Ian Servin is a passionate strategist and producer at Animus Studios. He helps brands big and small tell their stories with video. He is a guest writer on the Wistia Blog.
Creative marketing is inherently risky. We come up with big ideas and hope they'll be well received. But success is critical, so we can't just hope, we have to plan.
Especially when it comes to staying true to a brand.
If you're off-brand in a video, your viewers will instantly pick up on that. So how do we make sure we're remaining consistent with the brand throughout the creative process?
Short answer: a voice guide.
Traditionally, brand voice guides are focused on copy, but as a video marketer, I use them every day to help test my ideas and confirm I'm on the right path. As marketers, we're stewards of our clients' brands, and it's vital to have a document we can reference to make sure we're always doing the right thing. Voice guides lead to better content, and they help immensely with communicating our creative vision to clients, because we can reference a shared set of guidelines.
The key to making an effective voice guide for a brand is asking the right questions in the first place. In this blog post, I'm going to break down the basics of each section in a typical voice guide, and share examples of relevant questions I'd ask during my interviews with stakeholders to draw out essential information.
1. The origin story and brand values
The origin of a company says a lot about its core motivations and its mission moving forward, which are the foundations for the brand's values.
A company's voice is just a manifestation of these values, so knowing what the brand cares about informs what your content is going to look and feel like down the road. Values change over time, so talk to the client about which things have changed and which core values they've maintained.
To discover a company's values, here are some questions you should ask:
- Who are the company founders and how did the company first get started?
- What was the driving force behind the organization's start?
- What’s the mission of the company, and has that changed?
- How does the company make a positive impact, and to whom?
- Why does that matter to the people that work there?
- What makes this company unique?
2. The tone of the brand
By personifying a brand, you can get a better understanding of how a company communicates with people. As you create content for clients, it's important to consistently check in and make sure you're staying true to how the brand talks.
If all of your brand's communications stay in line with a certain tone, your audience will start to feel like they know you. And subsequently, your company will seem more dependable and trustworthy.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that on different channels, it might make sense to adjust the tone of the content or lean into a specific element of the brand's voice.
To determine the look and feel of a brand's tone, here are some questions you should ask:
- Does the brand reflect the founders' points of view? How is it similar, and where does it differ?
- If you thought of the company as a person, how would you describe them?
- When the brand communicates, what are the main goals (e.g. educate, inspire, entertain, show expertise, etc.)?
- What does the company not typically talk about? What are attributes that don’t fit with the brand?
- Are there any past campaigns or pieces of creative/copy that worked really well and felt super on brand?
- What are examples of communications that didn’t feel authentic to who the brand is?
3. The lingo
Even if you have a specific industry you like to work with, every company has their own vocabulary. As you create video content, it's good to know what the common technical terms are and when it's right to use colloquialisms or slang.
Some videos have a more casual feel, especially when you're highlighting things like company culture and leaning into humor and silliness is 100% on brand. If you're producing more formal content, that style might feel really awkward and out of place.
In order to nail down the company's language, here are some questions you should ask:
- What kinds of industry terminology do you regularly use?
- How technical is your audience, when should we simplify things?
- When can we keep things light and casual, when is formality the right style?
- Is your audience so broad and diverse that humor or colloquialisms might be alienating or confusing?
- Are there any taglines or brand-specific sayings that content should regularly include?
Tying it all together
The questions here are a starting point, and when you work with a client, this conversation should be pretty loose. The key is to walk away with a solid understanding of who the brand is, so definitely ask follow up questions, but make sure you let the client do most of the talking.
When you get back to the office, assembling the voice guide is pretty straightforward: Organize and condense the answers to each of your questions and build the doc—starting from a high-level overview and ending with specific do's and don'ts. I like to start with a paragraph summarizing what we learned and then move right to a list of brand values.
From there, I typically dive into specific things I learned about tone and style. I always make sure to tie these abstract concepts to concrete examples of how that style would inform content. For example, if we're working with a company that values humor, I'd link to an example of a silly culture video we produced for another client. Always keeping the end deliverable in mind keeps the document actionable for both you and the client.
Bonus: A free preflight cheat sheet
This cheat sheet ensures that the core brand values and style notes stay top of mind when you're embarking on a new creative endeavor. Before any project, no matter how small, we reference this checklist and make sure we're keeping things consistent. This is also a really handy tool for your client's internal marketing team.
Want your own copy of the preflight cheat sheet? Download the PDF:
Voice guides aren't just for copywriters anymore. As brands communicate more and more on diverse platforms using unique formats like video, having a solid reference point for what a company talks about and how it sounds is more important than ever.
Spending time putting together resources like voice guides will help you make better content for sure, but more importantly, it's part of building deeper, more collaborative partnerships with all of your awesome clients.