Who Am I? Finding Your Brand Voice When You’re a Startup
Finding your voice when your company is just launching can be very challenging, but it’s what will help set you apart from the competition.
Startup marketers and founders are up to their necks in hard work and tough decisions. Branding is just one of the many tasks to tackle during a startup’s development. It’s also something startups must keep a close eye on even after decades of being in business.
Marketing experts often talk about the incredibly important process of developing and nurturing a “voice” within a new startup. However, the exact inner workings of this process are a gray area for many professionals, who can’t tell whether they are executing an authentic voice or not. The following concepts will help marketers gain some clarity and identify weak areas in their branding strategy.
Dissecting and Defining a Voice
One thing that makes it challenging for startups to really own their voice is that “voice” is actually a fragmented term. It refers to a few different aspects of a brand, and oftentimes, startups fail to discuss all of these aspects beforehand. Under the wide umbrella of voice, startups must determine their attitude, tone, diction, and even underlying base notes.
As Doug Kessler discussed at Content Marketing World, a startup can select three base notes to serve as a guideline for the brand’s overall personality. He uses Innocent Juice as an example, a company that has seamlessly projected a voice of simplicity, friendliness, and silliness from the beginning of its humble startup journey.
Delving even deeper, startups are wise to recognize the different contexts in which to use these base notes. Just as an individual wouldn’t talk to his boss and best friend with the same tone, a startup shouldn’t speak to all of its demographics in the same way. Hashing out these details and writing a plan of attack is what determines the strength and clarity behind a brand.
Asking the Right Questions
Startups can’t hope to develop a unique voice or brand if they never ask themselves any questions. The more founders and other team members work together to articulate their brand and bring it to life, the easier it will be to project it out into the world. The Muse suggests startup teams ask particular questions in order to tease out exactly what their brand voice will sound like. For example, “We want people to feel ___ when they discover our brand.” Or, “We really want to avoid a brand voice that sounds too ___.”
The Muse also recommends building what can be called an “archetype,” or a standard sketch of a member of the target audience. Startups may find that they have more than one target audience, and thus would benefit from drawing up more than one archetype. This activity is similar to creating a character for a story. Startups will want to determine this individual’s interests, desires, pet peeves, and even their physical appearance. Defining the target audience as an individual will help team members conceptualize how to interact with them, thus helping to zone in on an official voice.
Maintaining the Brand
Once all of the tedious work is done, the only part of the process that remains is maintenance — that is, keeping the startup’s voice consistent and giving customers what they expect on a regular basis. Of course, this doesn’t mean that marketers should rigidly adhere to repetitive content and marketing tactics. But some level of consistency is crucial to maintaining a brand identity.
So how is this done? Richard Amos and Mike Wilkinson of Royce Communications discussed this exact topic on LinkedIn. One of the critical rules startups must remember to maintain a brand identity is not trying to please everyone, as this means ultimately pleasing no one. Apple is a prime example of a brand that is disliked by many, but also loved by many. This dichotomy only serves to strengthen and better define the Apple brand. So instead of people-pleasing, marketers and founders can intimately monitor their audience, paying attention to their needs, likes and dislikes. Simply put, startups need to serve their niche and forget about the rest.
Lastly, startups must adapt to the changing tides of their industry and customer base. Just because the brand should remain consistent doesn’t mean common practices, marketing techniques, and customer expectations will be stagnant. Part of the challenge comes with trying to adapt a brand to a new medium — like a new social media platform — while maintaining a familiar identity with the audience.
For instance, from its first marketing campaign, Whole Foods branded itself as a natural grocery store with high-quality standards, positioning itself as both an authority and a pioneer in the organic food industry. Since then, there have been several shifts in how Whole Foods does business, including store policy changes, new digital marketing efforts, and even some controversies. However, the overall voice and brand identity has not wavered throughout the brand’s 25 years of existence.
As Richard Amos and Mike Wilkinson said, “Treat your brand identity like a living, organic thing that must be sustained and nurtured.” Customers will undoubtedly recognize and revere a brand’s ability to remain consistent, while simultaneous keeping up with the times.