How to Define Brand Voice for Use in Your Digital Products

UX Insights and Tactics

Less than a minute. That’s how long it takes someone to form a first impression of you, and your brand sits at an even steeper impression curve. No one feels bad judging a brand the way they might a person. A brand is really the sum of its parts (purpose, values, logo, font, colour, UX, UI, etc.) but a big component of that sum is the tone of voice. So, what is a brand tone of voice?

Tone of voice is how a brand communicates, conveys its message, and signals to its audience that the brand is for them and no one else. The easiest way to conceptualize brand voice is to think of a brand like a person. Let’s use Dolly Parton (a personal favourite of mine) as an example. What do you think of when you think of her? Maybe glitzy, tacky, sweet, charming, or even over the top. You might not like her music, but it’s hard to deny she’s got a distinctive brand. You can instantly picture who might listen to her music, what products she might use, and what information you might trust her to convey.

Her tone of voice only adds to that strength of brand. She rarely swears (or cusses as she’d say), hardly speaks ill of anyone, and she has that distinct high toned southern drawl. It helps her demographic identify her in a crowd because they feel like she’s speaking to them. That’s the type of influence your tone of voice can help you to achieve for your brand.

Why you need to consider tone of voice in your digital projects

Brand tone of voice should come across clearly anywhere that copy lives – whether it be an app, software, website, or even a landing page. Externally, it allows your audience to feel more related to you and can improve their sentiment towards you. Speaking in their voice makes you part of their in-group. Not only that, it can create more persuasive copy hopefully leading to more conversions in areas of purchase. Given that many of your clients and customers interact with you across many mediums, including your digital properties, it’s critical to create a consistent tone of voice across all of their touchpoints.

Internally, content that speaks to your team in the organization’s brand voice creates consistency. This matters a lot for new hires, adoption of new software within the organization, overall brand value, and a consistent experience for all employees. So how can you create your brand voice?

How to define your brand’s tone of voice

Shakespeare once said that “a rose is still a rose by any other name.” He was most certainly not referring to brands, but it’s applicable. Just because your brand tone of voice isn’t defined doesn’t mean you don’t have one, it just means that it might be characterized as scattered, boring, or generic. Defining (and documenting) a clear brand voice will help you to personify the brand you worked so hard to create. Here’s how:

Step 1) Listen to your buyers

Speaking to your audience in their language can help you to establish your brand as part of the in-group. It says that you know their pains, interests, and goals because you share them. Figure out how your buyers speak and document it.

  • What words do they use to describe your product or the problems your product solves?
  • Gauge their level of communication formality online
  • Examine other brands they often follow (you can find this by looking through some of your key customers liked pages on social media) and see how they speak
  • Talk to your sales team or account managers about conversations with key contacts. What language was used?

At the very least, you’ll determine how not to speak to your audience. If your buyer group is composed primarily of 50+ male executives and your social media is comprised of memes, Gen Z slang, and pop culture references, you’re probably off-base.

Step 2) Identify your brand tone attributes

The first step in any brand creation process should be purpose and position. After that, congruency is the name of the game here ­— your brand voice should be a natural extension of your platform. The way that Hulk Hogan opens his mouth and you think, “yeah, that makes sense”, your brand should communicate in a way that feels harmonious to your product, positioning, and visual identity.

  • How do you want people to feel when they interact with your digital product and your brand?
  • If your brand were a person, what would be its personality traits?
    • Friendly, intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful, etc.
  • Figure out the corresponding tone of voice characteristics for those brand attributes
    • Our brand is helpful, so our voice is friendly and approachable
    • Our brand is leading-edge, so our voice is confident and assured
    • Our brand is fun, so our voice is conversational and pleasant

Step 3) Put pen to paper and write clear examples

Interpretation is where intention goes to die. Let’s say you and I work at a field services company in the marketing department and one of the brand’s characteristics is instructive. To you, instructive means clear, helpful writing. You think of a clear and concise project manager. To me, instructive means highly technical, detailed writing. If we’re both handling the marketing materials for this company, suddenly the messages are a little off. One paragraph we’re giving you helpful tips and tricks on our product lines, and the next we’re using so many technical terms that we’ve lost everyone but engineers. It just doesn’t work.

That’s why you need to clearly define your tone of voice characteristics alongside functional examples.

  • Write down a brief description for each tone of voice characteristic
    • We are approachable. We use inclusive and gender-neutral language, our tone is always friendly and never harsh or pushy, we use inviting words, and we don’t use references or jargon that would exclude or confuse our reader.
  • Include examples of how that characteristic would look in use
    • We are approachable. Here is how some of our form content might read on our ticketing app: “Fill out the form below with all your information and then press the submit button to enter your ticket. Need to tag a supervisor or other teammates? Tag them in the ticketing comment section by typing @ followed by their first and last name.”

Step 4) Create a brand tone of voice document

Unless you’re a one-man brand band, someone else is going to write on your organization’s behalf. Be it social media managers, copywriters, UX writers, Fred from accounting, interns, or partnering brands, someone other than you is going to write words that come from your company. That’s why a tone of voice document is so important, it clearly outlines how you speak and don’t. Here’s what that document needs to include:

  • Brand attributes and voice characteristics
  • Clear examples of how those attributes should sound, including for UX and UI use cases
  • Any words that you regularly use to describe things specific to your brand or industry including abbreviations or trademarked names
  • Your brand style document
    • Rules around what to capitalize
    • Title case vs. sentence case
    • Oxford comma or no
    • Any other technical rules on how your brand communicates in writing

Start with your why

A beautiful brand without a purpose is a Ferrari without an engine. Sure, it looks great, but how are you going to take it anywhere? You can’t speak to your demographic without knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing and why you’re different. It’s 2021 and consumers have never had more choices or been more careful in their decision making. They care about who you are and why you do what you do. Tone of voice matters, but you still need to understand the message you’re delivering.

I hope this article taught you all the things you wanted to know (and maybe didn’t want to know) about brand tone of voice, and where to get started with using it within your digital products! Still have questions? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at or add me on LinkedIn to talk about all things brand voice.  

This guest blog was originally posted on the ZGM site but updated for Paper Leaf readers. You can find the original blog here.

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