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How to build an online brand persona: tone of voice
Building a brand persona is one of the hardest things for anyone starting up a company to do, yet it’s also essential. A good product can be destroyed by poor branding; one of the finest fast food outlets I’ve ever been to in Birmingham has possibly the worst branding ever, and as such retains little more than a cult following among students.
On the other hand, a respected and likeable brand ensures that anything you release will be met with some degree of interest. If Apple decided to release a VCR combined with an Amstrad [email protected], you can be sure there’ll be at least 100 people queuing up to try it. I mean, it’s Apple, isn’t it?
Getting brand right is incredibly difficult, especially online. Online, a brand becomes much more than a recognisable logo and a catchy tagline; it becomes the personality of the company itself (especially when it comes to social media marketing). The way you produce content, the way you respond to customers and even the ways you keep in touch with your customers; all will be defined by your brand.
For small companies who haven’t paid much attention to their brand persona beyond a nice colour scheme and a logo, this sudden leap in thinking can present something of an issue.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be outlining some of the things a company needs to think about when developing their online brand persona starting with today’s topic: tone of voice.
Tone of voice
Arguably the most important part of any online brand persona, your company’s tone when producing content (for SEO purposes or otherwise), writing status updates or even just assisting companies will be the one thing that most strongly defines your brand.
Ultimately, the tone of voice you choose for your brand will come down to a few things; your vision for the company, the kind of products or services you sell, other companies in your industry and your target audience.
Coming up with a tone that satisfies your target audience
Ah, the target audience. Those needy, frequently unhappy, difficult to please people who should really just stop worrying and buy what you have to sell them.
Unfortunately, you can’t change the personalities of your target audience; to do so would require millions of pounds in neurological research and some possibly illegal invasive surgery. Therefore, you’ll have to get to know your target audience and fulfil their needs instead.
Getting to know your target audience is daunting, what with them being a vast unknowable mass of people and all that. It’s not impossible though; it’s all about drawing up links and forming personas.
Let’s say someone is interested in your product – what else are they likely to be interested in? What do people who buy your product watch on TV? What kind of house do they live in? What do they do for fun? You can either ask your target audience these questions directly via good ol’ market research questionnaires (although be prepared to pay the price for distribution and so on) or by doing your own snooping on social media (a user’s ‘following’ list on Twitter is a market researcher’s dream, as is the ‘tone’ your potential customers communicate in).
Once you’ve got some target personas drawn up, you can begin to tailor your tone to their preferences. A chirpy, excitable tone might be ideal for younger audiences into such bewildering youth phenomenoms like One Direction, whereas a more serious tone would be more suited to 40-something business execs.
Defined by your industry
The first line of the textbook handed to all of those people who ‘hilariously’ list ‘the University of Life’ as their place of education on Facebook reads ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Not only is it a decent rule for life, but it’s not too shabby for coming up with a tone for your brand.
Your competitors, if you aren’t the first to the online market (which is highly likely – if you’re the first type of company in your industry to be online in 2013, you’re either very lucky or sell something very, very weird), are bound to have already some kind of tone set for their brand. If they’re successful, you’ve got an immediate source of inspiration – the tone works, and it’s working with an audience you want to target.
Note the use of ‘inspiration’ there; no-one has ever been successful by directly pilfering the work of a competitor. Instead, use the work of your competitors as a basis for your own work and add your own spin – this spin could be based off your own target market research or just elements of your own personality.
Either way, you need to differentiate your brand enough while employing some tropes of your industry that customers might have come to expect.
The other argument, of course, is that conventions are there to be broken. There are some brilliant Twitter accounts that completely eschew convention and go full-on gonzo, and their follower counts reflect their entertainment value. It’s a big risk, however, that might force an embarrassing about turn if it goes wrong.
As I’ve previously alluded to, companies are expected to act less like companies and more like people online. One interpretation of this could be that you need to come up with a tone of voice from scratch, a kind of disembodied voice of a person that doesn’t exist. Alternatively, you could use your best asset; yourself.
Adding your own voice to your brand’s tone is one of the easiest ways to engage an audience. Customers are naturally predisposed to a brand that’s willing to engage on a personal level and, provided you have an ounce of personality, being yourself is an easy way to be engaging and stay ‘on brand’ at all times.
There are a couple of things to be wary of, though. If your own personality is completely conflicting with the tone suggested by your market research, go with the market research. Similarly, if you hold views that aren’t conducive with your brand’s ‘values’, rein them in. Your brand tone essentially needs to be a slightly diluted, customer friendly version of yourself.
So those are just some of the things to consider when coming up with a tone of voice. In all honesty, striking on a tone that works can take weeks, months or even years. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try things out, though, and you’re bound to find something that works eventually.