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laptop with Digital Clutter

Consistent Brand Voice & Tone Can Help Cut Through the Digital Clutter

Charles Dickens was born about 200 years too early to enjoy the pleasures of getting in Twitter fights with book reviewers and fellow authors all while posting snippets of his upcoming work to adoring fans on Facebook and Instagram.

Often called the first modern celebrity, Dickens would have loved social media.

After all, he knew how to build his own brand in his distinct voice and was a Victorian era would-be blogger with most of his work published to the masses in monthly or weekly installments.

Please, Sir, Can We Have Some More … Social Media!

It seems, especially since the pandemic started, that we are all little Oliver’s with our out-stretched smartphones when it comes to social media (Please, sir, I want some more!)  with nearly 4 billion total social media users across all platforms as of January 2022.

Sprout Social says that the time spent on social media now is greater than ever with adults spending some 95 minutes per day consuming content from an average of seven different social networks per month. Some studies put the average time spent consuming social media at 144 minutes per day!

“Social media recently overtook paid search as an advertising channel, growing 25 percent (year over year) and exceeding $137 billion (just edging out search’s $135 billion),” says Sprout Social.

For brands, this should be the “best of times” as the guesswork has been taken out of where to reach their target audiences, but as in any good Dickens novel, there is a twist, and it is also the “worst of times” as brands find it tough to cut through the digital clutter.

“It’s no secret that organic engagement on social media has been on a downward trend,” Brent Barnhart wrote for Sprout Social in May. “More users and brands on a network mean that you’re quite literally competing for the attention of customers and followers. After all, there are only so many interactions to “go around”.”

Now, more than ever, brands need to concentrate on developing their brand voice and tone to stand out in the crowded digital landscape.

Beyond the Logo: Developing Your Brand Voice

When it comes to branding there can be a hyper focus on the visual, but your brand voice can be just as important as logos and other design choices.

“In branding work, people often think about how a brand looks visually, from fonts to colors to design styles. What is sometimes overlooked is brand voice,” writes San Francisco-based digital strategist Jenn Chen. “With the inclusion of social media in marketing efforts, brand voice has become more important than ever as a way to stand out from the crowd of digital chatter.”

HubSpot says that “brand voice is the personality your brand takes on in all of its communications”

Chen agrees and takes it one step further, saying that your brand voice is not just a personality your brand takes on but a “distinct personality”.

This personality is applied to everywhere your brand speaks, including:

  • Social media posts
  • Advertising
  • Newsletters
  • Internal communications such as company announcements
  • All responses to followers and/or customers

Why Does Brand Voice Matter?

Social media in 2022 is rooted in so much visual imagery that brand voice can be overlooked with just 1 in 3 brands having a documented content strategy in place, including brand voice as an integral component.

“We often pay a lot of attention to how brands look on social media, but brand voice can be as influential as logo design, imagery and visual content,” wrote Rebecca DiCioccio, marketing manager at Paperform.

HubSpot’s Caroline Forsey says that brand voice is a critical factor for creating consistency across communication channels, regardless of who creates the content.

“Good brand voice makes your brand stand out from the noise, and helps consumers remember and relate to your brand. This, in turn, creates stronger brand loyalty. Plus, brand voice can help attract new prospects before they even learn about your product or services,” writes Forsey.

Sprout Social asked consumers why some brands stood out online and found that:

  • 40 percent said memorable content
  • 33 percent said distinct personality 
  • 32 percent said compelling storytelling

And on the flip side, when asked why consumers unfollowed brands on social media, Sprout Social found:

  • 45 percent said irrelevant content

Chen says the “digital landscape is crowded. It’s filled with chatter from brands and individuals alike. You can only stand out so much on the basis of your visual content, logo or product features alone. Your written content needs that same attention and consistency you give to the other elements of your brand presence.”

As DeCioccio puts it: “Having a brand voice enables businesses to showcase their unique personality.

Difference Between Your Brand Voice and Brand Tone

Before diving into some surefire ways to develop a consistent brand voice, we need to differentiate between your brand voice and your brand tone.

Sprout Social says that brand voice is “what you say” and brand tone is “how you say it.”

While you want to always have a consistent brand voice, your brand tone will vary depending on the message and channel you are delivering it on.

How you hype a new product release will have a much different tone than how you will respond to a customer complaint online.

There are situations where humor will be appropriate and situations where humor will do more harm than good to your brand.

7 Steps to Building Your Social Media Brand Voice

You can strengthen your social media brand voice by using these seven steps:

  1. Make it Authentic: You cannot develop your brand voice without first understanding your brand’s core values and beliefs. According to DeCioccio, a 2020 Consumer Culture Report showed that 70 percent of consumers want to buy from companies that share their core values, including 83 percent of millennials. Your brand voice will not be authentic unless it is aligned with your organization’s fundamental beliefs.
  2. Look in the Rearview Mirror: If you want to chart a course forward, it will help to understand where you have been. Which is a Zen way of saying, you need to audit your current brand voice and analyze what style you have used and the results. Pay close attention to the brand voice (and tone) of posts that have generated good feedback and buzz.
  3. Understand Your Audience: Your brand voice needs to be tailored for your target audience and marketing personas you want to reach. While you need to stay within the core values addressed above, you will not be successful if your Baby Boomer inspired “dad jokes” are aimed at Gen Z, and if your AARP card-carrying audience is blasted with TikTok Minions memes.
  4. Document Everything: Create a brand voice style guide that can be used for different users across your company. Even if you are a small organization and only have one person handling all your social media and brand marketing, document it. This way, if they run off to join the circus (okay, in 2022, it is more likely they will run off to open a food truck!), you can remain consistent when putting a new person in place.
  5. Do Not Forget the Tone: Remember your tone can be as important as the brand voice, so make sure you are using the right tone at the right time. One ill-timed emoji or off-colored joke can create a whirlwind of negative publicity for your brand.
  6. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency: Consistency is the key to successfully managing your brand voice. Try to keep the brand voice not only consistent across all platforms and means of marketing but also keep a consistent brand voice throughout every step of your customer’s journey.
  7. Review, Rinse and Repeat: Creating and maintaining your social media brand voice and tone is not a one-and-done operation but should be something you continually address and adjust as needed. Set periodic reviews and use major events such as mergers, acquisitions, logo changes and new product launches to recalibrate your brand voice.

Just remember, whatever your brand voice is, make it distinctively your own unique voice and embrace it like your favorite Dickens character because as Shopify’s VP of Marketing Morgan Brown says, “the brands that speak to everyone speak to no one.”