Tips for Creating Your Brand's Tone of Voice: Secrets from Bamboo's Designers
November 23, 2022
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Brands evolve, brands grow—and how a brand communicates should evolve and grow with it.
As a designer at Bamboo, it’s crucial that the look of an ad matches the brand and identity of a client. But there’s also another component: the copy.
The art and copy complement each other to act as the company’s voice reaching out to you—the viewer and potential consumer. Both need to be honed with the hopes of getting the audience to use the product.
This isn’t an easy process.
It can take a significant time to reach a tone of voice that suits your brand. Whether it’s an enterprise business, a mid-sized company, or a small business, reevaluating a brand voice is crucial to marketing.
But how do you get there? How do you reevaluate your tone?
When you should reevaluate your voice varies from brand to brand. However, there are some scenarios that can prompt it:
If you’re going through a rebrand, the voice should be part of that rebrand process. As I mentioned, the art and copy complement each other. If you’re changing the art, then it’s best to give the copy a look as well.
If you’re outsourcing or developing creative and you receive work that doesn’t align with your brand values or what you want to put out there, that’s a big indicator to look at the tone.
Your product can change to be more accessible, your product has a new feature, or even your product could look and feel different. As these changes happen, your voice and your messaging will need to evolve with it.
First and foremost— I always like to start with a collaborative discovery when working with a new client.
There are many parts to your unique brand and those key parts—marketing, product, design, operations, ownership—need to be in this discussion because they deliver the tone in their own way, too.
I like to get the key stakeholders in a meeting at the beginning of a partnership to talk about the brand. Before working with a company, assumptions are based on what you see on a website, social media, and through products. When a brand becomes a client, we become another avenue that communicates for them and as a designer, I want to make sure I’m taking your tone into consideration—and I want to hear it directly from you.
The initial prompt I have in this discovery meeting is for you to tell me who you are. I’m looking for a mission statement. It’s a short and concise answer to the questions: “What does your company do?” or “where do you work?” This mission statement is something you always want to refer back to when making big decisions because you want to make sure those decisions reflect it.
If you don’t have a mission statement or don’t have a clear one, consider describing your brand in three key words or in two sentences or less.
Be sure to invite everyone to share their thoughts in this meeting because it can get the entire team aligned on goals. Even if there isn’t a set mission statement yet, you can start to see patterns and common themes. It can also help everyone get in the right mindset of what’s going to be discovered and accomplished.
The whole conversation and discovery meeting is just meant to get a dialogue going, even if the mission statement isn’t complete yet. As I’ve said before, a tone of voice evolves and it’s important to consider all the layers of a business—especially the why.
After asking who you are, I ask, “Why would someone want to use you or your product/service?” Essentially I want to know the core values or features of your product and ultimately, the benefits.
At this point, you’re listing what you’re offering, but you’re also taking note of why that feature exists—features with their benefits. What benefit does that feature have for your customers? What makes the offerings special?
THE WHY NOT
When finding your brand’s tone, it’s crucial to know both why someone should use a product and why someone would choose not to use a product. This opens up the conversation of what we need to speak to in the messaging—and it also has the benefit of finding out things you’re planning on working on later down the road.
Often, brands will talk about what people are saying in their reviews, testimonials, or social media comments. Those thoughts can help us formulate the tone and copywriting because we can respond directly to these nuances or challenges. There may also be a feature that resolves a comment, but it hasn’t been talked about enough and the user may not have been aware of that functionality. Ultimately, your tone of voice is educating a consumer, and you want to make sure you’re speaking directly to that intended user.
Your voice can only go so far if it doesn’t resonate with the people you’re targeting. You want to make sure your product is accessible and understandable to the audience you’re targeting. Within that audience, there could be other audiences and subcultures you may want to speak to. You may frame an ad differently for one group of people, or a certain type of user. You may have a broad audience, but within that audience, you can make an ad specific to what they’re looking for.
THE OTHER VOICES—THE COMPETITION
We’re in a world where one minute you’re on your phone, you might even be listening to a podcast on that phone, and the next minute you’re overhearing a conversation at a coffee shop, and at the same time you’re scrolling social media feeds and getting targeted by ads—and probably getting an email notification about a product you interacted with. We consume a lot of media and there are a lot of competing voices.
These voices are not only competing for a user’s time, but meanwhile, they’re trying to get a conversion. You should be aware of other voices that are leaving a mark to your key demographic. Consider brands or tones that you like or dislike—regardless of the industry.
Think about the brands you like to hear from or not hear from—these considerations can help shape the tone of voice for your brand and open up the floor to what channels you want to be a part of such as Meta, TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.
—SO, WHAT ARE WE?
A lot is going to get covered in this discovery meeting, but chances are, the final tone won’t be decided by the end of the meeting. However, this started the conversation and journey to finding the tone, but there should be some type of recap at the end of the meeting. I like to pick some characteristics that help keep the needle moving in the right direction. I ask the following.
Is the brand:
Formal or Casual?
Funny or Serious?
Respectful or Irreverent?
Enthusiastic or matter-of-fact?
In some cases, even these answers can change. Sometimes immediately, sometimes later as the writing starts.
After hearing perspectives in the collaborative discovery, I like to send all of the notes back to the new client. This is another way to keep the process moving.
Now, we write—and consider everything that was talked about. For one client, I wrote ad headlines for some of their main products. Like design, there’s going to be back and forth. They may have chosen casual, and you present them something along those lines, but they may realize they want to go more formal.
It’s a process.
It’s all a process that can lead to growth. It helps grow your own brand and a connection to the users you're targeting. When you hone in on the art and copy and create a tone, you can start testing to see what works. Hopefully, this will lead to more engagement, conversions, and long-term users.
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