Finding the Voice of Your Organization’s Brand


Remember when you were a kid and your parents scolded you in that tone? How much of what they were trying to tell you got through? Probably not much.

What was true then is true now – tone matters. And it turns out that the tone organizations use to talk to their employees matters as well. The right tone can have a dramatic impact on message effectiveness. In fact, finding and developing an organizational voice that is authentic, credible and reflective of your brand is crucial to shaping perceptions, driving brand behavior and enhancing employee engagement.

So why is tone so important? Here’s why: words impact how we think but tone impacts how we feel. Tone goes to the heart. Perceptions, attitudes and commitment are driven by how we feel. Tone is crucial to branding because great brands aren’t about what we think – great brands are about how we feel about them.

Authentic brands are built from the inside out. It takes effective employee communication, with the right tone, to turn brand promises into great customer experiences. Advertising slogans are promises made – brands are promises kept. Those promises can’t be kept without effective employee communication delivered in the right tone.

We cannot talk to our customers in one voice and talk to our employees in a different tone and expect them to consistently deliver on the brand promise. We need to talk to our employees like we want them to talk to our customers. Our employees are trusted business partners and we need to speak to them as such. We need to develop a Voice of the Brand and integrate it into everything we do.

Organizations, like people, have personalities. We need to develop a tone that reflects the personality of our brand. I have seen this work with impressive results throughout my 20-year career in internal communications.

Case Study Example: When I first came to PetSmart in 2001, the tone used to communicate to employees was mostly a directive tone and task compliance was the primary goal. The belief was that store managers were busy and didn’t have time for the “why,” which was regarded as “fluff.” The philosophy was “just tell them what to do in simple, clear terms.” This tone was designed to keep shelves stocked, not to delight customers. It did neither with any great success.

My team and I set about developing a Voice of the Brand that reflected our fun, playful and knowledgeable brand. We developed a custom style guide, a brand vocabulary, guiding principles, and a lively, conversational writing style to support our Voice of the Brand. Over the next nine months, we saw marked increases in readership of our e-letter and intranet, greater task compliance and an upturn in customer experience scores.

I believe if you discover the Voice of your Brand, you will discover a deep unstoppable power within. Or you could try having your parents talk to them.

NOTE: Paul Barton, ABC, will present an interactive workshop on Finding the Voice of Your Organization’s Brand at the ALI Strategic Internal Branding Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 20.


Judith Jones

about 6 years ago

Paul, great points! Thank you for this posting. As always, I really appreciate your insights. And after reading the PetSmart case study, I'm thinking that you had to do some significant research to identify the tone attributes that made up the Voice of the Brand. Maybe it's for a future posting, but I'd love to hear your thoughts about exploring those attributes to ensure that the Voice was authentic and the fidelity was true. Thanks again for starting an interesting conversation!

Paul Barton

about 6 years ago

Hi Judith. Thanks for your very kind words! Yes, there is a some research and a lot of nuance involved in getting the tone just right. The voice of the brand is 80% of who you are but 20% of who you are trying to become as an organization. So you need to tap into the inspirations of the industry and aspirations of the organization. Supporting tools are also helpful to move the process forward including a custom style guide that contains brand vocabulary, brand usage guidelines, guiding principles, a well-defined employee value proposition and a clearly articulated vision. Most organizations can start their journey by simply speaking more conversationally and more authentically and then paying close attention to employee feedback. When you've struck the right chord, employees will let you know.


about 6 years ago

This is a refreshing article Paul. I love that you consciously discuss tone as part of the brand promise. In my world (of conflict resolution) most people are unconscious of their tone (and gestures) and the message that they put out. If more people focused on the tone they use internally as well as externally we will see increased employee engagement and less workplace conflict. Thank you for a great article.

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