… and how to get it right
A while ago, I was watching a TV commercial and it took me three seconds to figure out that it was a Versace commercial. That was before I saw their brand logo wiggling at the right top corner, or noted they used a different model this time. Apparently, I must have subconsciously recognized something that was exclusive to their brand.
That something is Brand Voice – The secret sauce that makes your content instantly recognizable, conveys your brand’s core values, and keeps your audience hooked to your content.
Brand Voice – More than a Buzzword
Brand Voice is a phrase hurled around a lot, but only a few marketers dive into what it really means. Simply put, brand voice is the purposeful expression of your brand through the tone you set, the words you choose, and the sentences you write – and it is reflected loud and clear every time you tweet, send an emailer, post a blog, release an ad slogan, or address a rant on your social account.
Brand voice seems, at best, to be a mere abstraction. One might wonder where to even start with such an intangible thing.
Think of it this way – If your brand was a person, would the onlookers think of you as the hip, artsy, in-the-know guy owning the dinner discussions; the geek whose smartwatch seem to have been ordered from the future; the warm and sensible aunt who you wouldn’t mind sharing your secrets with; or an ageing accountant trying very hard to be funny but failing at it. Personifying your brand can be a good start to finding and cultivating your brand voice.
Why does it matter anyway?
It does because today’s audience, especially millennials, are fed up of being advertised at. They expect brands to resonate with them on a personal level, valuing authenticity and intimacy over plain facts and information.
And one way to be authentic is to have a human, relatable and consistent brand voice.
5 Steps to Cultivating Your Brand Voice
1. Listen, without waiting for your turn to speak.
What most brands don’t realize is that brand voice is not a monologue, it’s a two-way conversation. Keep rambling about what product you sell or what service you offer, and your audience is going to lose interest, sooner or later.
You get the point (and you must be yawning too). Most brands overload the prospects with a laundry list of features, failing to realize that customers simply don’t care. All they care about is what's in it for them. As marketers, you need to tell them how your product/service makes their life easier, their waist line thinner or their bottom line better.
Not just that, you must respond promptly both to their love and bitterness. A recent study suggests that 43% users interact with brands on social media only to get a direct response to a query or complaint.
Here’s a nifty trick – Mirroring the customer’s voice is a proven way to develop an instant rapport. Say you run a fashion retail store. One of your satisfied customers post a comment on your Facebook page, “I’m so in luvvv with my new sling bag.” You might consider thanking her in the same tone “So glad, you luvvved it!”
Now get out there and talk to them, not at them. Learn it from Netflix.
Netflix has earned quite a reputation for inspiring the consistent flow of engagement from fans across the globe, not just at premier of the shows but after the initial binge as well. How? The brand just doesn’t keep people updated on its content in its own quirky ways, but also do social listening, actively participating in the ongoing conversations.
2. It’s simple until you make it complicated.
The other day I called my friend asking her if she would like to go out for a quick snack.
To my horror, here’s what she said –
“Wait … I’ve already had 600 calories in the brunch; 800 calories in the lunch and 400 calories in the evening. Damn that hamburger! I’m done for the day. I won’t mind a low-carb green salad washed down with a Diet Coke though. Okay, I’ll come!”
Did I go with her? No way!
Now here’s the funny thing – Most brands out there talk to their customers this way. A highly colloquial, dialectic or slang language is, at most times, inappropriate even when it comes from our own people, let alone brands. Even if your content is about ‘all business’ or hard facts, prefer human-speak over highly convoluted or meaningless jargon. Using simple and accessible language can also inspire a deeper sense of trust and intimacy. Heist totally nails it.
Notice the brevity and simplicity in the text, the white space, and the words they use.
3. Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
In today’s age of digital noise where brands from everywhere seem to be grappling for consumers’ attention, you can’t afford to sound like everyone else – unless you are planning to get lost in the noise. It’s tempting to pick a successful brand and replicate its tone of voice, but there’s a difference between inspiration and imitation. Your brand voice has to be uniquely yours, bridging a strong connection to your business’ values, not anyone else’s. Having a distinct, original brand voice gives a distinct personality to your communication, setting you apart in the overcrowded digital neighborhood. Innocent Drinks is my personal favorite.
Just see how succinctly original, playful, and easy-going their tone of voice is, or even the navigation menu for that matter.
4. If you want to be taken seriously, be consistent.
The ability to find the right content that sticks to the tone of voice is tricky – to do so consistently is trickier.
Look at this example –
Dissonance is all over this copy. One minute they employ ‘we mean business’ tone, and the next minute they're trying to sound Jim Carey-ish with a hip and laid back attitude. Sending such mixed signals is exceptionally effective at confusing consumers, losing their trust and eventually driving them away!
It’s all quite simple actually. Why do you think most of us always buy the same brand of coffee or perfume? As humans, we’re hard-wired to prefer consistency. And so, marketers must adhere to a consistent brand voice, across all platforms. Period. Buzzfeed’s a perfect example.
I’ve subscribed to BuzzFeed newsletter and it’s an absolute delight to receive one every other day. From their witty subject lines (the subject line of this one was – Oh! The irony) to the captivating headlines, these people surely know how to bag clicks and claps, and consistently so!
5. Don’t be funny (or anything else), just for the sake of it.
You were just browsing by when you stumbled upon a quirky copy from a brand. Giving in to your temptation, you tweaked it and posted it on your Twitter page – knowing well it doesn’t make much sense for your brand.
Would you be surprised if it doesn’t go well with your audience?
What most brands forget is that not every brand needs to wear a funny label on its sleeve. If you are in an overly serious business and not targeting 20-somethings, you don’t need to go out of your way to crack a joke. It would seem as if one of the GenXers is hopping on to the millennial bandwagon, trying to come off as all hip-n-cool with his ‘Yo mama’ avatar. Two words – Not funny.
If an insurance policy could talk, it would definitely sound different from a condom. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to expect, say a health insurance brand to sound like Durex? The former is all about guidance, reassurance and trustworthiness. The latter is exactly its opposite – Adventurous, edgy and fun (Uh, useful too).
The point – If your audience isn’t finding your jokes funny, better keep a straight face. But if you can pull off humour like Despair, Inc., why not?
Just look at the lingo they’re employing. With their outright hilarious tone, they surely impress their despaired prospects even before introducing their demotivating merchandise.
Figured Out the Voice? Now Set a Guideline
Wait. Are you pulling you hair already? I totally understand, nobody gets an adrenaline rush from the idea of setting up a guideline – and that too for brand voice.
Documentation is hard work, alright! But think of the pay-offs. Once you nail down the verbal identity, creating content becomes so much easier, not just for you but for your content successors – interns, freelancers and fellas – enabling them to communicate with a consistent style and tone across all the channels.
Documenting the nitty gritty of brand voice will ensure that everything the content team creates and publishes, is aligned with your overall branding strategy, be it in terms of culture and distinctiveness; integrity and tone; or pace and rhythm. It also serves as a scroll that keeps a check on the content guys from succumbing to the old ways, slipping back into clichés or differing their tone of voice across platforms.
MailChimp’s brand voice styleguide really stands out and fortunately enough; it has been put online for everyone to see.
As for our parting words, just remember, brand voice guideline is not something set in stone. It, too, must evolve over time, keeping pace with your audience’s whims.
That’s all folks!
Pulp Strategy helps businesses to tell their brand stories, in unique and engaging ways. We’ll be glad to have one of our branding experts map out a meticulous plan for you to finding and cultivating your brand voice.