Four Things to Keep in Mind When Training on Brand Voice

You need to create a cohesive brand voice, regardless of whether a rebranding project is handled internally or executed by an outside agency.

Typically, a brand voice (or personality) is a collection of character attributes that guide how the brand expresses itself. The goal of establishing a brand voice is to make sure the communicators at all levels of your organization “speak” in a way that is both purposeful and consistent.

Developing a brand voice is one thing; training communicators in your organization to execute that brand voice is another. So what can you do to get your communicators up to speed?

Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing training on brand voice.

1. It’s not about checking boxes

Imagine you’re a copywriter, and you’re handed a list of voice attributes and told, “This is how we sound now. Good luck!”

When you look at the list, you panic because your new voice attributes are…

  • Quirky
  • Authoritative
  • Prescient
  • Down to earth

Yikes.

I’m exaggerating, of course… No rebranding initiative worth its salt would give you such a disparate collection of attributes—but I’ve used that example to make a point.

If you tried to be all those things at all times across all touchpoints for all audiences, you would either sound bonkers or totally indistinct (because by trying to account for every facet of the voice, you narrow the spectrum of expression to the safest, most neutral copy).

When creating or evaluating a piece of copy for brand voice, you can’t just check the box next to each voice attribute and think that means it’s on brand. Attributes dial up and down depending on a whole slew of factors, including message, medium, audience, etc.

Instead of a list of absolutes, encourage writers to think of voice attributes as the spices in a signature cuisine. Different dishes can be spicier than others, or more garlicky than others, but they all still taste like Mexican food since you’re only working with cayenne, cumin, garlic, and cilantro.

Similarly, different communications can be friendlier than others or more confident than others, but they’ll all still sound like the brand if you always use at least a dash of the same attributes.

2. If it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it

It’s always good when an organization gets excited about a new brand voice. It’s even better when there’s a commitment to implementing that voice in every nook and cranny of the company’s communications.

But there is such a thing as too much passion.

I’ve fielded anxious inquiries from clients worried about whether something generic like “customer service” or “retailer” is on voice in their new identity. Don’t change language for the sole purpose of changing it—your customers won’t appreciate it.

Scrutinizing the status quo is a great exercise when rebranding, but implementing voice should never come at the price of comprehension.

Imagine my client had decided that in his company’s new friendlier identity, “customer service” should be called “helping hands.” Now imagine being a customer with a serious problem, logging onto that company’s website, and trying to contact customer service.

Only so many words mean the same thing, and if you deviate from industry standards or commonly accepted parlance just for the sake of being different, prepare to get a lot of questions about where your “retailers” went and what the hell “sell-spaces” are.

3. The end goal is not perfection but instinct

As I’ve said above, it’s not enough to check the boxes on voice attributes—they need to be combined and adjusted in a meaningful, dynamic way depending on context and audience.

As writers get more comfortable mixing a dollop of “witty” with a pinch of “bold,” something will emerge: a defined space in which the brand speaks. Obviously, that won’t happen overnight, but what’s more important (and more useful) than drilling all communicators in your organization on the voice attributes is getting to the point where a piece of copy floats past their desk and immediately triggers the response: “That doesn’t sound like us” or, even better, “Yep, that sounds like us.”

Getting to “that doesn’t sound like us” is a journey. Developing an instinct for creating copy (rather than using a rigorous, exhaustive process for creating copy) is the ultimate goal.

You want to empower writers (and those evaluating communications) to experiment and push the limits of the voice. As they do, they collectively find the edges of the brand and give everyone in the organization a more cohesive and robust idea of what it means to “sound like us.”

4. Adapt and learn

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for getting everyone on board with a new brand voice. Company cultures vary widely.

The types of people who will touch and use the voice will also vary from company to company. Sometimes, an FYI-style training will be all you need for those using the voice lightly. Other times, an immersive workshop is a better bet for communicators who need a crash course to get up and running ASAP. Moreover, you may find pockets of resistance to change or you may find people willing to champion the new voice and do the evangelizing for you.

You know your organization best. If a style of learning isn’t working, change it up for the next time. Ongoing training—experienced and executed by real people—is a must as the voice starts to live in the real world.

Keeping the above in mind when planning brand voice training will put you on the path to your ultimate goal: an authentic and consistent expression of your brand.

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