15 Approaches To Developing A Strong Brand Voice

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Expert Panel, Forbes Agency Council

Successful PR, media strategy, creative and advertising executives from Forbes Agency Council share trends and tips.

A company's brand is instrumental in any company's initial contact with potential customers, how it communicates with them and what impression it makes. One of the most important elements of building a strong brand is cultivating a strong, unique voice that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably belongs to the organization.

In the past, traditional media made it easier for a brand to build its voice over time. But with social media shortening the time between brand product updates, creating and sustaining a voice that resonates across the different media channels the company markets within can be a challenging prospect. Below, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council delve into how companies can create and develop a robust and unique voice for their brand that won't get lost in the background noise.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Focus On Principles, Messaging And Training

Inspired by and grounded in a strong brand platform, voice is built on three foundational elements. Define voice principles that guide how we sound at every touch point, including writing tactics and a word bank. Build a messaging framework outlining the core messages required by each audience to move them to choice. Commit to training all employees (and we mean all!) with lab-based exercises. - Justin Wartell, Monigle

2. Imagine Your Brand As A Person

Voice is about personality, a human trait. So if your brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? Bold? Cautious? Funny? Formal? Introspective? Outspoken? When we lead brand personality discovery exercises with clients, we sometimes look to the personality of the company's CEO or most successful salespeople as a starting point. Then we translate that into a voice. - Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

3. Build Credibility

I believe a brand's voice is heard best through PR and earned media. PR offers the most fertile ground for storytelling. The messaging in PR should align with the brand promise messaging of advertising and marketing or the story won't stick. - Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

4. Be Yourself

For professional services, the transition from marketing to working with the business in person should be seamless for the client. Marketing in saturated markets can make businesses feel like they need to be crazy different from competitors. My recommendation is to be you, whatever that is. This will free you up to concentrate on being found, which is a prerequisite for your brand to even matter. - Adam Draper, Gladiator Law Marketing

5. Make Your Voice Consistent

We spend so much time creating a unique voice for our company though our vision, mission and core values. And it's hard. Cultivating that voice is just as hard. With so many channels being used to share our voice, consistency is key. Make sure your voice translates across channels. When a consumer opens your email, visits your website or receives direct mail, they have to "hear" that same voice. - Lori Paikin, NaviStone®

6. Listen To Your Clients

Most organizations don't really listen to their clients or capture the organic language their clients use. The most distinctive voice is the client voice. Capture what they say. Build word clouds based on key themes, repeated phrases and the handful of high-impact words that matter to them. Then use that language. It works. - Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

7. Define Your Brand's Personality

We determine a brand audience by creating a customer persona and a brand must do the same with its own persona. If your brand was a person, who would they be? Are they fun and lighthearted? Serious and educational? Listen to your customers. How do they communicate? Their communication style reflects what they expect from a brand. Don't forget to distinguish your brand voice from your competitors'. - Rebecca Kowalewicz, Clearbridge Branding Agency

8. Develop A Strategic Vision

It all starts with strategy. Crafting a unique vision, mission, values, positioning, voice, tone and look and feel is what will make your brand stand out in the market. Starting there and diving deep into process will set a solid foundation for the tactical executions on the copy/design/technology side. This is the way to make that strong voice. - Lee Salisbury, UnitOneNine

9. Understand Your 'Why'

Companies should have a clear purpose -- a reason they exist -- first and foremost. Understanding the "why" serves as a basis for creating your voice and the marketing strategies and tactics that follow. Take time to understand your "why," followed by "how" and "what." It will help determine the direction of your brand and how to best cultivate the voice that clearly communicates your purpose. - Anna Crowe, Crowe PR

10. Build A Stronger Culture

When you have a strong company culture that lives by its values, your brand voice reflects it. I continue to be amazed by the impact our values have on external outreach such as marketing and sales. The more we invest in it, the greater the return has been in every way possible. - David Ward, Meticulosity

11. Empower Your Employees To Be The Voice

First, that voice must be connected to the company’s vision and brand promise and should be centered around a deep understanding of customers as humans. Next, employees must internalize that brand promise and articulate in an authentic way through not just their voice, but through actions that uphold the vision at the front line where it matters most. - Camille Nicita, Gongos, Inc.

12. Take Bold Risks

The best way to stand out is by being bold. Exclude the many to gain the hearts of the few. Be the "Arrogant Bastard Ale" or the "Liquid Death" water company. Sell "Big Ass Fans" or offer "Death Wish" coffee. You don't have to get that outrageous with your brand, but as they say, without risk there is no reward -- and without a voice, you will not be heard. - Fabian Geyrhalter, FINIEN

13. Build And Use A Style Guide

You can tell if an article was written for the New Yorker, the Huffington Post or a business-to-business trade journal from its language alone. A big part of that lies in choices surrounding things like tone, verb tense and the vagaries of punctuation and grammar. Taken together, these small decisions made behind the scenes and implemented through a style guide have an outsized impact on your brand voice. - Kim Charlton, PMG (Pinnacle Marketing Group)

14. Remember The 'Wow' Factor

The key to creating a strong, memorable voice for your brand is to deliver a "wow" experience to your clients and customers. Everything you do, from product to support to customer service, should all be based around creating an experience that’s aligned with your brand's voice. - Drew Gerber, Wasabi Publicity, Inc.

15. Separate Category Truths From Brand Truths

Most categories are cluttered -- brands are using a lot of common language. They may believe they are focusing on what makes their brand unique, but often are reverting to broad (and known) category benefits, adding to the noise. We work with brands to isolate category truths from brand truths, focusing their communications on unique value propositions. This gives them a leg up in standing out. - Joanne McKinney, Burns Group

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A company's brand is instrumental in any company's initial contact with potential customers, how it communicates with them and what impression it makes. One of the most important elements of building a strong brand is cultivating a strong, unique voice that is instantly recognizable and unmistakably belongs to the organization.

