Mind Readings: What Exactly is a Brand Voice?

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Mind Readings: What Exactly is a Brand Voice?

At a recent event, I listened to a discussion about brand voice and it occurred to me that there really isn’t such a thing.


A brand voice is the way a company or brand chooses to communicate with the public. It is the aggregate voice of the people who run that brand, the people who are in marketing, the people who are stakeholders and executives, and how they want that thing to sound. Most corporate brand voices are watered down because they are created by committees. It is better to have a few people who are authorized to speak on behalf of a brand and follow specific guidelines and restrictions.

Mind Readings: What Exactly is a Brand Voice?

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Christopher Penn 0:15

In this episode, let’s talk about brand voice.

At a recent event Content Marketing World, I listened to Ann Handley present her talk about brand voice and was a really good talk a lot of fun talking about how brand voice can can differentiate you.

But I, it occurred to me and as I was listening to the talk, as I was listening to her to go through some of these examples.

I’m not sure that brand voice exists.

Well, let me rephrase it, I’m not sure that brand voice exists as a coherent entity most of the time.

And here’s why.

When we talk about a voice, we’re talking about something like you and I, right now, right, I’m speaking to you in my literal voice.

And I’m using words and grammatical structures and vocabulary that are unique to me, right, that are part and parcel of how I grew up how I was educated, and ultimately how I choose to present myself.

And a brand voice is, in theory, the aggregate voice of a brand, right? It’s the aggregate voice of the people who run that brand, the people who are in marketing the people who are stakeholders and executives, and how they want that thing to sound.

You can imagine that, and this is why most corporate brand voices are awful, you know, anything by committee is generally going to create less distinct results than anything done by an individual.

They may, you know, what an individual may create maybe better or worse, you know, higher or lower quality, but it’s distinct to that individual, when you start synthesizing voices together, blending people’s voices together, you’re gonna get sort of a watered down sounding voice, you’re gonna get a watered down point of view, especially if there are multiple layers of approvals and things like that, where the legal team has to weigh in and stuff.

And so that got me thinking, Is there even such a thing as a brand voice? Or is there a person, or maybe a couple of people who are authorized to speak on behalf of a brand, and follow obviously specific guidelines and restrictions, but essentially, are proxies for that brand’s voice? For example, when we look at an example from our talk about the people who write the captions for Stranger Things on Netflix, at the end of the day, that’s one person and actually highlights this person in her talk.

That’s one person’s voice that is working on behalf of the brand.

But it is not a brand voice.

If you polled 50 People at Netflix, you know, we’re working even on that production, that those are probably not the words that they would have chosen.

If you think about your own company, how does your company decide how to sound? Right? This is something that, for example, Katie, and I Trust Insights, as the CO owners, we have very different voices, right? And so when you look at the content that we create, for Trust Insights is relatively straightforward to figure out who wrote what, right you can read a piece of text and go okay, that was definitely written by Katie, or that was definitely written by Chris.

And there isn’t a voice that we have that is a an amalgamation of the two of us, because we’re just such different people.

And we’re the owners, right? So we are the stakeholders.

Now imagine a marketing team in place, a PR team in place trying to pitch this thing out and communicate into the world.

I, I’m not sure that there would be a brand voice that would be as effective as a person’s voice.

Now, can you have agreed upon standards? Absolutely.

You can say yeah, there’s a style guide or these you know, there’s certain things we do or don’t do.

And maybe you do use profanity, maybe you don’t use profanity, maybe you reference pop culture, maybe you don’t, but at least when we think about the voice of a brand, unless you’re the Borg right and hear your voices.

No resistance is futile.

You will be assimilated.

I don’t know how valuable it is to try and and create one as opposed to finding the people within your organization who have the

Christopher Penn 4:56

voice that you’re looking for.

People who can write, and speak and create content in a way that you think reflects well on the brand.

And letting that team do their work, right, letting people create stuff.

Obviously helping them collaborate, obviously helping them communicate.

Obviously making sure everyone is on the same page about what’s going on and what you should be doing.

But at the end of the day, if you find that your content is so watered down, that it is meaningless corporate dreck.

It might be time to let individual people speak on behalf of the brand.

They don’t necessarily take credit or be, you know, in front of the camera or anything.

But there’s something to that, I think, because we as humans, as people, we resonate best with other people, right? I don’t go to sleep at night dreaming of a brand, right? I have dreams about people I know.

I might interact with a brand’s products and that dream, but I don’t have a conversation with that brand.

I don’t imagine having a chatbot session speaking to this Borg voice of a brand.

So give that some thought.

give that some thought about whether you’re taking the route of an amalgamated sort of bloodless and soulless voice or whether you’re letting the individual voices of people who are authorized to speak on behalf of your company.

You’re letting those voices shine through.

Thanks for watching.

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