Grab your yoga mat and dumbbells, kids. It’s exercise time!
I’m kidding — sort of. (Here’s the part where I stumble through a segue from the attention-getter into the thesis.) An important part of our jobs as creative professionals is taking time to continually improve our craft, be it design, animation, or writing. Here at Lemonly, we make sure flexing our creative muscles is a priority with dedicated time for learning and improvement among our various creative teams on at least a monthly basis.
Our avid blog readers will remember that we’ve shared a few of our designers’ creative workshops with you before, but we know the words in any piece of visual content are important, too. So, our copy team — that’s Maddie and me — recently undertook a creative workshop of our own with the goal of practicing writing in different voices.
Every brand has a slightly different voice (see definition below), which means as copywriters, we might be writing in anywhere from 2 to 5 or more different voices on a given day. Definitely a skill worth practicing to keep our creative muscles in good shape.
Read on to see what we did, and stick around to download a template so you can do this exercise with your team, too.
What is brand voice, anyway?
First things first: Let’s cover a few definitions related to how brands use words.
If you’re already a brand wiz and don’t need a refresher, skip down to the pencil emoji to get straight to the writing exercise. ✏️
Personality: The innate qualities that define a brand’s identity or ethos. Your brand’s personality is the soul of your brand that serves as a foundation for all communications (verbal and visual) so that the brand is expressed consistently and authentically. (Also called brand essence.)
Voice: The way a brand’s personality is expressed verbally. Your voice is the set of characteristics that define your unique point of view and your way of speaking. Your brand’s voice stays constant regardless of the tone, channel, or medium you’re writing for. For example, Lemonly’s voice is friendly, fun, and humorous. That means we want all of our communications to have those qualities — whether it’s a blog post, infographic, social media message, or any of our internal communications.
Tone: The overall feeling or emotional quality of a particular communication, including the mood, tenor, and temperament. Tone can change depending on the project, message, or medium. For example, tones might be sarcastic, playful, serious, or sincere depending on what you want to say, the audience, and where the piece will live.
Style: The set of rules about grammar, usage, and mechanics a brand uses. This includes things like whether you use the Oxford comma (you must!) and whether headings should be in title case or sentence case. (Also called house style.)
Persona: The sum of all the defined characteristics of a brand’s target audience (including demographics and psychographics) or its own identity personified. (For example, one of our client personas is named Claire. She’s a pretty cool gal.) Some brands use Carl Jung’s wheel of character archetypes (below) to help describe their persona.
✏️ Let’s get to work(shop)
Choose a few voices to work with…
Our goal for this workshop was to practice writing in a variety of different voices so we could think more strategically about how to match our clients’ brand voices in various projects. To do this, we devised an exercise that prompted us to write different versions of the same message using different voice qualities.
If you’ve ever read a company’s branding guide, you’ve probably come across a set of voice descriptors: usually 3–5 adjectives describing how the brand sounds and feels to its audience. For our exercise, we used voice descriptors from a combination of real brands (like Lemonly, Facebook, and one or two of our clients) and made-up brand archetypes. We wanted a broad range of voices to work with, since our clients come from all sorts of different industries and have widely varying personalities.
Here are the seven different voices we used for our exercise:
- Friendly, Fun, Humorous
- Welcoming, Smart, Sunny
- Simple, Straightforward, Human
- Bright, Punchy, Self-Assured
- Serious, Refined, Elegant
- Cheeky, Casual, Approachable
- Scientific, Pro, Cutting-Edge
…and pick a few easily adaptable messages
We also chose six common message types that come up frequently in the types of stories we tell most often for our clients.
These are the general message categories we worked with. You can see the full message descriptions in our handy template linked below.
- Getting Started
- Customer Experience
- Crisis Management
Now get writing!
If you’ve been doing the math, you know there’s a grand total of 42 possible voice + message combinations in our exercise so far. That’s more than enough to get in some good practice, and we certainly didn’t expect ourselves to complete all 42. To balance efficiency with plenty of variety, we decided to pick three different voices for each message type (that’s at least 18 messages per person).
Instructions: Pick 3 different voices for each message type. Write a version of that message to fit the brand voice based on the qualities listed.
Each of us took 30–45 minutes to work through the exercise on our own before coming back together to share our work and discuss. Below is a sample of just a few of the messages we crafted.
These discussion questions can get you started and help identify takeaways from this exercise:
- Which voice or message type was the easiest for you to adapt into several different options? Which voice or message type was the most difficult for you?
- Is there one message you’re really proud of or like best?
- Talk through your thought process in writing one message type using several different voices. How did you adapt the message to fit the given voice qualities?
- What did you learn? How will you use what you learned when writing for other projects?
Download the template
If you want to try our writing exercise for yourself, just click here to download a blank copy of our worksheet. Use it solo or with other members of your team!
Here are a few other resources we’ve found helpful about brand voice and tone: