Super-quick, one-question pop quiz for ya: How would you define “brand voice?”
If you consult Professor Google, you might think brand voice is all about creating a strong visual aesthetic — flashy things like colors and logos and stock photos and fonts.
And that’s *part* of it. But what gets overlooked sometimes is how your brand sounds.
Think about the business coach who’s got an awesome rebellious streak. They might have a bold voice that’s laced with words like “wild,” “break free,” and “badass.” How about a marketing strategist targeting the boss babe crowd? Their voice could be empowering, and their content might be punctuated with words like “dream,” “girl,” and “fempreneur.”
But what IS brand voice and why do you need one on Instagram?
*Very* technical definition here: Your brand voice is simply the personality you use in all your content and copy. It’s the words and phrases and tone. It’s translating how you want your business to be perceived into words and a distinct style that’s unmistakably you.
And it’s that unique voice and style that helps you stand out on Instagram. Because the digital landscape is crowded AF. (You know, there’s something like 25 million brands clamoring for market share on the platform…) Being unforgettable starts with having a consistent brand voice your audience can relate to and that feels good to you.
To give you a really concrete example and put this whole brand voice concept into context, let’s pretend you’re Zooming with your mastermind group – a sassy bunch of entrepreneurs with different backgrounds, points of view, and personalities. Naturally.
You’ve got the cheerleader, the perpetually upbeat person who’s always encouraging and uplifting. There’s the all-business, no-fluff leader who’s super organized and gently reminds everyone to stay focused. You probably have a storyteller – someone who spins a tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat with its twists and turns and engaging language. Then, you’ve got the sage, the calm, zen type who listens deeply and quietly, and always has THE BEST advice when they speak up.
You can clearly picture these different personality types, right? The magic is that each one can take their unique traits and create a totally distinct brand voice on Instagram. So finding your brand voice starts with understanding your personality.
Here are a few things to start thinking about as you work on clarifying your personality and honing your brand voice:
How do you want your followers to describe your brand? A fun, casual brand will sound very different from an academic brand.
What is your brand about – and not about? Educating your audience? Creating community?
Do you change your brand voice depending on how you’re engaging with your followers? Are you sassy when responding to comments but more supportive when DMing leads?
Do you change your tone depending on the type of post you’re sharing? Does a sales page sound helpful and aspirational, while a personal post is more lighthearted?
How do you show up on Stories or IG Live? Down to earth? Friendly? Polished?
Now that you’re getting curious about cultivating your own brand voice (and I’ve convinced you that it’s a really good thing to have), you might be wondering, “But how the hell do I actually find mine?!”
You follow these five steps, friend, to help you nail down your unique brand voice on Instagram.
Step 1: Play favorites
Don’t worry – I’m not gonna ask you to do a deep dive into your analytics and your top performing posts and how much reach your hashtags get. (I’ll leave that to Nicole!)
But I do want you to fire up your feed and scope out your existing content. Which posts were your absolute favorites? (Remember we’re talking about how they sounded – not how they looked. The prettiest picture with the most likes could have had a caption that made you cringe.)
Maybe you know off the top of your head which posts were fire. Maybe you need to take a quick scroll down memory lane.
Whatever your sitch, the goal is to find the posts you were really proud of – the ones that were exactly how you want your brand voice to sound. That you wrote and were like, “Boom. This is 100% me and my voice. Crushed it.” That your audience ate up like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Warning: Don’t go wild here. Try to pick your top three to five posts – your *true* favorites. If you get a liiitle excited and grab 50 posts, the next step is gonna be a smidge harder.
Step 2: Find patterns
Now that you’ve got your favorites, read through each post with a super critical eye.
Take note of the things you really liked about each one. And, no, “the whole thing” doesn’t count. Get granular here.
Did you structure your post a certain way, repeat a few select phrases, you certain style conventions? Did you use hashtags or emojis in the content of your post? Do certain words jump out at you? Did you make jokes? Use some pop culture references? Tell stories? Did your post have a certain tone to it – reassuring, friendly, casual, authoritative, professional?
