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French Dictionary

Brand voice and tone

With extensive experience in creating style guides, I'm aware of the common pitfalls that turn them into unwieldy, difficult-to-reference documents; especially for people in the organization who aren't professional writers.

That's why I'm a huge fan of the voice chart method you'll see employed in this project. It streamlines the process of defining a brand voice, helps present ideas to management for buy-in, and can serve as a one-pager for colleagues who aren't writers, making it far easier for them to follow your guidelines.

By focusing on the essential elements of a brand's voice and tone, the voice chart method can help ensure that everyone across the organization is aligned, even if they're not writers. It's an approach that can benefit companies of all sizes, from startups to large enterprises.

I've created content style guides for multiple organizations. We'll look at realme's here (key details redacted to protect their intellectual property).

The problem

realme had a problem I've seen at a lot of Chinese companies: no content style guide and everyone doing whatever they think is right. No consistency, no brand voice.
 

realme also had a unique problem in that they are one company with multiple different product lines. Management felt each product line should have a different voice. I explained that doing this would mean there is no clear realme brand. If every product line is so unique, you turn into a house of brands, not a branded house, and this is not what they wanted. They repeatedly told me they wanted something similar to Apple. I made it very clear that Apple has one brand voice that does not differ based on the product line.

The question I started with was, what is the realme brand? The branding team did not provide separate branding guidelines for each product line. Design did not have style guidelines unique to each product line. So content should not have drastically different voices for each product.

There's very little information out there on how to handle the tone and voice for a branded house. So I developed a concept of one brand voice with unique key messaging to differentiate each product line.
 

This allowed me to create a unified brand image, with slightly different messaging for each product line. This sits somewhere between the branded house and house of brands approach.

Collect

Even companies without a content style guide have some relevant and useful information—whether that’s branding material or marketing guidelines. A brand very rarely grows without some kind of branding guidelines.

 

realeme's material was very light, which highlighted the need to start with the voice chart. As you'll see, this forces companies without documentation to sit down and define the brand qualities. When a company internally has a poor understanding of their brand position, it's important to create actionable, useful branding documentation that starts with that position.

 

Consolidate

I often work with branding teams to condense all their info into 3-5 brand attributes. If you need more than five attributes to describe your brand position, you don't have a clear brand position. When I started this process with realme's marketing and branding teams, they came up with over ten words to describe their brand. This was a good start, but ten words are far too many to be useful in defining a brand and helping anyone create content (both written or visual content).

What you often find is that some attributes are very similar and can be consolidated into a single word. As a content expert, it's my job to come up with words that can encompass the meaning of many. For realme, we managed to consolidate the attributes into four words.

 

Starting with no brand position or guidelines, I quickly managed to get the whole marketing and branding teams to agree on four words that defined the brand and its products. This was not easy given the wide range in price points of their products. For example, you can't define your brand as luxury when you also sell phones that cost less than $100.

 

Construct

Once I have those brand attributes, work on the style guide can begin. For realme's multiple product lines, I also worked on creating key messaging guidelines unique to each product line.

Since the style guide itself is quite long and focuses on things like grammar and mechanics, here I'll focus on the voice and tone, key messaging, and product vocabulary.

My 3Cs approach

The solution part 1: Voice chart

When you have clear brand attibutes, the best way to start creating a style guide is with the voice chart.

 

The simplicity of the chart ensures you avoid any “why do we write like this?” questions further down the line, and avoids people making subjective decisions regarding grammar and mechanics. The voice chart ensures that every stylistic choice you make is tied to the brand attributes. I.e. you have proof your content is on-brand.

Writers often forget that non-writers can struggle to follow a style guide easily or quickly. This chart encompasses everything in the style guide, and anyone can understand it and give instant feedback when you're looking to get buy-in from management.

It's far easier to get management to sign off on a chart like this than a huge style guide. And since this chart covers all the core points, once you have their approval you can begin writing the full guide without worrying that you need to get everything approved again.

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The voice chart ties all content grammar and mechanics to the brand attributes. Not all attributes apply to all parts of language, and so it's normal to have some sections blank.

The way I handled realme's different product lines, and management insisting on differentiation, was the concept of "key messaging". I explained that the voice should be the same across all products, but what we talk about for each line can differ. This is similar to how we handle tone in UX writing. Depending on the scenario, we change how we speak slightly, but it’s still the same voice.
 

I designed unique messaging for each product line. This took into consideration:
 

  1. Who the target audience is for each product line

  2. The key features/attributes of each product line

  3. What words we should use, and what words we should avoid. What kind of wording best fits the product line positioning.
     

To illustrate and reiterate the idea that the brand voice should not differ between product lines, I tied all messaging back to the four brand attributes and used a simple bar chart diagram to show which attributes should be the primary focus and enhanced, and which were secondary and could be played down slightly, for each product line.
 

Again, key information (brand attributes) have been hidden here.

ux5.png

For each product line I created a visual representation of which attributes to focus on,
and which to play down.

The solution part 2: Key messaging

The solution part 3: Product vocabulary

Another idea I came up with was based on a technique an author friend uses in his novels. For each of his characters, he develops a unique vocabulary, and any words one character likes to use, the others are forbidden from using. For instance, if one person says the word “cool” a lot, the others will never use that word. This helps the reader better picture each character and understand who is speaking just from their speech.
 

I used this idea to create a product vocabulary for each of realme’s products. I noticed that a competitor, Xiaomi, has a huge problem with their product messaging. They use almost identical words and phrases for phones at different price points.
 

In Xiaomi's adverts below, if you couldn't see the product name and all you have is “The Star Performer” and “The Performance All-star”, could you tell which is the better phone? Can you tell even with the product name visible?

To avoid this, I cracked down hard on using the same words and phrases across product lines. For instance, the GT line regularly used “great” or some variation like “greatness”, “greater”. I made sure the other phones were not allowed to use this word, regardless of how "great" the teams thought they were.

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You can see from competitor Xiaomi's product positioning, it's unclear how to differentiate between different product lines when they use practically the same language. This is what I helped realme avoid.

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