You’re not Duolingo: How to create your own iconic brand voice

March 21st, 2024

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Esther Dawson
You’re not Duolingo: How to create your own iconic brand voice

The secret to creating a genuinely good brand voice is to forget about what everyone else is doing. Comparison is the thief of joy. And it's also the thief of creativity and originality.

Before you scroll on, I know how ironic that paragraph is and want to preface this article by saying that being inspired by other brands is very helpful, but attempting to imitate them won’t get you anywhere. Instead, you need to find a flavor unique to your brand.

If your brand voice has lost its spark (or maybe you haven't yet figured out how to capture that spark), this article will offer some steps to help bring you back to a place of creativity and originality. Let’s dive in!

A billboard by UK cereal brand, SURREAL (one of my favorite brands on LinkedIn at the moment)

First, why don’t we get on the same page? 📃

I've been through many a season of self-doubt when it comes to ODV's brand voice, so I know the journey well. And it goes a bit like this…

Your business grows, you want to work with bigger clients, so you decide it's time to 'elevate your brand voice'. And suddenly, you question everything - the silly pun you put in a post, the unhinged reel you published on Instagram, or the number of exclamation marks or emojis you use on LinkedIn.

Or maybe you've never had the confidence to push the boat out at all because you're worried that your brand will come across as juvenile or that you'll lose business because prospective clients think your brand voice feels, god forbid, silly.

Then, before you realize it, in an effort to become more 'professional', you sacrifice the best thing your brand ever had - relatability and humanity - AKA the very thing that your customers connected with in the first place.

This is the particular curse of many B2B businesses who seem to forget that they're marketing to other humans, not faceless, corporate businesses.

Now, it's one thing to know that this has happened to your brand on a cognitive level, but quite another to snap out of it.

You need help.

Hence this article.

My goal is to help you pave a path back to a brand voice that feels true to your brand AND connects deeply with your audience.

Why is brand voice so important? 📢

Let's lay some groundwork real quick.

A clear brand voice should underpin all communications coming from your brand: the way you reply to comments on social media, how you word an email sent to a potential client, the copy on your website, and every single social media post. The digital era has accelerated just how many points of communication a brand has with its audience, so brand voice is not exactly something you can chuck on the back burner.

The main benefit you will get from doing this is the creation of a consistent brand experience. Every interaction a prospective customer has with your business matters, and a stellar brand experience can be one of the biggest ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

As more products enter the market, consumers are becoming more overwhelmed by choice. One way to overcome the overwhelm is by building deeper emotional connections with your customers. They want to feel something when they engage with your brand, whether that be trust, safety, joy, or inspiration. And the more it happens, the more recognizable your brand will become.

Emotional connection is where all great brand voices find their success.

When Apple developed the iPod, Steve Jobs was very clear about the messaging – rather than pitching it as a light-weight, portable music player, their tagline was simple: "1,000 songs in your pocket". The feeling of wonder and desire this must have elicited? Priceless.

Big brands don't have to have all the fun, either. You can make a joyful corner of the internet where your brand voice shines and your audience genuinely loves seeing your content grace their feeds. After all, if you're going to take up space in a very cluttered digital environment, you better bring something memorable to the table.

Your brand voice can even become a selling point! Liquid Death is one of the hottest brands out there right now and they literally sell canned water. They know their product doesn't taste any different to all the other cans sitting next to them on the shelf, but what they do have is a highly attractive brand – communicated through packaging, copywriting, and advertising. The company recently raised a round of investment which valued the business at $1.4 billion, and it's only five years old. Needless to say, their funny and irreverent brand voice has brought them a lot of fans (600 to 800k monthly visitors, in fact).

How do you create an effective brand voice? 🗣️

Fundamentally, a brand requires a distinct personality, which it conveys through its unique voice.

Most articles you read on this topic will tell you to first begin by jotting down a bunch of personality traits that describe how you want your brand to come across.

My advice is to start with your target audience and work backwards.

Think about your customer as the hero in your brand story: everything you do must have them at the center.

Begin by asking yourself a few questions (my examples in italics):

  • Who is your audience? Marketing Managers.
  • What are they feeling? Confused about how to best use video in their marketing and overwhelmed by the advice they see online.
  • What do they need? Trusted advice and real examples of how video marketing can move the dial on business growth, alongside inspiring and creative ways to do that for themselves.
  • What is their end goal? To become a more confident and impactful marketer.

You've likely done an exercise like this for your own brand already, but by refreshing yourself with questions like these, you'll be reminded of what matters to your audience which will in turn help you to create a brand voice that resonates with them.

From the answers above, I might decide that my brand voice needs to be trustworthy and engaging, delivered through content that is genuinely helpful, but ALSO communicated in a way that stands out from the rest of the content my audience will be seeing online.

The first part is pretty straightforward: jot down what a trustworthy and helpful brand voice might look like through your content and writing style.

For example:

Trustworthy and helpful: speak with empathy and authority (e.g. "So many articles to read, not enough time! We've collated the internet's top tips when it comes to creating a video marketing strategy that actually works."), share content that is genuinely valuable to marketers, don't waste their time with overused language, focus each post on a single takeaway, and make them feel seen. Don’t shy away from using emojis.

The second part is all about creating a unique flavor to your voice, an edge that gets you noticed. It’s hard to do, but I strongly advise you don't skip this part. Nail this and your brand will start to feel like a real human which will in turn make it much easier to relate to.

Remember when I said that emotional connection is where all great brands find their success? Here are some examples.


I'm obsessed with this brand. They sell high-protein, low-sugar cereal and their brand voice is incredible.

I've only ever interacted with them on LinkedIn. It’s a weird place for a cereal brand to hang out perhaps, but what they understand is that LinkedIn is just full of a bunch of stressed out people who just want a laugh... and maybe a bowl of Cocoa Pops (without the sugar). They've tapped into a self-effacing brand voice that resonates with a lot of people.

