Branding Bots Part 3: Apply Voice, Tone, & Persona to Conversational Apps

Lauren Golembiewski

This post is part three of my series on branding bots. Throughout the series, I explore the most important conversational branding elements and how conversation designers and teams can apply those elements to their voice and chat apps 

In Branding Bots Part 1 and Branding Bots Part 2, I review what voice, tone, and persona are and how they can be used to represent brands in conversational apps. In this post, I cover how to apply voice, tone, and persona to conversational apps.

Conduct User Research

Developing a successful conversational brand relies on understanding the bot users’ values, needs, and desires. Conversational interaction is more intimate than typical screen-based interactions and often very open-ended—meaning users can type or say anything to the bot. Because of this intimate, open-ended nature, conversational branding requires a deep understanding of users’ expectations and emotions.

Research is the foundation of any conversation design process and every team in an organization can benefit from having a deeper understanding of the bot’s users. Although there are many ways to gain user insight, you can learn a lot simply by talking directly to users in the environment where they would be interacting with the bot. These contextual user interviews help you understand the Jobs to be Done and gather insights about the users’ values, concerns, and language. User interviews and other design research like competitive brand analysis, surveys, and data analysis lay the foundation for the brand direction.

Usability testing is another opportunity to test the conversational brand direction and assets. Add conversational brand elements to Wizard-of-Oz prototypes to test how well the brand is being represented and whether they impact the bot’s usability. Branding impacts nearly every part of a business and evolves as the business matures. Focus on the conversational brand throughout the entire design process and iterate on it as you discover more about the bot’s users. A research-driven approach where teams observe how the branding impacts the bot’s users and usability results in the most functional and engaging conversational brand. 

Complete Branding Exercises

Branding exercises are a helpful device for establishing the qualities of a brand that impact the conversation design process. These exercises align the various roles in a business that impact conversational branding—like writers, designers, and marketers—around the conversational brand direction and encourage teams to generate guidelines and examples that make the  brand direction concrete. While there are a plethora of exercises that can be optimized for any brand and team, the following are a few examples especially helpful for conversational branding: 

  • The Three-Hour Brand Sprint - This is a compressed set of branding exercises meant to be completed within a few hours. It’s great for teams early in the process of creating or iterating on a conversational brand.
  • Building a StoryBrand - This book contains an actionable brand storytelling exercise which provides a concise way to center both brand and users in a cohesive story. 
  • Freddish - This is a branding exercise Voxable created based on Freddish—the set of rules developed and used by Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood writers to maintain the consistency of Fred Rogers’ dialogue throughout every episode of his iconic show.

Create a Conversational Brand Guide

Conversational branding and design decisions should be maintained in a living document that can be shared across teams. The exact format of the conversational brand guide is not important other than it should be something that works for your unique business and team needs. The conversational brand guide can be incorporated into existing brand documentation or exist separately. Collaborative web editors like Google Docs, Atlassian Confluence, or Notion are good options for brand documentation as they’re easily accessible and can be iterated upon by any team member as the conversational brand matures. 

Topics to cover in the conversational brand guide include:

  • Voice - Characteristics of the conversational brand voice 
  • Tone - Tonal shifts important to the brand’s conversational use cases and examples for how the bot should respond in specific situations such as: 
  • Persona - Character profile with a kit of brand assets including avatar, sonic logo, sound effects, animations, images, and more
  • Emoji -  Emoticon dictionary defining what the conversational brand uses to signify common concepts or patterns
  • Style - Common language patterns, punctuation, and capitalization rules that should remain consistent across the conversational brand  
  • Words to use/avoid - Terms that should and should not be incorporated into the brand’s language

Understanding the bot users’ needs and how conversational branding affects users is key to determining what conversational brand elements you should define. Document branding and design decisions in a conversational brand guide to keep the branding consistent as you collaborate on, update, and extend the bot. 

Documentation of emoji use in a chatbot brand guide

Build a Character Profile

User journeys established in the research phase should serve as a plot device for the bot’s character. Think about how the bot’s character responds and evolves as users interact with it to create a more impactful story arch within the voice or chat app.

Create a character profile to describe the bot’s qualities, history, and motivation. The profile can include the bot’s:

  • Avatar
  • Archetype
  • Name
  • Origin Story
  • Super Powers
  • Flaws (this might weave into the conversation how the character is automated and prone to mistakes)
  • Lingo
  • Gender
  • Values

Some of these characteristics may not make sense for every brand, so consider any existing branding and the conversational use case when you create the bot’s profile. For inspiration in creating character profiles, check out the Dungeons and Dragons character template

You also can pull illustration inspiration from sites like Dribbble, Designspiration, Motionographer, and Pixar. Great illustrators and animators are fantastic resources when building a character and can help you provide direction to the people creating visual brand elements. 

Example of a character profile

Incorporate Sonic Brand Elements

If you’re designing a voice or multimodal app, consider incorporating sonic brand elements into the conversational branding. Each of these aural devices can be used to build or reinforce brand recognition and improve user experience. Sonic brand elements include:

  • Sonic logo - Sound effect designed to accompany a visual logo in a multimodal interaction or replace a logo in an audio-only interaction (e.g. NBC chimes or HBO static)
  • Intro music - Music associated with a brand that’s played at the start of a piece of content
  • Outro music - Music associated with a brand that’s played at the end of a piece of content
  • Hold/wait music - Music associated with a brand that’s played while users are on hold or waiting
  • UI sounds - Sound effects that accompany any interaction with the bot
  • Sound effects - Tones associated with a brand that can be incorporated into interactions

Brands can either invest in professional sound production services or investigate free options to incorporate sonic brand elements into the bot’s branding. Regardless of which option you choose, think about what sonic elements might resonate with the bot’s users and gather inspiration from existing creative assets. Start by exploring these free sound resources:

Continue on to Branding Bots Part 4: Improve Conversational Branding to learn how to improve user experience by extending and iterating on a conversational brand.

Check out the entire Branding Bots series: