THE BLOG
12/31/2014 02:29 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

How to Build a Brand Voice with True Personality

Content marketing is sometimes seen as an objective affair, and in some ways, it is. There are certain mathematical qualities of your posts and posting frequency that must be taken into consideration, such as length, the number of new posts you make per week, and the number of channels you use for syndication. But one of the most important qualities of your content is one that's almost impossible to objectively measure: your brand voice.

Brand voice is the tone and personality of your written words, which can jump off the page and engage your readers in subtle, almost undetectable ways. The strength of your brand voice in large part depends upon the appropriateness of its personality, and your consistency in implementing it across all your content channels.

It's easy to lose sight of the "human" element of your brand voice, instead focusing on trying to showcase all the qualities of your company in your written words, but if you want to engage your readers and make a lasting impression, you'll need to make sure your voice has a personality--not just a handful of tonal characteristics.

Use these strategies to shape your brand voice in a way that reads as human:

1. Identify Your Brand's Characteristics

That doesn't mean writing a bulleted list of all the qualities you want your brand to be. If you attempt such an exercise, you'll probably write down words like "trusted" or "highest quality." These are great phrases to describe a company, and if they do describe your brand, that's fantastic--but these phrases will not help you create a brand voice that reads as more personal and more endearing.

Instead of naming or organizing these qualities as you would a company, identify your brand's personal characteristics. The best way to do this is to picture your brand as an actual person--a thought experiment that will reveal hidden elements of your brand's personality you might not have considered. What does your brand look like? Is your brand male or female? Young or old? Conversational or quiet? Grandiose or minimalistic in conversation? Formal or casual?

Imagine yourself engaging with this "brand person" and describe the experience to yourself. This exercise will help you identify the key aspects of your brand's personality that will appeal to readers as they get to know it.

2. Learn What Your Audience Wants

After you've gotten familiar with your brand's natural personality, it's also a good idea to figure out what your audience wants in a voice. Look at some of the most popular blogs and content marketing strategies in your industry. What types of personalities do you see? How is yours going to be the same? How is it going to be different?

To this end, you can also go directly to the source by asking your readers what they'd like to see in a brand voice via survey or the more subtle A/B test. Send out two pieces of content written in different shades of the same voice, and use your audience to determine which sounds better. In order to please your target audience, you may have to make some adjustments to your brand's core personality. These types of compromises are fine as long as they don't completely transform the brand. Remember, your goal is to be consistently appealing--and if your customers tell you what makes content appealing to them, you should do what you can to give them what they want.

3. Play with Word Choices

When you first start writing for your brand, you'll face myriad powerful word choices you never knew were powerful. As a human, you might alternate between them indiscriminately, rarely thinking through the logistics, but as a brand, you need to be relatively consistent in how you present yourself. The little choices are what give your readers a consistent experience--they construct a foundation for your brand, and reinforce an expectation your readers have when coming back for more.

Think these word choices through ahead of time, and set a standard for what speaks the most for your brand's personality. Will you speak in first-person perspective using "I" or by using "we"? Or will you avoid first-person perspective altogether? Will you speak directly to the reader using "you" or will you speak generally using nouns like "people." Will you use contractions like "can't" or full words like "cannot?" Will you use occasional swear words, or keep things formal? Will you use slang terms or colloquial phrases, or stick to proper English? Despite their seeming insignificance, all of these choices can have a tremendous impact, especially when kept consistent over time. Spend some time choosing a direction for these choices, and use logic as a foundation for each choice.

4. Exercise: Experiment with Different Voices

There's a big difference between a hypothetical brand voice and a brand voice in practice. When you first start writing for your brand, you may find it difficult to translate all those ideas into a subtle, consistent brand voice.

If you're having trouble, there's a writing exercise that might help you wrap your head around the execution of your ideal brand voice. Take a paragraph's worth of information--perhaps a short narrative or an instructional tidbit--and try writing it in several different voices. Start with your brand's voice, but then experiment with writing it in very different voices. By learning through experience what your brand voice isn't, you can get yourself closer to an understanding of what your brand voice is.

After a few rounds, you'll likely find yourself writing more naturally and more personally in the tone of your target brand voice. Only through practice will you be able to perfect it.

5. Tell a Story

Once you start making actual posts written in your brand voice, you can start making regular adjustments to keep your voice on track and full of personality. One strategy that can help you stay personally appealing to your readers is the art of storytelling through your content.

Storytelling doesn't necessarily mean making up a story to tell your audience. Brand storytelling is any narrative structure with a beginning, middle, and end--it could be a case study, a metaphor, a hypothetical situation, a personal anecdote, or a historical factoid. Weaving stories into the body of your blogs, social posts, and white papers is a perfect opportunity to show off your brand voice and make yourself seem more human to your readers. After all, humans are storytellers at heart, and conferring a story instantly makes you more naturally appealing and more approachable as a human--even if you're speaking as a brand.

Once you've established your brand voice, the tricky part is keeping it consistent. As you write more posts, your brand voice will naturally begin to evolve, but you need to guide that evolution to ensure your voice adheres to the principles you've already laid out. Perform regular content audits to measure the effectiveness and consistency of your brand personality, and conduct audience surveys to try and objectively measure its impact. The more consistent you are with a personable, relatable voice, the more your audience will grow to become familiar of you, and the more likely you'll be to convert those casual readers to lifetime, brand-loyal customers.