Personality is everything. It’s how we judge dogs, cats, houses, and people. It’s also how we consciously and subconsciously evaluate the brands we engage with every day. Consumers develop an affinity for brands through the way a brand makes them feel. That’s why it’s so important to understand how you want to make people feel. And why it’s even more important to establish a connection through the voice that makes you who you are.

A man sending phone messages

Find your voice

How do you establish a consistent brand personality? By finding your voice. Like anything meaningful, this can be a challenging task. At Big Sea, we conduct a Wayfinding Workshop to facilitate the discovery of a brand voice. It involves exercises, research, and introspection most business leaders don’t make time to engage in. It’s like a spa day for a brand, except with candy and without hot stone massage.

Identifying who you are is sometimes as simple as identifying who you are not. We often look at both angles to hone a voice that feels as comfortable as a favorite tee shirt, and as authentic as a phone call with an old friend. That voice doesn’t have to be casual.

But it has to be real.

Practice characterizing other brand voices

If you’re not sure who you are or who you want to be, try on a few different “outfits.” Pick brands that stand out for different reasons and explore their web, editorial, and social messaging. How would you describe each voice?

Not every brand can pull off the wild irreverence of Goodr, but they’re an excellent example of identifying a voice and sticking to it from the names of sunglasses to the “disclaimer” in the footer of their website. Let’s call them funny, but not goofy.

Outdoor Voices speaks confidently and pointedly. Their core values and mission coalesce in the simple statement, “We believe in going out and doing things.” There’s very little marketing speak here, and it establishes the confidence necessary to sell $80 yoga pants. Confident, but not boastful.

Burberry, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to say, because the brand speaks for itself — often through iconic imagery. A recent Facebook post with editorial photos is captioned, “A portrait of togetherness, gathering the cross generations of family for a seasonal celebration.” High end, but not edgy.

Keep your audience in mind

Marketing to parents of little kids? Your messaging will be different than a lifestyle brand for people who love extreme sports. Avoid stereotyping your customers. Instead, build fleshed-out personas based on real-life case studies and pain points. That way, you won’t end up with a voice that’s condescending or off-putting.

Tissues, oddly, have often been at the center of campaigns that talk down to or alienate people who use them. (Spoiler alert, that audience is everyone with a runny nose.) Most recently, Kleenex walked back from “man-size” messaging.

Understanding and empathizing with your audience helps you develop a voice that resonates with people whether you’re hoping to comfort them, make them laugh, or promote FOMO.

No one will get a sense of who you are or what you’re trying to say if your brand comes across as having an identity crisis every few weeks

Practice consistency

Everyone does a certain amount of code-switching in their day to day routines. The way you behave and communicate at work is different from the way you behave and communicate with your family. You may be a little different around your friends. Unlike people, brands should be fairly consistent in behavior and communication. While variety is fine, such as a level of formality in a press release versus a tweet, that variety should only exist as a deviation from a well-established norm.

Once you know who you are, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every time you craft a message. By all means, A/B test messaging in emails, landing pages, and ads, but don’t rediscover yourself with every communication. No one will get a sense of who you are or what you’re trying to say if your brand comes across as having an identity crisis every few weeks. Trust is so important. And people don’t trust inconsistent communicators.

Be creative

Once you’ve established your brand voice, hang onto the spirit of creativity that helped you develop it. Within the boundaries of consistency, there’s plenty of room to play. Develop campaigns, flesh them out. Role-play as your brand, stretching just a little to get a feel for what you’re like at your most buttoned-up as well as after happy hour on a Friday.

No, really.

One of our favorite Wayfinding Workshop exercises involves asking leaders to pretend their brand has had a few drinks at a cocktail party. Oftentime, this exercise reveals aspirations that don’t come into play often enough.

As with art or poetry, you have to know the rules to break them. Knowing exactly who you are gives you the freedom to push yourself to a place you can demand attention without compromising your authenticity.

Get everyone on the same page

The least glamorous part of finding your brand voice is solidifying and communicating it. Don’t neglect this step. If only a few stakeholders really understand who you are, your voice will quickly become watered-down or stray into a completely different tone.

We put together deliverables based on our clients’ internal communications needs. This often takes the form of a Brand Guide that addresses not only visual elements but key messaging, a mission statement, value propositions, core values, and voice and tone guidelines. Whether you design out a guide or scribble thoughts in a notebook, the key components of your voice and personality must be curated and shared with anyone communicating on your brand’s behalf. Depending on the size of your organization and your communication needs, this can be as granular as what is acceptable language in emails, or as broad as a simple litmus test to check all messaging against.

Make this work for you, not against you. Develop a voice you love, and that love will bleed into the way you market, the way you serve your customers, and if you do it right — the way others evangelize about your brand.