Q: What's brand voice?
A: Brand voice is how your company would communicate if it were a person. How would your company speak? How would it write? What would it say?
That definition is miserably outdated.
Twenty years ago those prompting questions might have gotten the job done. Today it's a different story. Brand voice goes so much further than just imagining that your company has spontaneously sprouted a voice box.
I'm talking way further.
What would your company be like if it were an actual person? As in, someone who gets up in the morning and chooses which outfit to put on, someone who has friends, has commitments, interests, hobbies, owns an iPhone (or is it an Android?), uses the interwebs, and may or may not Snapchat from work.
If you aim only to figure out how your brand voice would speak and write, you're aiming way too low.
But nailing a comprehensive brand voice in the modern sense demands a very, very, very significant amount of resources. And if you're anything like us, just keeping your biz on track probably has got you like:
So you're stuck:
You want to build an effective and engaging modern brand voice, but you don't have the resources of a major corporation to do so.
You know you need to break out of the box, but you're in limbo – do you continue to maintain the status quo, investing the minimum in your brand voice but knowing you'll be able to stay afloat?
Or do you take a huge leap and divert way more resources to your brand development but risk sinking your ship completely in the process?
We knew there had to be some middle ground in this Buridan's ass of a debacle. There had to be measured and concrete steps for small business owners to take toward achieving a more comprehensive brand voice without taking on major (and possibly fatal) risks.
So we buckled down and did our research.
We read, talked, explored, and searched all over the place for some tiny strategy (even one!) that we could really pursue.
But all the resources we found proved to be abstract rather than concrete.
Or just lame. Like these helpful gems:
- "Make sure you engage your audience."
- "Consider the types of phrasing your brand's personality would use."
- "Using images can help connect your brand and your target audience."
That sort of crap. Come ON!
Where were the legit strategies?! Where were our answers?!
...Yep, we had to find them ourselves.
So we put our heads together and came up with the two best examples of companies that consistently nail brand voice. We tracked down their internet trails. Studied their tactics. We analyzed their approaches.
And when we resurfaced, we pieced together two strategies you can steal from them right now.
Bring on the listicle:
Two Companies that Nail Brand Voice & two strategies to steal from them right now:
Company nailing brand voice #1
MOO is one of my favorite companies on the planet. And that's a big statement, because MOO is in a field that has the potential to be one of the least interesting areas out there: paper.
Yep, that's right: paper. MOO is a printing company. But my favorite they are, hands down. So how does a printing company get so high up on my list? With a lot of personality, that's how.
The MOO brand voice is so unique that you can identify it from a mile away. And that's largely because their 'voice' is so strikingly visual:
MOO 'speaks' with images instead of words, scattering quirky cues throughout their pics and videos to allow the viewer (customer) to piece together narratives.
By pitching smart curveballs that playfully challenge customers to keep up with the cleverness, MOO has crafted one of the most identifiable brand voices out there, all while keeping their words to a minimum.
And this approach to brand voice is perfect for the internet and social media engagement: MOO has successfully grown a huge Instagram fan base with this strategy. How huge? 36.4k huge. Remember, this is a printing company we're talking about.
Here are some of MOO's Insta highlights – both images and videos. All of these examples feature MOO products but manage to come across as playful dialogues rather than ad spots thanks to the company's signature visual approach to brand voice:
What sets MOO apart in the field is nailing the consistent attention to detail and punny humor that's become synonymous with their brand – all through playful visual narratives.
So here's the key takeaway from MOO: Brand "voice" isn't limited to words alone.
Images, videos, and stop-motion (even GIFs) can speak just as loudly as your words. Louder, even, to an online audience surrounded by a nonstop stream of visual stimulus. That's why MOO has been able to build such a committed following: Because they wholly embrace the visual cravings of contemporary audiences.
NOW steal this:
Steal MOO's brilliant visual voice strategies.
Did you check out those two embedded Insta videos? MOO kills ultra-short video spots, especially through their brilliant use of clever stop-motion.