In the past, traditional media made it easier for a brand to build its voice over time. But with social media shortening the time between brand product updates, creating and sustaining a voice that resonates across the different media channels the company markets within can be a challenging prospect. Below, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council delve into how companies can create and develop a robust and unique voice for their brand that won't get lost in the background noise.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Focus On Principles, Messaging And Training

Inspired by and grounded in a strong brand platform, voice is built on three foundational elements. Define voice principles that guide how we sound at every touch point, including writing tactics and a word bank. Build a messaging framework outlining the core messages required by each audience to move them to choice. Commit to training all employees (and we mean all!) with lab-based exercises. - Justin Wartell, Monigle

2. Imagine Your Brand As A Person

Voice is about personality, a human trait. So if your brand were a person, what kind of person would it be? Bold? Cautious? Funny? Formal? Introspective? Outspoken? When we lead brand personality discovery exercises with clients, we sometimes look to the personality of the company's CEO or most successful salespeople as a starting point. Then we translate that into a voice. - Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

3. Build Credibility

I believe a brand's voice is heard best through PR and earned media. PR offers the most fertile ground for storytelling. The messaging in PR should align with the brand promise messaging of advertising and marketing or the story won't stick. - Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

4. Be Yourself

For professional services, the transition from marketing to working with the business in person should be seamless for the client. Marketing in saturated markets can make businesses feel like they need to be crazy different from competitors. My recommendation is to be you, whatever that is. This will free you up to concentrate on being found, which is a prerequisite for your brand to even matter. - Adam Draper, Gladiator Law Marketing

5. Make Your Voice Consistent

We spend so much time creating a unique voice for our company though our vision, mission and core values. And it's hard. Cultivating that voice is just as hard. With so many channels being used to share our voice, consistency is key. Make sure your voice translates across channels. When a consumer opens your email, visits your website or receives direct mail, they have to "hear" that same voice. - Lori Paikin, NaviStone®

6. Listen To Your Clients

Most organizations don't really listen to their clients or capture the organic language their clients use. The most distinctive voice is the client voice. Capture what they say. Build word clouds based on key themes, repeated phrases and the handful of high-impact words that matter to them. Then use that language. It works. - Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

7. Define Your Brand's Personality

We determine a brand audience by creating a customer persona and a brand must do the same with its own persona. If your brand was a person, who would they be? Are they fun and lighthearted? Serious and educational? Listen to your customers. How do they communicate? Their communication style reflects what they expect from a brand. Don't forget to distinguish your brand voice from your competitors'. - Rebecca Kowalewicz, Clearbridge Branding Agency

8. Develop A Strategic Vision

It all starts with strategy. Crafting a unique vision, mission, values, positioning, voice, tone and look and feel is what will make your brand stand out in the market. Starting there and diving deep into process will set a solid foundation for the tactical executions on the copy/design/technology side. This is the way to make that strong voice. - Lee Salisbury, UnitOneNine

9. Understand Your 'Why'

Companies should have a clear purpose -- a reason they exist -- first and foremost. Understanding the "why" serves as a basis for creating your voice and the marketing strategies and tactics that follow. Take time to understand your "why," followed by "how" and "what." It will help determine the direction of your brand and how to best cultivate the voice that clearly communicates your purpose. - Anna Crowe, Crowe PR

10. Build A Stronger Culture

When you have a strong company culture that lives by its values, your brand voice reflects it. I continue to be amazed by the impact our values have on external outreach such as marketing and sales. The more we invest in it, the greater the return has been in every way possible. - David Ward, Meticulosity

11. Empower Your Employees To Be The Voice

First, that voice must be connected to the company’s vision and brand promise and should be centered around a deep understanding of customers as humans. Next, employees must internalize that brand promise and articulate in an authentic way through not just their voice, but through actions that uphold the vision at the front line where it matters most. - Camille Nicita, Gongos, Inc.

12. Take Bold Risks

The best way to stand out is by being bold. Exclude the many to gain the hearts of the few. Be the "Arrogant Bastard Ale" or the "Liquid Death" water company. Sell "Big Ass Fans" or offer "Death Wish" coffee. You don't have to get that outrageous with your brand, but as they say, without risk there is no reward -- and without a voice, you will not be heard. - Fabian Geyrhalter, FINIEN

13. Build And Use A Style Guide

You can tell if an article was written for the New Yorker, the Huffington Post or a business-to-business trade journal from its language alone. A big part of that lies in choices surrounding things like tone, verb tense and the vagaries of punctuation and grammar. Taken together, these small decisions made behind the scenes and implemented through a style guide have an outsized impact on your brand voice. - Kim Charlton, PMG (Pinnacle Marketing Group)

14. Remember The 'Wow' Factor

The key to creating a strong, memorable voice for your brand is to deliver a "wow" experience to your clients and customers. Everything you do, from product to support to customer service, should all be based around creating an experience that’s aligned with your brand's voice. - Drew Gerber, Wasabi Publicity, Inc.

15. Separate Category Truths From Brand Truths

Most categories are cluttered -- brands are using a lot of common language. They may believe they are focusing on what makes their brand unique, but often are reverting to broad (and known) category benefits, adding to the noise. We work with brands to isolate category truths from brand truths, focusing their communications on unique value propositions. This gives them a leg up in standing out. - Joanne McKinney, Burns Group

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Fin...