Nick Westergaard

Nick Westergaard

It isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it. You’ve no doubt heard this before. This axiom has permeated business, politics, and life at many levels. From your personal communication to your next big marketing campaign, style matters. Especially in today’s distracted, digital world.

Whether it’s a simple tweet or a more complex communication, what sets you apart is your brand’s voice. On the surface, having a unique brand voice seems like a simple task. But voice is an abstract concept. What do you sound like? What words do you use? What words don’t you use? And how are you communicating this to others on your team?

Establishing a brand voice can get really cloudy really fast. That’s why many opt for a shortcut.

The Trouble with Snark

In early 2017, fast food giant Wendy’s captured the attention of the twitterverse by employing a decidedly different brand voice. What started as a tweet touting their commitment to fresh — never frozen — beef resulted in a new direction for the square-burger brand. When another Twitter user suggested that this claim was false (“So you deliver it raw on a hot truck?”), Wendy’s was quick to snip that the Twitter troll “forgot that refrigerators existed for a second there.”

The Internet loved it. It was candid, authentic, and human. And what happens when something works? We do more of it. And that’s exactly what Wendy’s did. The brand with the sweet little girl with red braids as its avatar began mercilessly tearing apart customers and competitors alike online. They even developed a name for these digital digs — roasting. What’s not to love? It’s fun for Twitter users and it’s great attention and awareness for Wendy’s.

The problem? It’s not who Wendy’s is as a brand. Founded by Dave Thomas and named after his daughter, Wendy’s has always been homespun and old-fashioned, focusing on families and fresh ingredients instead of fast-food gimmicks. Snark is nothing new. Brands like Old Spice and Taco Bell excel at it. But it’s aligned with who these brands are on other platforms. Watch an Old Spice TV ad and read a few of their tweets and you’ll find them consistently snarky. This approach has gotten Wendy’s attention, yes, but is it the right kind of attention? The kind that focuses on who they are and what they stand for?

Snark is a popular brand voice and one that certainly stands out. But it’s not the only brand voice.

A Better Path

So how can you create a strong brand voice that’s authentic to who you are and what you stand for? An easy first step is making sure you’ve clearly established who you are and what you stand for. From there, consider the various aspects of voice such as character, tone, language, and purpose.

Is the character of your brand voice warm or authoritative? Is your tone personal or clinical? Is your language simple or complex? Is your purpose to engage or to entertain? Answers each of these questions and you should be left with 3–4 concise words that describe your brand voice.

If you have trouble getting your arms around this, try another simple exercise. Find a company description somewhere — like the about page of your website — and imagine it as a voiceover read by a celebrity you think sounds like your brand. Then ask yourself, what traits embody this celebrity’s personality? For example, if this sounds like something William H. Macy would say, perhaps your brand voice is friendly, direct, simple, and educational. This list is a great jumping off point for a concise brand voice style guide that you can share internally.

Your brand should have its own unique voice. Maybe it is snarky but don’t make that assumption because it’s an easy way to capture attention. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”



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Dorie Clark, Author of Stand Out and Reinventing You, Professor at Duke University Fuqua School of Business