How you “sound” influences every message.
When an acquaintance asks about your company, what do you say? Typical responses are based on industry and service or product offerings, lightly seasoned with a dash of past projects and a hint of company history. And while this information tells the individual what your company does, it fails to tell them who the company is—which is fine if you aren’t trying to sell them anything.
But when it comes to selling to your customers, you need to tell them who you are. From your values to brand personality, your customers need to understand the voice of your company: Is it reliable? Is it ethical? Is it innovative? Is it fun? Your logo, advertisements, social media, promise statements, sustainability actions and more help customers decide who you are as a brand—and ultimately, if they wish to do business with you. To develop your ideal company voice, you need to have an answer to the following questions:
Why Do You Do What You Do?
In his 2009 Ted talk, Simon Sinek, a leadership expert, talks about the driving principle behind every successful leader and company: The why. More important than the what or the how, the why explains the impetus behind a company’s actions; the “why” is best known as a company’s mission statement. Sinek uses Apple as a main example, stating how consumers are drawn not to the company’s technology products but their reason for making them. Apple, Sinek says, tells their customers that everything they create—from the designs to the operating systems—is built with the intent of challenging the status quo. They don’t tell their customers they sell computers—a lot of companies sell computers. But they do tell them why they sell computers, and their audience relates to it.
Knowing your “why” tells you a lot about your company’s voice. Are you eco-warriors seeking to save the planet? Are you wanting your products to generate fun through functionality? The “why” is your company’s passion, and that passion needs to be present in the voice.
Who Are You?
Stephanie Schwab, a writer for Social Media Explorer, breaks down the four aspects of a brand voice. Though her chart focuses on social media, these elements can be applied to overall brand voice as well:
Companies are more than the products they sell: Arby’s is not just a restaurant that sells beef sandwiches. Coca-Cola is not just a company that sells carbonated beverages. These and other successful companies are far past the adolescent stage of “finding themselves”: They know who they are, and they own it.
Identifying a persona is key in developing your company’s overall voice. Take Arby’s, whose social media postings make references to what some consider “nerd culture”: Posts span anywhere from referencing the Power Rangers to Resident Evil to Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda.
But Arby’s also nods at classics like The Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Story and School House Rock. If Arby’s were a person, they would be the kind you’d find in a bookshop, wearing a superhero T-shirt and picking out a new comic before heading to a friend’s house to play video games. The company has re-invented itself as one that is immersed in popular culture: TV shows, movies, video games, music and more are all fodder for creativity.
Coca-Cola, on the other hand, is an individual who would often be seen in airy clothing and pastels, handing out flowers to coworkers and doing daily random acts of kindness—because they want everyone in the world to “have a Coke and smile.” Coca-Cola is all about happiness; their Facebook “About” section reads, “Welcome to the happiest Facebook page on, um, Facebook.” Coca-Cola’s persona—and the way in which they showcase this persona—have made them and their namesake product symbols of love, beauty, togetherness and inclusivity.
What Do You Have to Say—and How Will You Say It?
Again, we’ll look back to Schwab’s infographic. In creating your company’s brand, you need to know your purpose—the what—and choose specific language and tone—the how—to convey this purpose. Two companies who excel at knowing their purpose and communicating it are Hootsuite and Boeing. Both companies seek to sell their products—Hootsuite their social media marketing technology and Boeing their commercial, defense and space crafts—but this purpose alone won’t generate sales. Instead, they seek to connect with their buyers and establish a relationship. They do so by using specific language, or choosing what words to use in content or conversation; word choice is essential in supporting voice: It should align with your persona and mission statement or else buyers will not believe it.
— Hootsuite (@hootsuite) February 21, 2017
Hootsuite has made a name for itself in the social media sphere (boasting 8 million followers on Twitter alone), specifically for businesses who need tools to assist in analytics, campaigns, publishing and engagement on their social platforms. They’re a B2B company whose purpose is to market to the decision makers—a Social Media Manager or Director of Marketing or small business owners—and get them to use their tools. A business that truly knows its consumers, Hootsuite’s language is social media savvy, including emoji and social jargon like “metrics,” but simple enough for anyone to understand. Their tone is helpful (supports customers) and trendy (understands current practices).
On their Facebook page, Boeing describes itself as “the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems.” Because they sell to airline companies and government agencies, their persona is professional. Their language is serious and forward-thinking, but their tone allows them to be a bit more playful. Their tone is excited (as when discussing innovations or events) and informal (they’re personable).
Let a Brand Agency Craft Your Voice
Knowing the answers to these four questions will help you generate a voice that distinguishes your company from competitors. Anyone can sell computers, beverages or analytic tools—but no one else will sell them because of the same why, who, what, and how you do. Your audience buys products because of who your company is. Let your voice be heard. If you need help finding it, contact us at 312.828.0200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.