Voice guide part 1: Overview

Intro to a series on writing a voice guide for your product

Yael Ben-David
4 min readMay 21, 2024

You’ve heard of voice. You’ve heard of tone. You may even know why they’re important — but not much about how to about getting and applying one. I’m going to share a multi-part series to help out. Part 1 is an overview of what product voice is.

Voice is the personality of your product.

If your product was a person, how would you describe their personality? What is your immediate impression of them when you meet for a first drink? How would you describe them after getting to know them better over time? Are they fun or erudite? Are they philosophical or grounded, more interested in the concrete here and now, than thought experiments and dreams? The words you use to describe your product voice are words you’d use to describe a human you know.

Voice manifests in content and character.

It’s both what the person chooses to speak about as well as how they sound that makes up a personality. For example, I may have two friends who are both really intense but one is a stay-at-home mom constantly researching child development and measuring her kid, while the other is a single-by-choice person who attends all engineering-related conferences around the world and codes in all their free time. Those sound like different people. I also may have a third friend who also loves coding conferences and spends all her free time blogging about the latest tech… but her blog is full of lighthearted puns and at every conference she posts duckface selfies. The first two share character (intense) but not content, the last two share content (coding) but not character. They each have a unique personality (voice). You need to decide the voice of your product and express it in content and character. What do you talk about and how?

Voice should be consistent.

Your voice should not change throughout the product experience. In fact, it should also be in sync with the marketing brand voice. Otherwise, marketing is like a profile in a dating app which ends up communicating something very different than what the first in-person date is actually like. Yuck. Pick a voice, describe your personality. Express it through your choices of what to write about and how. Stick with it.

There is an exception. People do change. They shouldn’t change from interaction to interaction — that would be weird and you would likely trust them less, be less comfortable around them, and spend less time together. But people can change once or twice-ish in a lifetime. Say, after a traumatic event, or a mind-blowing epiphany on a retreat in the wilderness. They may come back a changed person, talking about different things and speaking in a different way. That’s OK and that happens in product voice too.

I worked for a company where we decided to shift upmarket. We wanted to switch from a voice that resonated with the persona of a struggling smalltime entrepreneur and spoke about getting financing to make payroll in an empathetic way; to a voice that resonated with the persona of an entrepreneur on the up and up and started to speak about getting financing to invest in new marketing campaigns in a forward-looking way. But once we made the shift, we stayed consistent.

Voice needs to resonate with your audience, not every audience.

In The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Clifford Nass talks about how language is uniquely human and therefore we automatically expect interactions using language to feel human, even if the interaction is with a machine. Some humans we like, others we don’t. And some of the humans I like, you won’t and vice versa. When we choose a product voice we choose in part, based on who it is we hope to resonate with. I want to use the content and character that will connect with my audience, even if it won’t connect with someone else’s. We all know that person who tries to win over everyone. It doesn’t tend to work. Better to hone in on the users your product is for and be the personality that connects with them at the expense of those your product is not for.

Next time we’ll start to put together a product voice, from where to start your research, to how to document a useful set of guidelines.