Don’t be tone-deaf.

How your branding voice can differentiate your company

One of the biggest branding mistakes companies make is not paying enough attention to their tone of voice.

“Voice” is one of those concepts that may sound better suited to the literary world than the business world. In literature, it refers to how you come across in your writing. In marketing, your tone of voice can be a significant differentiator.

Companies spend a great deal of time on logos, color selection and other cues they think of as “branding”—the look and feel of their website, collateral and signage. But very few take the time to consider the benefits of employing a unique voice. Consider this: If you were to mask the logo on your website, would you sound unique? Or would you sound like everyone else (i.e., your competitors)?

Your tone of voice isn’t about what you say but how you say it—and it’s about the impression your brand leaves on customers. Developed correctly, your tone of voice can be the secret sauce in your content recipe.


Marketers call this developing a “brand positioning statement” or “mission statement.”

Whatever you call it, the idea is to define who you are. Or, as Dr. Seuss wrote, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” He wasn’t talking about marketing, but he might as well have been.

Ask yourself these key questions:

→ What’s unique about your business?

→ What’s special about your products?

→ What’s special about the way you do business?

→ What’s your company culture like? (Are you buttoned-up or playful?)

→ How do your employees relax together? (Do you play beer pong in the parking lot or have morning yoga sessions?)

→ How do you want to be regarded by customers and your community? (Are you a trusted source for high-level insight or hands-on practical advice?)

This should help you come up with a few keywords that best define who you are. But go beyond the generic.

“Don’t fall into the trap of choosing trite, nondifferentiating factors such as ‘friendly,’ ‘honest,’ ‘reliable’ and so on as brand values,” says Andrew Bredenkamp, founder and chairman of Acrolinx, a software platform that helps companies hone their tone of voice. Such attributes are just one big duh, or “the least you would expect from any company,” he says. “They may be important to your service, but they won’t help you create a distinctive tone.”

It’s also wise to avoid buzzwords and clichés like “cutting-edge,” “proactive” or “revolutionary.” “If you’re looking to be different, they put you at a disadvantage right from the start,” Bredenkamp notes.

Instead, identify more descriptive terms that reflect specifically who you are and how you wish to be perceived.


Abstract attributes in isolation don’t mean much, so develop some detail around them. Make them real and practical.

For example, if one of your brand values is “creative,” what exactly do you mean? When and how are you creative? How does your creativity help clients? Or, if one of your brand values is “unusual,” what exactly does that mean? In what ways are you unusual, and how does that quirkiness benefit customers? Do you solve problems differently? Do you have an approach that exemplifies that ideal in the real world?

Flesh out those words with a few sentences or a story.


I almost said “create a style guide,” but I worried I’d lose those of you who might think such a notion would be pedantic— especially for growing, scrappy businesses. But I think it’s important for entrepreneurs. Often, the brand voice of an organization grows organically from the founder’s personality and values. That’s great, but what happens when the company grows and a marketing team starts writing the emails the founder used to pen herself? That’s when you’ll be glad you wrote all this stuffdown.

So what goes into a style guide? Start with some of the basic information noted above, and add from there. A simple Google Doc would work so it could be accessed and updated as needed.

A couple of important points to spell out:

Pronouns. Companies tend to be all over the map with these, using the first person (“we” and “us”) in one sentence and the third person (“Abbading Inc.”) elsewhere. First person tends to be warmer and create a more accessible tone, while third person tends to feel more detached and paternal. Pick one based on your brand voice and stick with it. The same goes for your audience: Use “you” or “customers” consistently.

Jargon. I used to take a hard line against jargon and insider language—as in, don’t use it. But lately I’ve rethought that rule, because jargon can sometimes include key phrases that are necessary to signal a shared mindset or to convey a depth of knowledge. Spell out which professional terms and phrases your company embraces and which it does not. Most important—and this goes for anything you write—be sure to use only terms that clarify rather than obfuscate.


Don’t think about your voice only in the most obvious places, like your website’s homepage and your Facebook page. Take it further. Consider how you can use your voice as a differentiator in surprising places, like on your 404 page, email confirmation or “Thank You” page.


