By Krista Walsh
This blog was provided by Krista Walsh. Krista is a freelance copywriter for e-commerce small businesses. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales. Connect with her at kristawalshcopywriter.com.
A few weeks ago, I clicked on an ad for The Sill, a (primarily) online store that sells houseplants.
Now, I don’t need any more house plants. I have no more shelves to put plants on—and the multitude of houseplants I do have came from my local garden store, which is walking distance from me.
But the website’s brand voice…well, delighted me. I loved how clear and educational the descriptions, site navigation and headlines were, while they still felt cheerful and young. The company’s brand voice made me feel good, like I wanted to be a part of their community. Suddenly, I wanted house plants from them, not just from my garden shop.
That’s the power a really well-defined and differentiated brand voice has for your e-commerce store. Because, frankly, it’s highly unlikely that your product is unique. A house plant is a house plant, even if one store sells them in yellow pots and the other sells them in green planters.
As consumers, we have so many options online for pretty much every category of product. All that choice can be paralyzing. That’s why we’re (maybe unconsciously) searching for something beyond the product itself to motivate us to buy. Something intangible that sparks a moment of delight or a feeling of yes, this is what I’ve been looking for.
Brand colors, a whimsical logo and a rad site design are part of the equation. But if your brand voice doesn’t draw in your customers… you’ve missed the boat. This article breaks down how to find the right brand voice for your online store.
What is brand voice?
Put simply, your brand voice is the words you use to communicate with customers—on your website, your product descriptions and marketing. Another way of thinking of brand voice is the tone of voice, which is a literary term for how someone’s writing “sounds.”
Examples of brand voice
To really understand the concept of brand voice, it’s best to look at some examples of it in action.
Formal tone of voice for a luxury product
Let’s look at this product description from Harry Winston:
This product description could be described as eloquent, sophisticated, gallant, decadent. The tone of voice is created through longer sentences, plenty of adjectives and formal vocabulary like “homage.” Added clauses (set off by commas) create a smooth, lilting rhythm throughout. It includes a lot of information about the product and product history.
Casual tone of voice for a less expensive product
Now, compare the Harry Winston description to this description for a costume jewelry ring from BaubleBar:
This product description could be described as youthful, chatty, confident. The sentences are much shorter, there are far fewer adjectives and the information provided is much more at-a-glance. In addition, this description uses slang terms like “deck your digits.”
How to find your brand voice
The best place to start when it comes to defining your store’s brand voice is to create a list of 3-4 words to describe how all your marketing will “sound.” You’ll end up with a short list like the one I created for the above examples (e.g. BaubleBar sounds youthful, chatty and confident). That list is the jumping-off point you need to get into the details of your brand voice.
But how do you decide what goes on it?
1. Clearly define your target customer by demographic and psychographic.
You want your brand voice to appeal to the type of customers you want to attract. So, before doing anything, make sure you have that customer clearly defined. You should know most of the following information:
Demographics – age, income level, education level, whether they have children, where they live, gender identity.
Psychographics – where they shop most often, their personal style, what they value as a consumer, what they spend their free time doing, their interests, their personality, their lifestyle.
Often, your brand’s tone of voice will be close to how your target customers speak in real life.
2. Consider the price point of your products.
This is an easy one to answer, but it’s important. High-dollar, luxury products should typically have a tone of voice that’s a bit more formal. That’s because casual tones of voice can undermine the quality of your products—bad news if you need people to shell out thousands.
It’s kind of like going to a fine restaurant where your meal costs hundreds of dollars. You’d be a little put-off if your server clapped his hand on your back in greeting and said, “What’s up, guys! Who wants to get their drink on tonight?” People expect high-dollar products to come with a certain level of formality.
If your product isn’t considered luxury, then you have a lot more freedom to choose what tone of voice to go with.
3. Think about how you want your customers to feel after they read your marketing.
You know what you want them to do—buy your product. But how do you want them to feel? In my story at the beginning of this article, The Sill’s brand voice made me feel light and optimistic.
Perhaps you want your customers to feel inspired. Or energized. Or giddy with laughter. Or relieved. Or at peace…
The key here is to dig deeper than easy answers like “happy” or “good.”
4. Imagine your company is a person. How does that person relate to your customers?
Think of all the different roles we have with one another. Sometimes, we’re teachers. Sometimes, we’re the life of the party, getting people excited to have a good time.
Here are some common roles that I like to think about for brands: tour guide, teacher, motivational speaker, friend, customer service representative, older sister/brother.
This answer gets you closer to how your brand should speak to your customers.
5. Consider your visual branding.
Many companies do their visual branding first. So, if you have visual branding that you love (and your customers love), you should make sure your tone of voice works with it.
For example, if your branding is full of bold color blocks, don’t choose a tone of voice that is dreamy and soft. Go for a tone of voice that is energetic and punchy.
Choose 3-4 tone of voice words for your brand
Now, use your answers to the above questions to come up with a tight list of tone of voice words. There are a couple of ways to do this. You could either use a prepared list of tone of voice words and choose the ones that match your brand, like this one.
Or, you could come up with your own words and then Google synonyms for them until you find the most precise versions of those words. For example, you may initially think of “serious” as one of your words, but after looking at the synonyms, you realize that what you really meant was “earnest.”
It’s important to be precise when choosing your tone of voice words because, otherwise, the people writing your content (such as your team, a freelancer or even yourself in the future) could interpret the tone differently.
Brand voice mistakes to avoid
These common tone of voice mistakes can make your voice feel vague, watered down, or incongruous with the rest of your branding:
Choosing tone of voice words that are redundant
Double-check the definitions and synonyms for the words you end up with. It’s possible that you’ve chosen words that are pretty similar in meaning.
For example, “inspirational” and “empowering” are slightly different but they’re too close to both be useful. Choose the one that most fits your brand.
Choosing tone of voice words that are buzzwords
The problem with buzzwords is that they quickly become distorted, meaningless, or disingenuous because of how often they’re used. Which makes them pointless as definers of your tone of voice.
The biggest example I see of a buzzword-as-tone-of-voice is “authentic.” If you find yourself with a buzzword on your tone of voice list, replace it with a less often used synonym. For example, authentic could become “truthful” or “honest.”
Choosing tone of voice words that are contradictory
Make sure that your tone of voice words don’t contradict each other. For example, if you have both “light-hearted” and “scholarly” on your list you have a problem.
Choosing tone of voice words that aren’t unique to your business
Words like “professional” and “knowledgeable” won’t really help you define a tone of voice that makes you stand out. That’s because it’s a given that any business should be professional and knowledgeable.
Executing on your new brand voice may take some time to get right
With your list of tone of voice words, you are really close to nailing your brand’s voice. However, it will take some time to get it just right. You should experiment with different text lengths, play around with the amount of information about the products you provide and swap a word in your headline for another.
After each new piece of copy you write, remember to ask yourself: “Does this sound [insert your tone of voice words here]?” If you aren’t sure, ask a team member or friend to read your copy and tell you how closely they think you got to your tone of voice words.
Eventually, you can go even further with your brand voice definition. You can outline exactly what words you will never say in your marketing, list common phrases you want to use and define the subtle difference in tone of voice depending on the medium (your website vs. your brand’s Instagram, for example).
Ultimately, investing the time and thought into your store’s brand voice will enable your store to stand apart from your competition—so take this part of building your brand seriously.