When branding pioneer Alan Siegel coined the term “brand voice” back in the mid-’80s, he labored in a command-and-control, print-dominated, single-screen media ecology where the annual report was king. Today, as the triple-screen universe converges with the next web, brand voice has emerged as the key to successfully engaging consumers whose light-speed social media networks can determine a brand’s fate virtually overnight.
With the meaning of a brand wide open to public interpretation and prone to hyperbole and misconceptions, corporate managers must thread a thicket of sticky challenges to successfully communicate brand mission, values, and philosophy. Moreover, as brands become the publishers of their own unfolding stories, they need intelligent editors who can provide stakeholders with a stream of high-value content that is packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and rooted in empathy. Anything less will not suffice in a world where consumers can simply click away or spin around and mount a Web-wide counter-attack on brands that refuse to walk the walk.
Remember content, the foundation of conversation.
Content is the key to brand voice, but brands, to date, have a poor record of strategically engaging in meaningful conversations with consumers (aka people). Brand stewards must recognize that content is but a means to the end. Content drives conversations. Conversation is the way to engage people. Engaging with people is the only way brands will survive and thrive in a social mediated environment. And, it is the corporate, the brand voice that defines the brand personality for better or worse.
How can marketers craft a brand voice that will inspire and support the brand mission? It starts with people who project their expectations and aspiration onto brands and seek fulfillment through the brand relationship. Brands, like people, have characters that set the boundaries of potential relationships, in terms of appropriate content, style, voice, and diction.
Talk their language.
Start by listening carefully to your brand constituents, both to their voice and to their chief concerns; their brand expectations. To foster positive relationships, a brand must cultivate a distinctive personality and talk straight to its audience, engaging them on their terms. The first rule: Put the consumer first. Learn to talk their language.
Next, determine the brand story line, your distinctive point of view based on the brand mission, its raison d'etre. If the brand managers don’t know and heartily agree on the brand text, don’t expect consumers to get it either. Before you take the first step toward engagement, get your story straight, edit it concisely, and pledge to stick to the script as you enter the multichannel media world.
Who gets to tell the brand story? All brands needs human voices, rather than a droning corporate Hal, whether the channel be television, Facebook, Twitter, or a White Paper. Spokesperson recruits must project as peers of their audiences, no talking up or down. Enthusiasm backed by solid knowledge, prepped by proper media training is required of those who handle Twitter or customer service incomings, as well as the CEO who addresses financial stakeholders.
Focus on the Audience
The brand focus should be squarely fixed on the concerns of its audiences, not its own problems, if you hope to foster trust. Do the research. Determine what consumers want from your brand. Review the brand heritage; explore the brand essence. Then write stories that deliver brand truths in conversational, emotional tones. No preaching or hard selling, simply telling with the goal of helping to ease some aspect of someone’s daily burden, whether it's stress, home maintenance, or financial planning.
The more people can relate to the brand as a distinctive, trust-worthy personality (read, individual), the more approachable it will become, and a deeper customer relationship (loyalty and engagement) will develop.