6 Steps to a Brand Voice: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

6 Steps to a Brand Voice: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

By Molly Anderson, Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications

What you say actually does matter, but that’s a topic for another day. I’d venture to guess most of you have your organization’s subject matter down pat. Today we’re focusing on the how.

“Quirky.” “Passionate.” “Formal.” “Fun.” How do you describe your organization’s voice? Determining the right brand voice can be tricky for nonprofits. There’s no one-size-fits-all choice, as industries we serve can vary from emotional and passionate to formal and businesslike. Complicating voice further, many associations cater to diverse audiences made up of different types of members, volunteers, customers, and social followers. These groups may require different content in varying tones, but the voice remains the same. Regardless of your audience’s makeup, there’s a right way to talk with them and ensure you’re reaching them in a voice that resonates meaningfully.

  1. Know the goal. If you’re wondering why development of the right voice is important, here’s the answer: humanization. Finding a way to showcase your human side is the spark that gets followers to care and share. Caring equals brand loyalty and sharing means your marketing efforts grow exponentially, reaching far beyond your corner of the world and out into the greater universe of those who may care about what you have to say.

  2. Get the right folks involved. Who knows your organization best? Who has the historical information you need? Which board members or volunteers can share what motivates people in your industry to take action? Who is responsible for the content that will use your new voice? Representatives from each of these groups belong in your voice brainstorming session.

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  1. Describe yourself. Brainstorm a list of adjectives that describe your brand, how it acts, the type of language your brand should use, and the “why” behind your actions. Now boil that list down to four descriptors that hit on each area. Your list may look like one of these:
    • Expert, authoritative, clinical, committed
    • Leader, friendly, welcoming, passionate
    • Authority, fun, warm, enthusiastic

You get the idea. When you read the list, it should feel like you’re talking about your organization. Does it? If so, you’re onto something. If not, brainstorm some more until it feels right.

  1. Use it. This list of voice descriptors should inform all your marketing content and communications—your website, emails, social media, and printed collateral. It should even come across in presentations at association events or when you exhibit at other meetings. Getting brand voice right is critical as it creates a consistent message about your cause that communicates clearly to the people you want to reach. It means you get to be you when talking to the people you want to talk to and they’ll see you that way, too. When your audience knows what to expect in your communications, they feel comfortable and trust builds.

  2. Keep it consistent. Once you’ve put in the work in to develop your voice, share it with your team. Do this by outlining your brand’s voice in a style guide so everyone who should be using it is well informed. Don’t have a style guide? You should! Learn how to create one in an upcoming 911 blog post. In the meantime, check out style guide creation tips, including real-life style guides from brands you know, over at .

  3. Check in on your voice regularly. Once you’ve defined your voice, keep tabs on it for proper use. Implementing a brand voice can be challenging when you’re first starting out. With a little tenacity, your new brand voice will become second nature. After you’re rolling along nicely, check in annually to make sure your voice is still relevant and having the intended impact.

Building and fine tuning your brand voice is a fun and exciting effort that pays off in engagement, loyalty, and conversion. The brainstorming and creation processes foster team spirit and a deeper understanding of the human side of your brand. Most importantly, with a consistent, identifiable voice, your messages and campaigns will truly resonate with your members and customers.

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