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Brand voice 101: How to create a consistent brand

By Christine Glossop · May 12, 2021
Hero image of a screenshot of a blog post on Looka, with arrows pointing to different brand voice elements

If you've done research on how to brand your business, you've probably run into the term "brand voice." Usually buried somewhere between mentions of branding assets like logos, color palettes, and fonts, brand voice tends to get less attention: you'll hear that it's important, but you won't learn what it is or how to create it. 

Here, we'll get specific. Using examples from Looka's brand voice, I'll walk you through the step-by-step process of creating a consistent brand voice. 

What is brand voice?

Like many terms in the world of branding, "brand voice" gets thrown around a lot without a solid definition to weigh it down. 

Some sources compare brand voice to your brand's personality. It's usually expressed as a matrix of brand characteristics and the dos and don'ts that come with them. For example, a brand that identifies as "ambitious" might specify that its language should be success-oriented and confident, avoiding qualifiers like "maybe," "nearly," or "almost." 

This system can work up to a certain point, but it doesn't cover the full expression of your brand. Brand voice is more than just personality; it's presence, too. It's a mix of what you say and how you say it. This means your language, grammar, structure, messages, attitudes, and tone all work together to create a consistent impression of your brand.

Why brand voice matters

As silly as it sounds to worry about using commas consistently, brand voice matters. More than just making your marketing team happy, a consistent brand voice does two important things: it controls your brand impression, and it allows your business to scale. 

This first point is pretty simple. Consistent language lets you shape how others see you. If you're speaking the Queen's English on one product page and trying out Gen Z slang on another, customers can't tell who you are—or if you're right for them. When you add competitors into the mix, consistency becomes even more critical. Building a recognizable brand voice makes it easier for customers to remember and return to your brand. 

It's that second benefit that really matters to small businesses: scale. Many young companies don't bother establishing a brand voice because they only have one person creating content. This person usually knows (or is) the founder, which makes conveying brand personality a lot easier. But then that person leaves or gets too busy to write. If you're lucky, your new writer will pick up on your brand voice from context clues. If you're not, your brand will change personalities overnight. 

From recognition today to scale tomorrow, formalizing your brand voice can do a lot for your company. 

Structuring your brand's content

To start, let's look at the most overlooked aspect of brand voice: structure. Before people read your content, they skim it. The layout of your content on the page plays a huge part in how people see your brand. If your content structure doesn't suit your customers, they might never make it past skimming. 

Page-level structure

As you begin planning out your content, consider the overall structure you're creating. What does that structure say about your brand? Is it formal and complex? Simple and friendly? Visual or verbally focused? You can start shaping your brand's first impression by tailoring these elements:

  • Number of paragraphs per page

  • Number of images per page

  • Number of topics per page

  • Overall length of page

Check out the difference in page structure between one of our top-performing blog articles on Looka and our legal disclaimer page. While both have a lot of content, frequent paragraph breaks and plenty of images make the blog much more approachable. On the other hand, the legal page's dense content comes across as suitably serious. 

An example of page level structure in two types of pages
Without even reading, you can tell which of these two pages is more serious.

Generally speaking, the longer, denser, and more text-heavy your content, the more serious your brand will seem. Whereas the shorter, lighter, and more image-focused your content, the friendlier your brand will seem. Most brand voices find their balance somewhere on this spectrum. Of course, like Looka, you might vary your structure depending the context.

Paragraph-level structure

Like page-level structure, paragraph-level structure gives the skimmers a sense of your brand voice. When searching for your brand's perfect paragraph structure, consider:

  • Number of lines per paragraph

  • Number of ideas per paragraph

  • Non-paragraph text

At Looka, we tend to keep our paragraphs around 3-5 lines. For us, this is the sweet spot between interest-piquing and intimidating. To ensure our brand voice stays light and fun, we also regularly use lists and bullet points instead of full paragraphs. 

Example of paragraph-level structure

Again, longer and denser paragraphs will add an academic vibe to your brand voice, while shorter, simpler paragraphs are more accessible. Depending on your brand's website design and fonts, the exact number of words this translates to will vary. 

Sentence-level structure

After finding the perfect page and paragraph structure, the last thing you want is to lose customers when they start reading. This makes sentence-level structure the most important part of structuring your brand's voice. To get people to make the leap from skimming to reading, you need to nail both: 

  • Number of words per sentence

  • Number of punctuation marks per sentence

That second point is especially important. Commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons don't just break up a sentence—they add meaning. So you better make sure that meaning matches what you want your brand to say.  

Looka's brand voice tries to walk the line between informative and informal. To find this balance, we tend to use between 1-3 punctuation marks per sentence. This means our sentences can contain complex ideas, without looking complicated. 

Example of sentence-level structure
Counting the punctuation is a good way to measure how dense your brand voice is becoming.

Reading our blog, you'll notice that sentences are usually pretty short. And if they're longer, they only ever use one or two commas to connect ideas. Anything more than that and we know we're not hitting Looka's brand voice anymore. 

Brand grammar

While it isn't very fun, localizing your voice makes it easier to connect with customers. Even if you aren't in the same country as them, you should be using your customers' language, spelling, expressions, measurements, and grammar. 

