So you want to evolve your brand’s voice
by Doug Sutherland

Or how to work toward sounding like a company comprised of humans, but not an actual human.

There’s one word that brand-voice guidelines use more than any other. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a set of guidelines that didn't feature this golden word.

The word? Why, it’s conversational of course.

Conversational language is a natural and appropriate tone, tenor, and cadence for an established audience, situation, and channel. It’s fluid, it varies, and it’s highly subjective. To be conversational is to be so familiar with how the target audience communicates that the language comes across in an approachable and effortless manner.

It’s easy to see the Oreos, Wendys, and Netflixes of the world do it and think it comes easily. When appropriate language is done right, it looks easy. So often though, the masses only see a microcosm of what makes the overall voice for a brand. A brand may be really snarky on Twitter but more positive and downright accommodating on other channels. A golden thread keeps all those variations together. The key to being conversational is saying the right things the right way to the right people at the right time. And no matter the message, a strong brand voice has a golden thread that’s ever-present through it all.

Doing all that is hard. Really hard. But far from impossible — and more achievable than ever.

As an agency, and as a writing team, our job is to help brands get to the conversational language the right way. And we can start by considering the following:

Your brand's current voice. The actual one.

It may be all over the place, and it may deviate wildly from what is dictated on paper, and it may not have a golden thread at all. Whatever the case, it’s important to audit the voice’s current state because it’s what customers are seeing right now. To get somewhere, you have to start somewhere.

The current audience. The actual one.

Whatever the brand voice’s faults, the current audience/customers have seen it and, in some cases, are loyal to it. That doesn’t mean the voice doesn’t need to change, but depending on where the voice is now vs. where it needs to be, a slower evolution may be necessary.

Your prospective audiences, and how they like to communicate with brands.

Most every brand is looking to expand to younger audiences, but like every subset of people, it’s important to see past the stereotypes and assumptions. It’s not all emojis and avocado toast. Most of the time, younger customers crave authenticity and transparency. If a massive brand tweets “The weekend is bae,” the resulting reaction probably won’t be super positive. It’s important to dig deep, test, and listen to your desired audience’s preferences. Simply emulating their language won’t necessarily earn their respect, trust, or business.

The marketing channels used, and how.

There are certainly nuances, complexities, and in-depth thinking on how audience, type of message, target, etc., play into each and every channel. At a super-broad level though, social channels are best for showcasing the brand’s more casual side, email is a bit more direct and benefit-driven, web is more brand-focused, and SMS/app notifications target the specific customer with a unique benefit. The brand’s voice should be fluid enough so it fits into any channel so well the customer recognizes the golden thread without noticing the voice’s subtle variations.

The worst thing you can do is know your brand voice is stale and not even try to fix it. (Keep. Moving. Forward.)

Making a brand’s voice conversational for all audiences is a tall ask, and some brands are willing to lose an audience in order to gain a new one. While mass marketing sometimes makes a sizeable voice change from one campaign to another, more personal channels allow for a more gradual evolution, which could make the mass marketing shift a lot less unexpected. The desired outcome won’t occur overnight, and once it’s done, it may even take some time to resonate. But if the planning has been done, and the considerations have been made, the evolution must continue.

A brand’s shift in tone can’t be measured by a project — or even by a quarter — because if done well, the shift is gradual enough that current customers aren’t put off by it, yet noticeable enough that new customers want to start a conversation. And with Javelin on your side, you’ll be ready.

What? I can't NOT put in a shameless plug.