We live in a world of tremendous excess: full-on branding sensorial assault at every turn. Brands that truly understand the consumer, and “speak” to them, are rare, but once in a while, a brand stands out from the clutter. They connect with consumers in a way no other does, and it’s not just because of flashy gimmicks. It feels as if these brands understand the consumer and this is when brand voice is done right―the power of language, words, and tone truly compels consumers to trust, believe, and act.
While most brands devote resources to identifiable styles of imagery, color, and design, voice seems like a much less tangible investment to grasp. And even when organizations spend time thinking about what to say, not nearly enough time is spent on how it should be said. Voice is a piece of the implementation puzzle that tends to be an afterthought for most brands because, surely, the product or service should speak for itself. However, industries are filled with competitors sounding just like the next guy, and consumers are left alone to navigate a sea of homogeneous sounding brands.
Creating a distinct, powerful brand voice is tough, and sticking to it is even tougher. Beyond that, voice reflects personality, and people change―now even faster than ever before. Evolving brand voice, as fast as consumers’ tastes do, requires keeping a pulse on the people you interact with, and having the nimbleness to talk as they talk.
So what does it really take to begin the journey of finding your voice?
Customers are people
This seems easy enough, but yet we are all guilty of thinking of customers as enigmatic, faceless units. We program how we talk about ‘Product Benefits’ and ‘What We Offer’ because we think that those words on a page are all ‘the customer’ is looking for. Knowing who you are speaking to is everything.
What inspires them to get up in the morning? How do they communicate with the ones they are closest to? What are their joys and struggles in their current life stage? These are the kinds of questions marketers should be seeking answers to in consumer research―beyond the numbers and charts. Using this frame of mind, brand voice is fundamentally shifted. Brands that do this well are mindful of the personalities they are trying to reach. Instead of communicating to a faceless individual, they effectively make the conversation a lot more personal by speaking with Tim, the IT expert and avid biker, who loves spending time with his two kids, for example.
Red Bull is one brand that really embraces this approach. It clearly understands and connects with people who live for adrenaline. Sure, it does so through much more than verbal expression, but its tone is consistently action-oriented and uplifting, and its words always inspire the next adventure. Speaking to its audience like they are real people makes Red Bull stand out in its industry for being the energy drink that gets what it means to be active.
Be yourself, be different
In today’s ultra-social world, it takes a lot of guts to be honest about who you are. It has become easy to hide behind digital facades and industry jargon, but people can very easily see through brands that throw around clichés and corporate speak. A brand needs to live and breathe authentically in order to make real connections. Brand voice can allow your true personality to speak for itself. It is a powerful way to stand out among competition, by telling your story in a way that no other does.
In the health care industry, MD Anderson is a shining star. Through verbal expression, it injects life and hope into a subject matter, cancer, which is not always hopeful. It does not skirt around the topic at hand, but instead embraces it as a reality through active voice about what they are doing to make cancer history together with its patients.
Let dialogue flow
We all want to feel connected to each other, and we want to feel understood. We live in an era where social sharing is a way of life―we are broadcasting our thoughts in 140 characters, we are posting photos in real time, and we are revealing our exact location when we stop for a snack at a food truck. The same goes for the relationships consumers seek with brands. Brands needs to engage in a two-way dialogue, and interact with people in a meaningful way to create advocacy.
Zipcar uses a light, approachable tone of voice. A social service by nature, speaking like a layman is par for the course. By uncovering and sharing stories about how its members are using the service, the ‘don’t take it from us’ section on its home page brings humanness to the brand by sharing what is so great about it without using the word ‘product benefits.’ These personal tales show that Zipcar really cares about what it does for the people it serves. Also, by allowing people to share these short anecdotes, Zipcar is taking cues from how its members are speaking and mirroring that tone of voice. The social dialogue Zipcar facilitates offers ongoing insights into how its consumers think and speak. And, for any brand today, that real-time insight is invaluable.
Many organizations have great potential to express their brand verbally, they just need to voice those promises in a way that brings that greatness to life. Make what you say count and let your personality shine through in the way you speak―and be amazed at what your brand’s voice can inspire.