So take MOO's lead and embrace multimedia visual voice strategies. Go beyond traditional brand voice writing strategies, and go beyond traditional still images.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a 60-second video is worth 1.8 million, according to researchers. But jumping into full-scale video creation when you're used to working with still images is ridiculously intimidating. Happily, MOO's success suggests a great steppingstone: Stop-motion shorts.
Even if your technical skills aren't on MOO's level, piecing together a series of still images to create a short video is completely within your reach. Jump straight in: Take a series of pics and string them together with a super straightforward app like Zeitraffer (if you're on a Mac), JellyCam (for Mac or PC) or Kanvas (if you're on an iPhone). Add a soundtrack and see how it goes over with your audience. It's a concrete, achievable tactic that can help push your brand voice into the modern marketing world.
But I can tell you're skeptical here. So let me put my money where my keystrokes are typing away and show you how this technique went over for us:
We tried a cool time-lapse and stop-motion mashup technique to show how we assemble wedding invitations (back in the dark ages when we still did weddings!).
It was a new medium for us, but we really wanted to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Our goal was to engage our audience in a new way – to give our audience get a peek into HDco behind the scenes – and to, you know, to show what really goes on around here (hint: a lot of work!)
When we realized that our audience had seen plenty of our finished wedding suites but had never been able to get a glimpse of the long process of putting the mountains of paper pieces perfectly in place, we knew we had found our content.
We took a leaf out of MOO's book and tried a quirky video strategy that pushed our voice further than we'd gone before. Check out the final cut:
The new media type went over phenomenally well. Across the board we scored higher on audience engagement, from likes to responses to shares.
Our audience's positive response to our foray into a new style of communication pushed us further into the visual brand voice field; we decided to use our initial experiment as a jumping-off-point for an increased emphasis on video marketing. We've become far more comfortable with using video marketing strategies as one of our main avenues of outreach since our time-lapse experiment went down. We even launched a series of face-to-face video features recently. We've got more time-lapse and stop-motion video shorts to come – and we think our audience will enjoy them.
Our lesson from MOO: Take a few baby steps into multimedia visual voice and see where it takes you. Our experiment using video shorts to develop our brand voice pointed us on a new trajectory, and our business is benefitting from taking that first step outside our comfort zone.
Company nailing brand voice #2
If you aren't using Slack yet, you probably will be within the next two months.
Slack is a multiplatform messaging app for team communication; it's the secret sauce to our success in coordinating a newsroom schedule across 3 continents and 6 time zones over at Gistory.
File sharing, private messaging, group messaging, internal organization, GIF support (that one's essential), custom emoji creation (a nice bonus), and sleek, seamless app integration between your desktop, laptop, iPhone, and Android – oh yes, my friend, Slack does it all. If you've been realizing that traditional emails are waaay too clunky for your office team's needs, Slack is your all-in-one savior.
BUT! Newsflash: What really sets Slack apart in its field isn't its features. There are lots of techy team communication services that offer almost all of the same functionalities – HipChat, Basecamp, Campfire, and Asana, just to name a few.
What sets Slack apart from the competition is its hands-down awesome brand voice strategy.
And not just if you're a design nut.
Let me show you what I mean. Here are some screenshots of Campfire and HipChat, two of Slack's competitors:
Corporate, professional, functional... Grays, blues, neutrals happening all over the place... These services scream work environment with a touch of dentist's office. They're no fun. They look so obviously like they're part of a job.
Now here's Slack:
Seriously, where would you rather spend your workday?
Slack's explosion of bright, fun colors make a work environment feel like a bright and fun place.
And Slack has made those concepts of playfulness, energy, and fun the very core of their brand, from visuals to voice. Take screen shots from their official one-year company stats infographic, for instance:
Visual humor, emoji goodness, vibrant hues: visually, Slack is fun where its competitors are boring; Slack is engaging where its competitors are staid; Slack is colorful where its competitors are *yawn.*
But Slack's branding doesn't stop with its visual strategy.
Slack consistently pairs its awesome visual design with an on-brand voice that's just as spunky. The same personality bursting out of their bright blue, turquoise, purple, pink, yellow, emoji-filled visual brand is echoed across the brand voice throughout company's official blog, documentation materials, podcast (yes, the Slack team has their own podcast), and official @SlackHQ Twitter account:
When we talk about crafting a complete, comprehensive brand voice, Slack's amazing level of cohesion is what we should be aiming for.
The key takeaway from Slack:
Your product alone isn't enough to make your company successful.
What your clients will really remember about working with you is how you made them feel.
It's a fact that we can't stress enough to our own clients: customers may come for the product, but they'll come back for the experience. Make your clients love working with your brand and they'll love working with you.
Slack didn't get to the top because it had a better product than its competitors.
Slack achieved success by turning the field's status quo on its head with its explosively enjoyable brand and, beyond simply creating an awesome identity, staying on-brand in all interactions with its audience. From the moment a user first spies the Slack brand, to a user's experience in-app, to official announcements and regular social media engagement, Slack consistently delivers the same infectious voice strategy that makes their brand so enjoyable.
Now steal this from slack:
Steal Slack's ALL IN brand voice strategy.
What is it that you've got coming up? An official stats report? A revamped FAQ page? A new feature release? Don't lose the opportunity to demonstrate your brand's personality just because the content is official! Keep your brand voice switch flipped to ON all the time and utilize it whenever you're able.
Taking small steps into an expanded brand voice can start in as unlikely place as an update announcement or statistics report.
Infuse your brand's personality throughout a client's full experience with your company.
Think of all the steps a client goes through in their interactions with your brand and identify the most mundane interaction they have with you. Now start there.
Inject some personality where it's least expected, or where your client experience is most lacking. Try adding an unanticipated exclamation, question, or graphic to boost a client's experience. Or rethink that segment entirely.
Here's what we did:
For us, our biggest weakness was the official brand style guides we gave each client after crafting their brand identity.
The lingering worry that no one was actually reading their style guide had been hovering around our office for a long time. But nonetheless we continued to create all style guides in the same standardized (and ridiculously boring) manner. Why? Because they were supposed to be official documents? What good did they do if no one read them?!
We finally figured out that we couldn't expect clients to read something that would put them to sleep. So we brainstormed new ways to present clients with key information about their brands that they'd actually want to consult.
We scrapped the old template and came up with a completely renovated style guide format. Now clients can look forward to an online, easy-to-navigate-and-fun-to-read-plus-sassy-and-colorful HDco brand guide that fits our own brand voice and aspirations while boosting our clients' positive experience.
The final word:
Small businesses have been left out of the discussion surrounding comprehensive brand voice.
We small businesses don't have the resources of a hugely successful company like Slack (it was valued at $1 billion after less than a single year of existence oh my god) but we're under constant pressure to step up our game as we compete in crowded local and global marketplaces.
Without clear resources and while straddling running our biz and investing in our brands, we're left without actionable strategies for improvement.
...But there ARE companies out there absolutely nailing brand voice we can look up to.
So we checked out two brands with excellent voice strategies, analyzed their successes, and rounded up the key elements of their tactics for you, along with bite-sized actionable strategies:
- Companies nailing brand voice don't limit that voice to words only.
So experiment with visual voice strategies, like MOO.
Take baby steps to ease out of your comfort zone and into multimedia visual fields. Stop-motion? Time-lapse? Animated GIFs? Choose a small point of entry and see where it takes you!
- Companies nailing brand voice know that it's the experience that makes clients come back for more.
So inject personality in unexpected places, like Slack.
What's the client's most blah part of interacting with your biz? Start with that. Brainstorm ways to make even the boring parts of a client's experience enjoyable. Again, start small – maybe revamping some language in an update announcement or contact email – and build from that.
Did I miss something? Do you agree with the strategies we've come up with? What do YOU do to develop your brand's voice? And what do you think of my GIFs?
We want to know what you think. Your strategies and your suggestions. Get in contact with us on Facebook, tweet me @averyenderle or Kristen @hootdesignco, or hit us up in the comments below to drop some #BizBombs of your own.
Until next time,