These 6 steps will walk your team through developing a brand voice from start to finish
Read Time: 5 min.
If your brand was a person, what type of person would it be?
Warm and inviting? Inspiring? Aspiring? Appreciative? Balanced?
Let’s dive a little deeper… Is your brand trustworthy? Faithful? Courageous? Passionate? Persuasive? Is it forward-thinking – or even bold and daring? Is it someone you’d enjoy chatting with, a person you could depend on, a friend you’d turn to in your time of need?
What personality traits define your organization?
Your organization is a critical member of your community, and you have a persona. Your neighbors have perceptions about you – gathered from personal experience, drive-by impressions or… hearsay. How much control do you have over these perceptions? Your brand’s personality shines through every communications channel you use. This is what we call your Brand Voice, and there are clear steps that can help you develop it.
Why does brand voice matter?
Similar to building a friendship, gaining loyal supporters means your nonprofit needs to be reliable, understandable and unchanging. The sooner your audience can begin to recognize and trust your brand voice, the sooner they will become comfortable with giving their time and resources to support your cause.
In a recent study by Sprout Social, customers were asked what made a brand stand out. Forty percent of customers said memorable content, 33% said distinct personality and 32% said compelling storytelling. Notice something that all three of these categories have in common? They all have to do with how your organization develops your brand voice!
So, let’s get into it. Here’s how to develop a brand voice, from start to finish:
Audit Your Current Brand Voice and Define Your Audience
Step 1: Understand your audience.
Before creating a brand voice, you must first understand who your organization is speaking to. This is an essential first step! Knowing your audience will help you develop a strong brand voice that speaks to them in a clear way they understand.
To start getting to know your audience better, I suggest pulling the demographics of your audience from Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics or another analytics tool specific to your organization. It is important to note that your audience’s age, gender, interests and stage of life will affect how they interact with your brand. As you begin to develop your brand voice, keep these demographics front-of-mind, making sure that your voice aligns with your audience.
Step 2: Identify your top performing content.
Get to know what works (and doesn’t) for your audience. Identify your top performing content by measuring engagement, conversions, traffic and likes from each of your communication channels. This includes direct mail, newsletters, traditional marketing, website copy, emails, social media posts and more.
Step 3: Analyze and discuss your top-performing content.
Once you have a good grasp on your data, use these questions to analyze why your supporters connected most with these examples:
- What voice traits and writing tone does your top-performing content have in common?
- Do they have themes and features in common?
- How could these top performing pieces be improved even further?
- What is not working with these pieces that your brand should avoid in the future?
- Which successful aspects could be replicated across the whole brand voice?
After discussing these questions, list 3-5 characteristics that reflect the content that resonates with your audience. Set this list aside for later, we’ll come back to it in Step #5.
Define Your Brand Voice & Create a Brand Guide
Great work! You’ve defined your audience and thoroughly analyzed what works and what doesn’t in your current brand voice. Now it’s time to brainstorm!
Step 4: Define characteristics that reflect your mission and core values.
Above everything else, it’s essential that your organization’s brand voice reflects your mission, your vision and your core values. Spend time answering these questions:
- How does your top-performing content fit with your mission, vision and values? What might be missing that you could highlight more?
- Does your brand voice reflect your core values? What are the points of agreement? What are the differences?
- Are there any themes in your core values, vision for the future and new initiatives that can be used to define your brand voice? What are they?
- What mission-related language or phrases do you want to use consistently in your content?
After discussing these questions, list 3-5 characteristics that reflect your mission and core values. Set this list aside for Step #5.
Step 5: Develop your brand voice.
You’ve made it! It’s finally time to solidify your brand voice.
Combine your characteristics lists from the content analysis in Step #2 and the core values analysis in Step #4 to create one large list of brand characteristics. Allow your team some time to look at this list and brainstorm any additional characteristics that should be represented in your brand voice.
Once you have a strong list of brand characteristics, go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Remove repeating characteristics, delete ones that don’t apply, and combine common themes. Be sure your aspirational attributes are also reflected. Your goal is to come up with 3-5 overarching characteristics. These will be the defining factors of your brand voice.
Step 6: Share brand voice guidelines with your team.
Once you have 3-5 main characteristics for your brand voice, list them out in an official document that will be shared with your writers and internal team. Include tactical advice and examples that can help your internal writers better understand these characteristics and how they can apply them in your communications. Be sure to share these attributes with your external partners.
Hubspot provides a great example of using Google Sheets to share these guidelines with their team. In this example, their brand voice characteristics are, “authentic, humorous, and helpful.”
Note that each Voice Characteristic includes do’s and don’ts that answer potential questions that writers would ask while writing in your brand voice. This would be a great addition to include in your brand guidelines too!
Once you have your Brand Voice Guidelines document finalized, share with your team and plan a few training sessions on using brand voice for both your internal writers and external contractors. This will help make sure everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to your brand voice!
Brand voice is an ever-evolving aspect of your organization. Like a person, new parts of your brand voice will grow and change over time. Revisit your Brand Voice Guidelines once a year or during any major brand changes. Remember, as long as your organization is publishing consistent content, you are on the path to establishing a brand voice that will speak to your donors hearts and encourage their support.
If you need additional direction in finding your brand voice or even rebranding your organization, BDI can help! Contact us today with your questions!
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