When it comes to brands, the more human the better. And while that may initially come off as counter-intuitive, the truth is that branding relies heavily upon the relationship a target audience makes with the brand that’s trying to reach them.
Relationships are about personal connections. And what’s more personal than the way you talk? Just like you have your favorite words (curse or otherwise…), and a very specific tone in which you use them, brands rely on a very particular vernacular to connect with their audiences to convey exactly who they are.
So how does a brand go about developing a tone and voice? Well, that begins with identifying the very important distinction between the two. Though related, voice and tone are not the same thing. While writing this article, I came across this very succinct comparison of voice vs. tone.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? You speak in a certain way. You use your voice to express yourself. But that voice changes when you’re excited, angry, calm or elated. But everyone still knows it’s you. It’s just you in a different situation. In the same vein, brands should have a consistent voice with a tone that fluctuates based on the messaging.
For example, Target has a smart, clear, confident voice. And their tone can be a little cheeky. But it comes off as incredibly in tune with their audience in this 2018 commercial that made light of their fancier moniker, “Tarzhay.”
In this Instagram post, they borrow words from Taylor Swift’s new album title but still sound very much like themselves — as much of the crowd of fans that love “Tay Tay” as any of us:
Their brand is relatability, and relatability sells. Which is why every word in their message is crafted in a smart, relatable tone that identifies with their pop-culture-obsessed demographic. Be it music, fashion, home decor, or simply groceries, Target knows their audience and, more importantly, knows themselves. So they can be authentically excited about a K-Pop boy band and coffee mugs without ever seeming off-brand.
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All in one brand.
So how does one go about developing a brand voice and tone?
First and foremost, know who you are. Dive into your persona. Are you the guy who shows up in a James Bond-type suit with a stiff drink in his hand? Or are you more the craft beer enthusiast who hangs out in worn jeans and a cult tee? Whichever feels right, lean into it. Audiences know and love authentic. But they can detect a calculated pile of words from a mile away.
Also, it helps to develop a glossary of terms. What words do you use over and over? Which ones feel right? Which ones would you absolutely never say? Jot those down, define them clearly, and share them with your team.
Finally, be consistent. Whether you’re announcing a new product or simply keeping people up to speed, the messaging should be consistent. Your audience should never be able to detect a difference in voice, even if some days you’re more Target than “Tarzhay.”
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