Looka, for instance, makes no secret of our Canadian headquarters on our website. But because we mostly have American customers, we publish content on Color Combinations, not Colour Combinations. 

Brand grammar example
Where Looka lives vs how Looka speaks

If you run an in-person store, your address will tell you which country's language to use. But if you're operating online, you can use Google Analytics to pinpoint where your web traffic is coming from. 

It doesn't take much effort to speak like your customers either. With tools like Grammarly, you can select the geography that best reflects your customers and localize spelling, grammar, and punctuation automatically. It's an easy way to remove an unnecessary obstacle from your customers' understanding. 

Brand formality and familiarity

Now that you know your brand voice's location, it's time to talk formality. Formality is one of the foundations of brand voice. It can guide both what you include in your content, as well as how you address it. Ranging anywhere from "completely casual" to "perfectly professional," formality is like your brand's dress code.

It's worth noting that you may vary formality across different brand materials. To use Looka again, there's a big difference in how we speak on our blog versus our help pages. While we're never going to sound fully buttoned up, using our quirky blog voice on our help pages could rub confused customers the wrong way. 

Brand formality example
Looka's content tends to be less formal on our blog than our help content

But brand formality shouldn't come down to your personal preference. Your level of formality should match the gravity of your business and the gravitas of your customers. As you set your level of formality, consider: 

  • Who are your customers?

  • What product or service are you selling them?

  • Where and how do you interact with them?

Overshooting the mark on formality can create an unnecessarily impersonal brand voice, while undershooting it can make your company seem immature. 

Still, for every rule, there's an exception. 

Some banks have hilarious ads, while some fast fashion brands are anything but casual. Deliberately mismatching formality can make your brand stand out. But miscalculate and you can easily put customers on edge. 

If you're really looking to nail down the formality of your brand's voice, look to linguistics. Using the five registers of language, you can put a name and set of guidelines to your chosen level of formality. That way, you can quickly communicate to writers exactly what you mean by "kind-of-friendly-but-not-in-like-a-cheesy-way."

Creating a company glossary

After going over structure, grammar, and formality, it's finally time to talk words. Words are where your brand voice really starts to sound like...✨your brand✨. 

Whether you know it or not, you probably already have a company glossary. These are the terms and turns of phrase you use again and again in your content. By recording this aspect of your brand voice, you make it easier for customers and writers alike to learn your language. 

A good company glossary should cover:

  • How you refer to your products or services

  • How you refer to the problems and opportunities you address

  • How you refer to the people you work with—both customers and employees

A great example of this is Starbucks. Their drinks aren't small, medium, and large, but Tall, Grande, and Venti. In fact, their whole menu is built around their brand's language. For them, this glossary creates a sense of community for those who know the lingo. 

A screenshot from the Starbucks menu
Starbucks does a great job of getting customers to adopt its brand glossary.

Using consistent company language plays a big role in creating brand voice continuity. But more than that, it gives your brand a unique feel. After all, who doesn't know that "Grande No Whip Caramel Frappuccino" is a Starbucks order without even hearing the brand's name?

Capturing your brand's tone

Of course, you can't get by only using words and phrases from your brand's glossary. To ensure brand voice consistency beyond these words, you need to begin building out your brand's tone. This is the step you might be most familiar with already, as it's the step most brand voice articles skip straight to. Consider this section a personality quiz for your brand.

To start building out your brand's tone, try: 

  • Writing down personality traits that capture your brand

  • Writing down personality traits that do not capture your brand

  • Creating a list of sample words that reflect your brand personality

  • Finding writing samples that showcase this tone

Let's be clear: you don't need to record every single trait you think suits your brand. The end goal of this process is a North Star, not a complete psychological evaluation. 

This exercise is also a good opportunity to reflect on your brand. Are you living up to your core brand traits in your existing content? If you start to see some glaring gaps, you could be due for a content audit. 

Looka did an audit like this on our logo ideas pages. 

Showing the difference in tone between two versions of a Looka page
Compare the length and tone between the before and after of Looka's architecture logos page.

You can see the difference in the before and after. Before, we weren't living up to the "creative, inspired, confident, excited, reassured, ambitious, and optimistic" brand voice we'd set for ourselves. The content was sparse and low effort. After, the extended content better conveys creativity, excitement, and ambition.

Creating brand voice guidelines

So, now that you know what goes into your brand voice, you're ready for the next step: putting these lessons into action. The best way to do this is with a set of brand voice guidelines

These guidelines should include:

  • Length and structure

  • Grammar and spelling 

  • Level of formality

  • Company glossary

  • Brand personality and tone

  • Writing samples

With these specs on hand, you'll be able to keep your content consistent—no matter who's writing it. And with consistent content centered around a clear brand voice, you can begin building recognition and loyalty for your brand. 

This was a guest post from Christine Glossop, search engine optimization manager at Looka. Looka is an AI-powered logo maker and design platform that provides business owners with a quick and affordable way to create a beautiful brand. Want to see your work on the Zapier blog? Read our guidelines, and get in touch.

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