Creating the right brand voice

Your brand already has a voice. Is it the right voice? Is it engaging?

By brand voice, we don’t mean sound effects, jingles, theme songs, sound branding, audio logos, or other sonic aspects of a brand.

We mean the tone of your communications and the style of your writing.

Brand voice is the purposeful, consistent expression of a brand through words and prose styles that engage and motivate. It’s true: The personality of your brand is determined, in large measure, by the words you use and the sentences you write.

So let’s get started creating an authentic voice for your brand.

First things first. Brand voice is just one part of a brand. It works in concert with your visual system, your digital presence, your social media connections, your product packaging, and your event and experience branding. And it’s driven by brand strategy and marketing fundamentals.

Second, brand voice guidelines are different from writing style guidelines that cover grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. Every brand should have a writing style guide. Two great online resources for creating a style guide are the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style.

Now, here are 6 tips to help you create that strong, clear brand voice:

1. Define.

First, choose three words that capture the personality of the voice you want for your brand. Then limit those words with three more words. Here’s an example:

  • Bold, but not arrogant.
  • Irreverent, but not offensive.
  • Loud, but not obnoxious.

What you see here is a napkin for Buffalo Wild Wings. The demographic for this brand voice is a “social captain,” an 18-24 year-old male who typically organizes his friends to meet at the local Buffalo Wild Wings. Our brand voice and creative for Buffalo Wild Wings needed to capture his attention and poke fun. Another example is below, this time a wet nap:


Irreverent and juvenile? Why yes, it is. The brand personality “loud” also describes the typography and the design. Nothing about it whispers.

2. Differentiate.

Next, review the communications of your competitors. What’s the tone? The attitude? Are you going to copycat? Or distinguish yourself?

Here’s some oft-quoted wisdom from Jason Fried:

“When you write like everyone else, you’re saying, “Our products are like everyone else’s.” Would you go to a dinner party and repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night long? Would that be interesting to anybody? Why are so many businesses saying the same things at the biggest party on the planet — the marketplace?”

3. Listen.

Before you write, make sure you listen. How do your customers communicate? Are they formal and precise? Or casual and conversational? “Listen” is an accurate verb here. Think of music. You don’t want to sound like Brahms when your audience is listening to Beck. Paying close attention to your brand voice can help you get it right. Your goal is to build brand affinity by using the diction and sentence structure that’s appealing to your audience and authentic to your offering.

4. Inspire.

Your brand voice should be inspiring. Be bold. Speak directly to your audience. Use action verbs and short phrases.

For the 2013 VMWorld conference, Larsen created a bold brand voice that challenged attendees to “defy convention” and “shape the future of IT.” The brand voice and key messages, brought to life through street-art spray-paint graphics, were specifically designed to inspire attendees to break free of the status quo and radically streamline their data center infrastructure.


Your brand voice may not be displayed on 40’ x 200’ mega-billboards, but the fundamental principle holds true: When you need to capture attention and inspire action, be bold.

Timidity will never help you achieve the success you seek.

5. Engage.

Every brand needs to engage an audience. The best way to do that is to stop trying so hard. Allow the brand voice to relax, kick off its shoes, and just be real. Even the most serious businesses should not shy away from a conversational, friendly tone that expresses personality.

Take title insurance, for example. Pretty serious business. Yet one leading brand, Old Republic Title, uses its voice to engage its audiences with wit, a conversational tone, even sentence fragments. No matter that the subjects at hand range from fluctuating financial markets to downward pressures on home prices to turbulent real estate realities. The most recent Old Republic Title annual report featured the theme “Flying Colors,” contained spreads that were headlined “True Blue,” “Solid Gold,” and “Tickled Pink,” and showcased four perf-out paper airplanes for recipients to assemble.

The 2012 O R T annual report features die cut airplanes and bold colors

Here’s an excerpt from the Old Republic Title annual report that illustrates the brand voice:

“True Blue. We are loyal, dedicated and unwavering in our support of our agents, customers and employees. And just as we stand beside them, we proudly stand behind our obligations we have to our policyholders. Constant, genuine and uncompromising since day one. Truth be told, that’s how Old Republic rolls. Or glides, as the case may be.”

Old Republic Title has even used profanity in its brand voice. The attention-grabbing cover of a previous annual report screams !$#@% in response to a year of economic challenges.

08_ORT annual_1

Quoting H. L. Mencken feels appropriate here: “There are no dull subjects. Only dull writers.”

6. Evolve.

We end our discussion of brand voice by suggesting that you shouldn’t actually try to finish creating the perfect brand voice. Brand voice is not fixed. It’s fluid — keeping pace with your audience, working across new communication channels, and communicating in fresh new ways.

Your knowledge about brand voice should evolve, too. Never stop analyzing the voice of your competitors. Never stop learning from leading brands.