This post is about their launch into Sainsbury's, which is only made clear if you make it to the 15th page of this carousel. But people obviously have because this post has 11,500 likes and over 220 shares.

They often pad out their social content with posts purely focused on engagement. They know that brand preference starts with brand love, and they get that love by creating some of the most entertaining and enjoyable content on LinkedIn. They also reply to most comments, tags, and reposts with some self-effacing remarks about how lame their lawyers are, how bad their sales reps are, and how the social content manager can't be bothered to do his job.

It's refreshing and hilarious and they receive all their engagement without putting a single cent into ad spend. In the age of personal brand, it's encouraging to see a brand doing so well on LinkedIn.

Liquid Death

Only five years old. Valued at $1.4 billion. Millions of followers on social media. Liquid Death is literally spring water in a can and they've created a truly polarizing brand that has both die-hard followers and die-hard enemies. They couldn't be happier about it, as evidenced in this post on Instagram.

Their brand voice is edgy, provocative, engaging, and prompts conversation (of all kinds). Like every good brand, this voice doesn't stop on their social media – you'll see the same tone continued across their website too. For example, to sign up for their newsletter (which already has over 220k subs) you have to 'sell your soul' to the company.

Back to you

Once you've figured out what your edge could be, it's time to experiment! But before you do that, share what you've written with the wider company so the rest of your team can embody the brand voice throughout every part of its operations. If your business requires internal comms, apply the personality there too. Your employees are your advocates and the clearer everyone is on your brand voice, the better your customers will understand it too. I have no doubt that Liquid Death's internal comms are absolute fire. 🔥

You've got your brand voice, now how are you going to apply it?

Consistency is key. Make sure your brand voice is applied across all parts of your marketing – website, newsletter, social media posts, the comments section, billboards, and your internal comms.

If you're making a major change, launch it with a bang! At ODV, we work with loads of clients who have gone through a rebrand and use high quality video production to launch their new brand voice into the world. It's very effective, especially if you want to introduce humor into the mix.

Here's a video we created for a construction SAAS product that was launching into Australia. They weren't well-known in that market yet but wanted to communicate their offering with humor and worked with us to create a mockumentary-style explainer video for their audience.

Watch the video here.

It's never too late for a change of voice. Here's a VERY famous brand who had a complete brand voice turnaround less than 12 months ago.


February 2023: typical Hubspot brand voice, friendly and helpful, cute carousel but nothing wildly special. Notice the engagement levels of a brand with over a million followers on LinkedIn – pretty low.

February 2024: Fast forward 12 months and this is one of MANY LinkedIn posts that follow the same vibe. No capitalisation, no image, a big focus on relatability, tapping into the struggles/joys of your everyday marketer. See the engagement level spike?

Ryan Air

This is another great example of a brand who skyrocketed their brand voice into the viral stratosphere by leveraging TikTok with their cheeky brand voice to get noticed. With very cheap flights and, some might argue, less than satisfactory service, Ryan Air doesn't shy away from meeting their complaints head on... usually by plastering eyes and lips on the front of an airplane. A very affordable strategy with pretty incredible success.

Back to you

Look, you might not be Ryan Air, Liquid Death, SURREAL, or Hubspot, but what you do have is room to experiment. With less followers comes more room to fail and try again. Find a personality that does the job of connecting with your audience on a human level while communicating the value proposition of your product or service. By simply sounding different to everyone else in your industry, you'll stand out!

But what if I can't get buy-in from the C-suite?

Send them this article! In all seriousness, I know that as a marketer half your job is selling your ideas internally, but there are a lot of stories about brands who have managed to get senior buy-in and as a result, skyrocketed their engagement! Duolingo is a golden example of this.

Zaria Parvez was a junior social media coordinator when she joined Duolingo, and after a year, she asked to take over the dormant TikTok account. Here's her advice on how to do it:

"Dream big, but iterate small. Think about where you want your brand to go and what you want it to be, then find smaller things you can iterate on to make that happen. A lot of people think that Duolingo’s TikTok was an overnight success. But it’s a consequence of us taking small risks and pushing it just a little bit at a time until the point we are at today. The risks we take today are probably not the risks we would have taken two years ago – there was a time when people were freaking out about us typing in all lower caps without proper punctuation because we are a language-learning app. Now, that’s not even questioned."

You can read the full interview here.

Do tests. See the response. It does take time to be known for something - back yourself and always come back to your audience.

Some final hot tips:

  • Don't be a copycat in a bid to go viral. In an effort to be like Duolingo or Ryan Air, you'll probably just come across as a cringey wannabe. Find a unique angle for yourself and as Zaria said, "Dream big but iterate small."
  • Develop your brand voice from the START – you can always reinvent yourself later (like Hubspot) but don't delay just because you're worried you won't get it right from the beginning. Think about SURREAL. Their strategy is literally based on playing around with FREE organic engagement. Brand experience is everything and it starts with the voice. You can iterate over time, sure, but you must start somewhere.
  • To all my B2B besties, it's time to get spicy! Remember, you're still marketing to humans, not faceless, heartless businesses.
  • Finally, remember that all of this is a dialogue. The more you can get your fans interacting with you, the better. The comment section is your best friend for playing with your brand voice. Have fun!

So, how are you feeling? Ready to give this thing a crack? I've given you some great examples to get your brain whirring, now forget about what everybody else is doing and start having fun.

The most important part is to stick with it! Watch your engagement metrics and notice the trends, spend time planning your content, and get your whole team involved. You might just be on the cusp of getting a massive leg up on your competitor, or creating a huge selling point for your brand.


Start growing your brand today.