What is your brand?
If someone were to ask you that very question, how would you respond?
In a perfect world, you’d recount word-for-word, a concise statement of ethos. You’d speak to your brand’s sense of purpose as a representation of both the visual aesthetics and words that shape it. You’d have one definitive answer.
In a not-so-perfect world, a company’s internal understanding of its brand is—perhaps surprisingly—not quite this synchronized. It ends up taking a variety of incongruent shapes through different departments, often leaving employee efforts and engagement misaligned.
What’s the Purpose of Brand Guidelines?
Outside of simply providing the framework around what your brand is and represents, documenting a brand through its own set of guidelines puts the metaphorical foot on the ground. It sets employee expectations and influences all brand-related efforts companywide.
This is especially helpful for departments that remain far removed from a marketing or brand team’s day-to-day. Outlining the process and lens through which every new brand project should be viewed through ensures that a brand remains cohesively consistent, no matter who may touch assets at play.
Why Should You Document Brand Voice?
The documentation of visual design is more of a no-brainer when it comes to developing brand guidelines. It’s comprised of elements that are relatively easy to define, even to those otherwise unfamiliar with the inner workings of graphic design.
Here are specific colors. Here are versions of our logo. Here are fonts. Don’t use anything else.
It’s an oversimplification of the work that actually goes into laying out guidelines around visual branding, but you get the point.
Clearly documenting brand voice is what really leaves people scratching their heads and yet, it’s just as, if not more, important. Providing definitive rules around what can be said and how it should be said keeps everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively. It also lessens the possibility for releasing bad copy out into the masses.
How to Approach Documenting Brand Voice
As you go about building out a section dedicated to voice within your brand guidelines, you’ll want to strike a balance with detail. You certainly don’t want to leave any questions unanswered, but there’s also a way to approach the task at hand in a way that doesn’t bore internal readers with endless grammatical nuances.
Here are some elements worth considering in mapping out your approach.
Define Your Identity
When documenting your brand voice, think of explaining it as you would someone’s personality. In this sense, it might be worth setting up a creative brainstorm around what it would look like if your brand was personified into one, all-encompassing spokesperson.
What would their general mood be? How would you describe their traits through go-to adjectives? What do they believe in that speaks convincingly to prospective customers?
If you have profiles of established brand personas built out already, use them to help frame up what this single person would look like.
Narrow in on Tone
In analyzing these different personas, it’ll be worth ruminating over the idea of tone as well. Tone differs from voice in the sense that it remains fluid, depending on who you’re talking to. Voice, on the other hand, is more directly tied to your personality, which could be seen as more static by nature.
Buffer provides a solid breakdown of how one can separate the idea of tone from voice in their how-to guide on the subject.
When defining tone, use the power of example to help further your stance. Define, for example, the differences between communications through channels like social media versus an automated customer support email. If you have final copies of pieces used in the past, incorporate them into your final presentation as visual proof.
Leave Little Room for Interpretation
You’re creating documentation for a reason; so that no one is unclear as to how a brand should be represented when promoted to the masses.
Find clear ways to drive home the smaller details using the following:
- A ‘dos/don’ts’ list for brand name use cases and different formatting scenarios.
- A ‘this, not that list’ for explaining what types of words the brand is comfortable using in comparison to those that should never be said.
- Relevant spelling and grammar mistakes to avoid when representing the brand.
Again, the more you can supplement your prescriptive elements with examples, the fewer number of questions readers will be left having at the end. It also means you’ll most likely be faced with less fight back from those otherwise confused as to why so much documentation around voice even matters in the first place.
Final Thoughts: Your Guide to Documenting Brand Voice
The idea of documenting brand voice may leave some company stakeholders puzzled, especially those that fall under the ideology that a brand is just a logo.
For those individuals, it’s important to drive home that doing so, however, is the same as putting emphasis around the building of a solid foundation. A foundation that supports not just your customers, but those behind-the-scenes as well. As a brand, give those audiences a voice worth listening to.
Does your company have a set of brand guidelines? And more importantly, do people regularly reference them? Let us know!