So all this talk of voice sounds awesome, right? But how does it actually play out? Can the words you use really help brand you?

Freaker USA manufactures and sells one-size-fits-all beverage insulators—also known as koozies. Beverage insulation is a pretty pedestrian category. But Freaker USA stands out in part because of its tone of voice, which extends across everything it undertakes.

Here’s how the company describes itself on its “About” page:

“Established in 2011 and located in Wilmington, N.C., Freaker USA quickly grew to be the global leader of preventing moist handshakes and sweaty beverages. They aren’t just selling you their fit-everything product, they’re giving you an invitation to their party—a starter kit for a new lifestyle. The Freaker isn’t a strike-at-the-wind attempt to get rich, it’s the background music to a never-ending journey. Infusing life, style and functionality into a drink insulator.”

Think about that for a minute. Freaker could have described itself with a bit more utility, something like this:

“This drink insulator keeps your bottled beverages colder longer, plus folds flat for maximum pocket portability. It fits your bottle or can like a glove and is classier than a brown bag.”

In fact, that’s a bit of website copy I co-opted from one of Freaker’s competitors. It doesn’t convey nearly the same brand story, does it? If Freaker spoke that way, you wouldn’t get a sense of what makes the company unique.

Remember how I mentioned sweating the small stuff? This is an excerpt from Freaker’s email subscription confirmation:

“If you received this email by a whoopsies, simply delete it. As long as you don’t click the confirmation link above, we won’t haunt you with a subscription to our ass-kicking newsletter. You won’t be delivered weekly sales and giveaways right to your inbox. You will never know love. Just delete this email and carry on like nothing here ever happened. OKAY LOVE YOU BYE!”

Your company might not be as quirky as Freaker USA, and that’s OK. The point, more broadly, is this: What’s your own brand voice? And does it clearly reflect what makes you you?

( By: Handley, Ann. Entrepreneur.  Apr2015, Vol. 43 Issue 4, p28-30. 2p. 1 Color Photograph. , Database: Business Source Complete )


3 thoughts on “Don’t be tone-deaf.

  1. Hi

    This was an interesting read for me. It is a holistic view and covers a number of aspects of voice brand based marketing. I also liked these four steps to creating a brand voice (link below).
    I thought this to be very practical.

    When I was reading your blog, I was immediately thinking about communication and also the stand out jargon which you highlighted. I can think of a few companies that have a stand-out Jargon, they’ve created their own language for their products/services and this extends to their communications strategy. It has to be unique, entertaining and capture the market segment, anything else would be lost.

    I quite liked an extract from the link below which adds to what you were saying.

    “Brand voice is the tone and personality of your written words, which can jump off the page and engage your readers in subtle, almost undetectable ways. The strength of your brand voice in large part depends upon the appropriateness of its personality, and your consistency in implementing it across all your content channels.”


  2. Very interesting insight on hiding the logo on the website and considering if the company still speak out to their target market.
    I read on one of the lecture slides that “It costs 6 times more to acquire new customer compared to retaining loyal”, which plays a major role in a marketers job to succeed. Companies like Facebook and twitter who provide services B2C and B2B, have a strong grasp of this theory and tailor their service to individual needs..I suppose this is easier with consumers willingly share their personal information and share opinions. McDonald’s is great example of market segmentation for consumer goods. They have a great variety of options available for a person on a diet, looking for a healthy option in a fast food outing, budget buyers (50 cent cone, $2 cheese burger) , coffee drinkers, variety of desserts and sweets and also a variety of kids meals..facilitating consumers to drop in at any time and catering to a wide variety of needs. They offer promotions and competitions and appeal to a larger segment by donating to charities and getting involved in social work.


  3. Hi – a really great blog. I thought the points you raised on the topic and then the practical way to apply the points in the real world were fantastic. A clarifying question for me though – you’ve posted this under Segmentation, Targeting, Positioning; how do you see the brand voice fitting? As I was reading it my thoughts were that this was a great article on branding. Looking forward to your reply!


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