Bringing a brand to life with copywriting tone-of-voice

Everyone has a personality – a unique way of behaving and communicating. It’s how we come to like and relate to people. Successful brands are the same. The more human they feel, the more the audience engages.

A brand like Coca-Cola has been so consistent with it's fun, young image and content over the years we feel we know it on a much deeper level than just as a soft drink. Here’s how you can bring your brand personality to life through your copywriting tone of voice.

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It’s no secret that companies develop a brand and give them a personality to help connect them with their target audience and build loyal customers. It's not just how your brand looks and feels. It's how your copy sounds when you speak to your target audience that also needs to embody this personality. To do this on a deeper level – it needs a unique and likeable personality. Rather than telling people all the practical reasons why they should buy from you (which doesn't always work), your brand should appeal to people’s emotions to make them feel more connected.  

Brands are entities with consistent personalities, just like people. Their behaviour and the way they speak contribute to that brand perception (if done well). Think about Coke – it’s always about youth, summer, friends and good times. Consistency is key as it builds trust and familiarity, making them more ‘likeable’.

So, when it comes to copywriting, your text should be 'on brand' – so the tone of voice is consistent with the brand personality. The easiest way to do that is to leverage your innate human genius for communication by imagining your brand as a person – and then communicate like them.

You'll be able to 'act' the brand.

The Coke example

Here are two pieces of writing, both telling the same story – the origins of Coca-Cola. One is the original – a Wikipedia entry. The other is written by a student from my time lecturing at AUT. To embody the brand, you'll see that this isn't just about the language the writer has chosen but the piece's angle. It talks directly to the consumer, has dropped a lot of the detail, and weaves in the feeling of their longstanding, intimate relationship – Coke is everyone's friend, and this piece makes you feel that.

About Coca-Cola, from Wikipedia:

Coca-Cola is a carbonated soft drink sold in stores, restaurants, and vending machines worldwide. It is produced by The Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia, and is often referred to simply as Coke (a registered trademark of The Coca-Cola Company in the United States since March 27, 1944). Originally intended as a patent medicine when it was invented in the late 19th century by John Pemberton, Coca-Cola was bought out by businessman Asa Griggs Candler, whose marketing tactics led Coke to its dominance of the world soft-drink market throughout the 20th century.

About Coca-Cola, better tone of voice and more storytelling

I know you love Coke.

But before you skull it back, take a minute to consider just how much Coke loves you.

I mean, your Coke came a long way, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, home of the original Coca-Cola Company. Way back in the 19th century, this guy called John Pemberton made Coke as a kind of medicine. No wonder it's never failed to cure your thirst.

And this isn’t the first time Coke’s helped you out. Coke’s ready and waiting for you to get your afternoon fix. It’s always been there in Countdown’s fizzy aisle. When you couldn’t afford a nine-dollar glass of Sav, Coke supported your wallet. And in places where boredom strikes, the vending machine’s never too far away.

We’ve been together for such a long time. I mean, you know Coke on a first-name basis.

Anyway, you get the love is mutual, right?

Now, go ahead: skull.

Exercise: define your brand as a person

Think carefully about your organisation and ask yourself, “If this brand were a person, what would he or she be like?”

These questions are by no means exhaustive, but they're an excellent place to start. When you answer, avoid using adjectives. Instead, hit upon descriptions that paint a picture. So rather than saying your person is 'caring' (because that could mean LOTS of different things), try to describe something about her behaviour that demonstrates her particular kind of care. For example, these all demonstrate different types of care: "She volunteers at homeless shelters"; "She always reports dangerous driving"; "She phones her mother every Sunday."

• What is your person’s name, age and gender?

• What do they look like?

• What is their relationship to your target audience?

• What kind of home life?

• What kind of hobbies does your person enjoy?

• What hot button topics does your person care about?

• How would you describe your personality to a colleague?

• How would your person behave at a party?

• What else is important to note about your person?

Create tone of voice guidelines

Once you've answered these questions and thought about who you're talking to, it will help you to more clearly define some rules and guidelines to help keep your copy consistent and on-brand. For example, you might have worked out that based on your brand's personality, you need to sound knowledgeable but have a sense of humour. List out these rules and guidelines and some examples used in sentences and paragraphs. Share with anyone responsible for writing copy for your brand, whether web copy, articles or EDMS and let your brand personality shine through your unique brand tone of voice!

Need help developing your tone of voice? We can help with that – get in touch.

Helen Steemson

The lead copywriter and creative director at Words for Breakfast. She spends much of her time working with the copy writing team across a variety of projects.