How to Create a Unique Brand Voice like Apple or Nike

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Editor’s Note: This article is a contribution from Kate Joseph, ecommerce copywriter at Fuel Made

Even if you’re not conscious of it, your brand has a voice and how it sounds matters.

Your brand voice is how you communicate with your customers. Not just details about your product, but who you are, your mission, and your values. In turn, this builds trust and loyalty with your customers, encourages them to purchase, and keeps them coming back.

If you don’t currently have a clear voice for your brand, don’t worry. Here are three actions you can take right now to build a stronger brand voice:

  1. Create customer personas
  2. Define who you are as a brand
  3. Get inspired by your heroes

1. Create customer personas

One of the worst things you can do for your brand is to make it generic.

At best, ordinary copy is bland and boring. At worst, it comes off sounding cold and corporate.

Your product will not appeal to everyone, so don’t try to appeal to everyone.

There’s a rule of thumb that 80 percent of your profits will come from 20 percent of your customers. Talk directly to these people.

 

Get to know your audience

Having hard data on your core customers is crucial. No matter your industry, the product you’re selling, or your assumptions about who’s buying, you don’t know for sure until you look at the numbers.

Your marketing automation platform collects data from your customers, which you can use to target individuals based on certain characteristics or behaviors.

Google Analytics is another easy way to discover who your customer is, including age, sex, and location.

FCTRY, a purveyor of political action figures, found their audience skews slightly female and mostly middle-aged.

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If you want to dig a little deeper, consider sending out a survey to your customers to understand anything from their hobbies and favorite TV shows to their profession and income. Bonus points if you offer a discount or giveaway incentive—that’ll really get the answers rolling in! 

You can also gather anecdotal information on your customer via sign-up forms and email buttons and use the insights you gather from them to inform your marketing strategy.

By doing more in-depth research like this, FCTRY learned their customers are usually left-leaning on the political spectrum, well-educated, and engaged in pop culture.

 

Fictionalize your ideal customers

Once you’ve gathered all of your data, you can personify it.

To create an imaginary persona, use your information to determine the age, sex, location, relationship status, profession, and more for your ideal customer. Then, repeat this exercise for all your ideal customers. 

Then, you can flesh your personas out with a name, a short biography, and maybe even a face (grab a stock photo or headshot off Google Images, this is just for internal purposes after all!).

Based on the data gathered about their audience, this is the brand persona we created for FCTRY.

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Your brand personas do not (and could never) represent all of your customers, but they do give you a more tangible idea of who your customers are than statistics on a screen do.

 

Stay accountable

Once your personas are complete, you can keep them in mind while you write. Ask yourself, “Would my brand personas see this subject line and open the email? Would my brand personas find this funny? Would my brand personas connect to this?”

You can also use this information to create personalized experiences for your customers, like segmenting flows for customers who bought a specific product or live in a certain area.

When you have data-backed customer profiles as your guide, they keep you accountable to genuinely connect with your customers. And when your customers feel connected with you, they’re more likely to listen, follow, and buy from you rather than unfollow you, delete your emails without opening, or shop the competition. 

Using the brand persona we created for FCTRY, we were, in turn, able to deliver focused emails tailored to the content their customers want to see.

Here’s some copy we wrote with “Shelly” in mind:

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And the numbers show this strategy worked.

After launch, between July 2019 and January 2020, FCTRY’s average email open rate was 42.3 percent (up about 30 percent from an average open rate of 32.3 percent between July 2018 and January 2019).

That’s nearly double the average open rate for automated emails across all industries, which sits at 22.3 percent, according to ecommerce email marketing benchmark data. 

Similarly, these flows have sustained a high average clickthrough rate (when the recipient clicks on a link in your email) 8.02 percent compared to 3.22 percent on average. 

2. Define who you are as a brand

Say you start dating someone new. On the first date, they’re really friendly and kind. The next time you see them, they’re more shy and reserved. And on the third date, they’re cracking distasteful jokes. 

It’d be confusing and strange right? This is why consistency is important. 

A consistent voice doesn’t just strengthen your brand and teach your audience what to expect. It builds a relationship, familiarity, and trust. In other words, it helps you get to the fourth date.

And it’s certainly not just about image. Consistency can increase revenue by up to 23 percent, according to Forbes

Chubbies has made a name for themselves in ecommerce, and not just because of their eye-catching short and swim trunk designs. 

They haven’t just built a friendly rapport with their customers, they’ve amassed a dedicated fanbase. Just take a look at these tweets from some of their email subscribers:

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Chubbies’ brand voice is loved for their upbeat spirit and spot-on humor, which you’ll see some examples of in a bit

Clearly, it’s working.

On the brand’s success, co-founder Kyle Hency says, “At this point we’re profitable, sustainable and we don’t need to raise outside capital.”

When your brand is authentic, it can have a big impact on your image and your bottom line.

 

Communicate your values

Before you jump into your voice exploration, you should be sure of what you, as a brand, stand for.

Sixty-four percent of consumers “cited shared values as the primary reason” for having a brand relationship, according to The Harvard Business Review.

Corganic, for example, carries high-quality supplements and real foods for living a healthful lifestyle.

With so much contradictory information surrounding wellness, it’s imperative for Corganic to promote their products honestly and transparently in order to gain their customers’ trust.

Take a look at this hype email for their 2019 Black Friday promotion:

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Unlike many Black Friday emails that come off corporate and materialistic, this message from the founders is personal, self-aware, and helpful. 

