When every brand is vying to be the one that says it loudest, be the one that says it best. Easier said than done, I know. But unlocking your voice—what you say, how you say it—will not only streamline the way you create work, it’ll add a powerful, distinction-driving tool to your toolbox.

Tone and messaging add a lot of nuance to creative. They say the things a logo, color palette, and layouts can’t. Besides, why pour over typefaces for weeks if the message they spell out is hollow? It may seem obvious, but this has been the status quo in branding for a long time. The good news is, things are looking up.

The state of wordplay

In truth, brands create too much content these days to not consider writing in the equation. Social, paid media, email, campaigns, websites, apps, audio, out-of-home, film. Not to mention corporate social responsibility, stakeholder comms, and internal comms. If you don’t have a plan for the way words and messaging show up in these mediums, you not only waste more time figuring out how to speak for every brief, but you also risk being inconsistent (or worse, irrelevant) if you don’t get it right.

That’s probably why we’re seeing more rebrands making a big deal of tone of voice (TOV) and messaging strategy. And more in-house teams investing in brand voice stewardship and dedicated copywriters. Brand writing even has its own industry award categories now—it feels like we’ve officially made it.

But I would be remiss to speak about investment in writing without touching on the dreaded AI conversation. While that could be an entirely different article, I will say that there will always be companies that opt for cheap and cheerful. The brands that recognize the value of quality, thoughtful, empathetic writing, however, will be the ones that last.

Getting it right

Let’s get down to it, where to start? To that, I say research. You need to know your audience, your market, and what you (realistically) offer both. You need to know your product inside and out. You need to see what your competitors are up to, without trying to replicate them or simply avoid their missteps. You have to get a good understanding of where culture’s at right now.

Then, you get to your point of view. The distinct way you view your industry and your offering. This will help you connect with your audiences on a deeper level. It ensures that once you develop your tone and the time comes to put pen to paper, you know what you have to say. Once you understand your POV, you’re flying.

Who are you?

Then comes the creative work—developing a persona for your brand that will anchor everything you write. Try exploring the writing of personas in a way similar to creative routes, putting a few on the table to see what’s right.

For this, you can ask yourself questions like, “If my brand was a character (real or fictional), who would it be, and why? How would they react in different situations? What characteristics does my brand possess, and how could that translate into a writing style?”

You can also start looking for inspiration beyond other brands. In art and comedy, poetry and Reddit threads, eras and places. Gathering cultural inspiration that feels relevant to the brand and how it shows up. Trying a few things out in writing to see what fits.

This work helps you avoid falling into clichéd tropes like the dreaded “warm” or “human” descriptors that are so open to interpretation you risk sounding like everyone else.

Rules to write by

So you have a point of view, and your persona is down pat, now there are a few more helpful things to keep in mind.

First, the best brand writing doesn’t underestimate its audience. You might notice that there’s a focus on getting to the point quickly, saying things plainly. There’s an effort to be instantly “gettable” because of the fleeting nature of marketing. But when you pare every sentence down to its most basic form, it’s so much easier to ignore or mix up with another brand.

Second, as tempting as it can be to simply sound like your audience, it’s better to sound like your brand. When you mirror trends too often or fall victim to language fads on social, you not only become offputting (no one wants their bank to sound like their mate), you lose who you are. Try to remember the real role you play in people’s lives.

Finally, check in. Refer back to your guidelines when you’re creating big pieces of work. Create cheat sheets for yourself to help vet writing quickly to make sure it’s on tone. Audit your brand writing across mediums a few times a year with your team. A strong TOV is WIP. But if you respect the audiences you serve, the time is worth it.

Cover image: Анастасия Красавина