Do You Write in a “Brand Voice?” Watch Out.

Marketers often stress the importance of a consistent brand voice. Customers want to feel that they are interacting with a coherent entity, even though they understand that many people participate in the business. So we work to develop a distinctive “voice” and style for the brand that carries through all communications.

When you work for the same business long enough, you may learn to write easily in the brand’s tone and style. Doing so helps your productivity. But getting too comfortable with the brand voice carries risks, for both the writer and the business.

The Risks of Emotional Distance

Despite the Citizens United ruling, corporations are not “persons” but collections of people with a shared purpose. No matter how “personal” the brand sounds, it’s a fictional entity.

When you write in the voice of the brand, you are not writing as yourself; you can keep some emotional distance from the words. You’re not really speaking as yourself, but as someone else.

Readers might feel that distance. Over time, the writing can become more “pat” and automatic, less genuinely human. Its effectiveness diminishes, and opportunities for real connections are lost.

Business writing should never feel trivial. All writing is a social act, a form of human communication. When you commit seriously to the work, it shows.

If you regularly write in the brand voice for your business, take steps to keep the approach and content fresh.

  1. Apply the brand voice in revision, not in the first draft. Don’t worry about getting the right tone and style when drafting. Focus on looking for fresh images and turns of phrase, or mining new ideas. Use the revision process to adopt the brand tone and style.
  2. Focus on the reader. Before you set out to write, put yourself in the reader’s perspective. If you’ve developed customer personas, put yourself in their shoes and ask questions. When you have empathy for the reader, it will come through no matter what your tone and style.

Losing Your Own Voice

The second risk is more personal: The more proficient you become with the brand voice, the harder it can be to find your own.

This problem sneaks up on you gradually. You may discover it only when you attempt to write something for yourself, and it comes out sounding like anyone in your business could have written it. You’ve got writing laryngitis!

Writing reflects thinking. Writing long enough in a specific tone and style will start to shape the way you think — at least when writing.

When I sat down to author my first book, Subscription Marketing, I had spent years writing in the tone and styles of various companies and executives. I was a chameleon. That was great for my freelance consulting work, but I’d mislaid my own voice and had to rediscover it through trial and error.

It’s taken work to rediscover a writing voice that fits my personality.

Tone and style may shift over time. Perhaps yours is a work in progress. But if you never work on it, you’ll never make progress.

The best defense against this problem is to maintain a personal writing practice alongside your professional work. If you write consistently in a brand voice and harbor dreams of writing for yourself, continue to explore your own work.

  1. Use freewriting exercises regularly. Set aside time to write as quickly and fluidly as possible, writing things that no one else need ever see. Commit to a certain number of words every day, and fill them with whatever is in our mind. You might write your way through a problem, contemplate stillness of the morning air, or imagine a witty conversation with Jane Austen. Use the time to explore different ways of crafting sentences, finding words, and thinking.
  2. Find regular opportunities to write in your personal voice for work. If you write blog posts for your business, get permission to write as yourself rather than the brand name and use your own tone and style. Perhaps you can become known as the person who sends humorous summaries of your weekly team meetings, or poetic descriptions of industry events. Do something to stretch your writing style and put it out in the world in small doses.

Image: Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Originally published at on May 18, 2016.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).