brands are rarely just B2B or B2C; many speak to professionals and consumers each day. Modulating your voice, or ‘dialing-up’ one attribute over another, may be required. For example, you may have two very different voice attributes, one more credible and relevant to professionals and one more casual to humanize the brand for relevance with consumers.

Understand the role of vocabulary.

Voice attributes guide the rhythm and flow of language, the pacing, as well as the words you choose. For each attribute, write examples for what it is, and what it is not, as well as examples for how the voice should come across. Provide vocabulary lists to express each attribute. This is important so each individual doesn’t translate the attribute based on  his or her own beliefs.

Understand how to apply voice to different types of content.

Depending on the channel and type of copy, voice has a different fit. For example, if you are pitching an idea to an editor via a tweet, it’s more important that they understand how clever your story idea is than to recognize the brand voice. Voice fits best in owned media, like marketing, advertising and sales materials, blogs, social media, trade shows, recruiting, and speaking engagements. It doesn’t fit as well into contracts, pricing or spec sheets, and research summaries.

Keep it simple.

The more complicated you make your communication fundamentals, the less likely people are to embody them and use them. And if you have multiple writers, agencies and employees, keeping it simple is key to keeping voice attributes in use. For voice, 2-3 attributes are ideal. Perhaps if it really adds value, you can have four attributes, but beyond that, we just can’t recall them. And if we can’t, how do we expect our audiences to?