You’re looking for patterns.
Which might not be super obvious right away because your brand voice isn’t *always* the tangible things, like how you use punctuation or how many sentences make up your paragraphs. Your brand voice could be the feelings your posts evoke.
So maybe you lean into some “feeling” words to stir up emotion. Like confident, energetic, and peaceful. Maybe you use really descriptive words (thinking ‘bout those Reese’s again: decadent, mouthwatering, craveable) to give your audience a mini sensory experience.
Get a little analytical and see what themes show up. These are the things you’ll use to build your brand voice…and that you’ll bring into your Instagram content moving forward.
Step 3: Consider your dream clients
I’ll never tell you to adopt a brand voice that feels inauthentic to you or to use words and phrases just because your audience does. Eww. Gross. But you do want to take your audience into account as you hone your brand voice.
Think about who you’re trying to reach. What voice, words, phrases, and tone do they expect from a brand like yours?
Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer targeting brides planning micro weddings. You probably won’t use words like “expensive” and “luxe” and “lavish.” Words like “intimate” and “personal” and “relaxed” might resonate with your audience a bit more. If you choose the wrong words and tone for your brand voice, you might alienate your dream clients.
And you could just as easily put them off if you’re throwing out stuff like “babe” or “but coffee first” if you’d never actually use those phrases in real life. You can infuse some of your audience’s traits and vocab – without creating a voice that’s sooo not you.
Step 4: Make it legit
I’ve got a little secret for you: The key to using your brand voice on Instagram is to create branding guidelines.
It’s easy to think, “I’m super confident about my brand voice now. I gots this.”
But you’re probably reading this lovely post because you feel like your brand voice isn’t 100% consistent. It doesn’t always sound like you…or like the same person wrote your posts. And who you think you are as a brand might not be coming across in your social media content and or align with how you want to be perceived. Which sucks.
So if you want to create – and execute – a solid brand voice strategy on Instagram, you’ll want to create formal (I use that term so loosely) guidelines that you can refer back to to help keep you accountable and consistent.
(Besides, if you ever outsource ANY of your content, you’ll have something concrete to point people to help uphold your brand voice.)
Now that you’re totes on board with writing down your findings, here’s a few things you’ll want to include:
The overall tone of your social media posts (friendly, welcoming, warm)
Grammatical conventions you like – all caps, incomplete sentences, exclamation points, etc.
Words you want to use – and words you DON’T want to use (like is swearing cool or a no-go?)
Examples of your voice in action (you know, in case there’s ever any doubt what “conversational” means to you)
How do you want people to feel when reading your posts – inspired? Informed?
You can make these the most robust, corporate-style brand voice guidelines EVER or keep it pretty basic – whatever YOU need to show up on Instagram in a way that feels true to your brand voice.
Step 5: Revisit on the reg
Yay! You’ve got your brand voice guidelines locked down. But…that doesn’t mean you can just file them away on the dusty shelves of your hard drive (or the cloud) and never look at them again.
You’ll want to revisit them regularly to see if you need to make any updates. Because things change. Your voice evolves. Your business evolves. Memes and GIFS and emojis go in and out of vogue. One day it’s all about Baby Yoda, the next it’s Billie Eilish at the Oscars. *shrugs*
If your brand has grown, what branded terms or hashtags do you need to add in? Have you added a member to your team, do you need to switch from “I” to “we?” If you’ve pivoted your services, do you need to update your word bank?
And, remember, your sweet new brand voice guidelines will only work for you if you use them consistently. The closer you stick to your ideal brand voice, the easier it’ll be to create a connection with your audience…and stand out in your industry as someone trustworthy and totally memorable.
Today’s guest post is written by >> Tracie of Okay, Okapi. Tracie is a writing coach and editor (and wannabe standup comedian) helping coaches and creatives write personality-packed copy that connects and converts. When she’s not working with her clients to create totally unique brand voices and unboring content, you can probably find her slamming smoothies and stealing, err, befriending her neighbors’ pets.