The brand voice, which we marketers understand to be the purposeful, consistent expression of your brand through the written language you use, has extra functionality in the world of software as a service (SaaS). At the most basic level, when we decide what a brand should sound like, we are also figuring out what we value as a company, who we want to be to our customers and what specific promise we are making them.
In the SaaS world, marketers must take a nuanced, detailed approach to brand voice. That’s partly because we are doing B2B marketing and targeting narrow, highly specific audiences, typically with the aid of personas. You may even have two sets of personas — the former for the users of your product and the latter for other audiences. The bottom line is the blanket approach does not work for SaaS. Selling software to a busy, skeptical person is not the same as selling beer to someone who is thirsty.
SaaS marketers should also think about the role words play in interaction design. Ideally, your in-product copy is more than a dry, technical, buttoned-up instruction manual. Words can transform a merely navigable product into one that is a joy to use. More often than not, the product that is a joy to use will be the buyer’s preferred choice.
Here’s the winning combo: clear language that elevates your product’s ease of use paired with conversational language that anticipates what users want to feel. You can read more about the function of the brand voice in UX copywriting in my previous post.
Finessing one’s brand voice is an epic task. What I’m mainly hoping to do here is to give you some food for thought on your journey. Let’s get inspired by analyzing what’s working for three stellar SaaS brands.
What it does: Slack is a hugely popular (read: 500,000 daily users) workplace team communication tool. It’s great for breaking down communication silos in larger companies and encouraging more frequent, tight-knit conversations in virtual offices. Some enterprising individuals have also set up Slack channels for knowledge-sharing within an occupation or industry. For example, I’m fairly active in this CMX Community Manager channel.
Why their brand voice works: The Slack designers know the tool won’t work if it isn’t slightly addictive to use. To encourage widespread user adoption, the in-product copy creates a lively, funny and distinctively offbeat water cooler atmosphere. As Andrew Wilkinson put it, “Slack acts like your wise-cracking robot sidekick, instead of the boring enterprise chat tool it would otherwise be.”
The Slack voice — cheerful, random and unapologetically fond of emoji — is also used to share tips and announcements to Slack users on social media. Since the tool itself is so chatty, using the same voice on social media cements a sense of familiarity.
What it does: MailChimp helps individuals and businesses send better email. In marketer/SaaS speak, they are an email marketing service provider. They send 10 billion emails each month. How crazy is that? Content marketing. It is a thing.
It is MailChimp’s job to hold our hand as we upload mailing lists, customize email templates, populate email templates with our own content and send out our finished product. That’s where their brand voice does the heavy lifting.
Why their brand voice works: MailChimp’s voice prioritizes clarity and encouragement. Their in-program copy has a direct impact on the product’s overall usability and atmosphere. Simple instructions, followed by seemingly collaborative cheerleading, contribute to MailChimp’s success as an email marketing tool.
What’s great about MailChimp is that even though they have to be crystal clear with their prescriptive copy, they know when and where to inject levity. After you have painstakingly edited copy and checked every link in an email, it feels good to hit send and high-five the monkey. Like their impressive style guide says, MailChimp is “helpful but not overbearing, expert but not bossy, weird but not inappropriate.” The company gets bonus likeability points for its ability to take a joke.
What it does: Intercom is a sophisticated customer communication tool for web and mobile businesses. It’s important for Intercom’s users to know they can find exactly what they need, when they need it. Intercom supports fast-paced, performance-based work environments and therefore needs to strike the right tone.
Why their brand voice works: Intercom’s voice works for the same reason that Slack and MailChimp’s voice works. It is designed to enhance the functionality of its product and the feeling that its users get from using it. Intercom's brand voice is decisive, empowering, energetic and precise. Intercom makes me want to chug a Red Bull and get a hundred things done.
For a textbook-worthy example of excellent web copy, head over to their website. It takes serious work to write copy that is so short, clear, and in line with what customers and prospective customers are looking for. Here’s a good breakdown of why Intercom’s messaging is so effective with useful examples of what to avoid in your web copy.
Intercom’s brand voice is entirely appropriate for what it is. Although there’s been a shift away from a stiff corporate tone to a more casual tone across the board, it’s not something that every brand should do. Authenticity comes from understanding what your audience needs. Receiving whimsical messaging from this product during an interaction with an irate customer would come across as remarkably tone deaf.
And there you have it: Three SaaS brands demonstrating a spectrum of voices. Note that for each example, the brand’s most marked characteristic isn’t their downfall. Slack is playful but still helpful, especially for the power users. MailChimp is meticulous but generous with praise and humor. And Intercom is serious, but doesn’t come across as boring or old.
Are there brand voices that inspire you? Let us know in the comments.