Corganic’s 2019 Black Friday email campaigns, including this one, generated 30 percent more in revenue than the previous year

Customers can sense when your only goal is to get their money, so always strive for authenticity.

 

Describe your voice

A very easy way to define your exact brand voice is to describe it using adjectives.

Start by writing a list of words that embody your brand and communication style, then narrow it down to about 8-10. For each adjective, write a sentence or two that goes into more detail and explains why this word describes your brand.

These are the words we used to define the voice of one client who sells educational resources for children:

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Do the same for 3-5 words that you don’t want your brand to be perceived as, but you could potentially tread into that territory.

Here’s what we chose for words that do not describe the voice of that same client:

create-brand-voiceWhen carefully selecting these descriptors, it’s important to be specific. 

For example, maybe your brand is targeted at young adults, so your voice tends to be casual and humorous. You might think to use the word “funny,” but what does that really mean?

Chubbies and Cards Against Humanity are two brands known for being funny, but their voices are very different.

First up, Chubbies. This brand’s humor can best be summed up as silly, clever, and timely. Take a look at these emails:

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On the other hand, popular party game Cards Against Humanity’s brand voice would be better labeled as snarky, cynical, and dark. Here’s an example:

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The more precisely you describe your brand, the easier it will be to keep your writing consistent.

 

Read (and review!) these guidelines often

This isn’t just a one-off exercise!

Filter every piece of copy through your guidelines to make sure it matches up with your defined voice. You should be able to rationalize every writing choice you make.

And, by the way, these rules don’t have to be set in stone. Your voice is flexible and can evolve over time as your brand grows and changes. After all, rules are made to be broken

You might also learn new information that informs your voice.

Back to our client selling educational resources for children – after additional research and A/B testing, we discovered their customers actually responded well to emojis and exclamation marks. So, we began incorporating those elements more with success! 🤩

As long as your changes are well-thought-out, rather than sporadic, you should feel free to try new things and adapt over time.

3. Get inspired by your heroes

Inspiration is imperative for creating your brand voice. It’s not about imitating another brand, but rather gathering ideas and translating them into your own.

Inspiration (and staying inspired!) fuels you to hold yourself to a high standard and, in turn, continue to produce high-quality content that strengthens your brand.

Plus, inspiration can spark excitement and new ideas that can help you keep your voice fresh and relevant.

 

Find your brand heroes

The most common thing we hear from clients is that they aspire for their brand to be like Apple or Nike.

These ultra-successful companies are both super brand heroes, but smaller, more niche businesses can be even better role models for inspiring your specific voice.

For a moment, forget about which industry you’re in, the size of your business, and who your audience is.

Instead, consider tone, word choice, length, and the way the copy makes you feel as a reader. Which companies’ emails do you enjoy receiving and why? Or, if you don’t fall into the target audience of your business, ask those who do for their answers.

You can find inspiration anywhere – seriously, check out the back of the shampoo bottles in your shower or the carton of vegan milk in your fridge. 

FCTRY admitted to having a copy crush on Oatly. What do oat milk and pocket-sized Ruth Bader Ginsburgs have in common? Not much, but we still found plenty of inspiration in the popular plant-based beverage’s witty and passionate brand voice.

Here’s a sample from their site that might inspire you:

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Or, think a little more outside the (milk) box.

One client we worked with even noted The Beatles as inspiration for their brand voice! Books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and influential people are all fair game for sparking ideas. 

 

So, why does everyone look up to Apple and Nike so much?

Not just because these are world-famous Fortune 500 companies, but because their branding is impeccable and so distinct that it’s easily recognizable without even seeing the brand’s name.

This tidbit on the iPhone 11 product page illustrates how Apple carries out confidence without being arrogant:

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And Nike’s mission statement motivates, but doesn’t come off cheesy:

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Both brands also master writing simple, short copy that doesn’t read as boring.

We used these elements of Apple and Nike’s brand voices as inspiration when creating copy for Victare. Here’s how that translated:

Confident, motivational, interesting—and still distinctly Victare.

Pick and choose specific aspects from your brand heroes’ voices that you admire and use those as inspiration to cultivate a voice that’s unique to your brand.

 

Be your own hero

Wow, so inspirational. Did Tony Robbins write this article? 

Another helpful practice in setting the tone for your brand voice is writing sample copy

This not only gives you some practice translating your guidelines into words, but it sets the bar for how your copy should sound.

These example headers, product descriptions, CTA buttons, and more, can act as a control group. When you write, compare your new writing to the shining examples you wrote as samples, and see how it stacks up. If it’s jarring to see your new copy against the sample copy, you’ll know it still needs work.

To show you what we mean, here’s some sample copy we wrote for Umbra:

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When drafting a post-purchase thank you email, we originally started by writing this header.

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Not exactly right. This comes off too eager, and “stylish” may be interpreted negatively as “trendy.”

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Getting closer. This is succinct, but potentially a little brash.

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Perfect. Adding “and so do we!” in parentheses adds a friendly touch of gratitude that doesn’t cross over into disingenuity.

Being your own brand hero isn’t just a pat on your own back, it’s a solid source of inspiration and a helpful way to keep yourself accountable.

Key takeaway

Brand voice may be an easy aspect of your business to overlook, but when done right it makes a huge difference. With customer data, brand identity, and outside inspiration, you have everything you need to create or strengthen your brand voice. 

Start talking your customer’s language to create an authentic connection, build loyalty, and ultimately work towards becoming a hero brand yourself.

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