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The Voice of Your Brand

In addition to visual stimuli, brands also do a fair amount of communicating through language. Using both the written and the spoken word, brands need to engage in dialog with their markets. Of course, brands should mostly be listening. But, on occasion, they’ll need to answer a question or impart some important information. When that happens, it’s important for the brand to affect the correct demeanor – the right voice – so as to elicit a positive response from the market. The potential voices to choose from range from austere to zany. These days, as America, grows more casual, corporate voices are trending away from the deadly serious end of the scale. The most serious national, brand spokesman I could find is Dennis Haysbert for Allstate Insurance. And even he delivers his lines with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye. I guess, in these troubling times, nobody wants to be the voice that tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you have to eat your vegetables. Consumers won’t stand for it. So how does one determine the proper voice for one’s brand? And how does one formalize it?

First let’s distinguish between voice and tone. Your brand’s voice reveals your brand’s “personality”. It should authentically reflect “who” the company is, as a collective. It should come across as a reliable confidant, consistent and loyal to its market. Think of two imaginary friends. One is kind of wild and spontaneous; the other is studied and reserved. But both are good friends to you. Both care about you and your family. Both are there for you when things get tough. These are like two brands that you may have let into your life. They should have two distinct voices. Just because one brand is more free-and-easy than the other doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable to you.

Now imagine these two voices speaking to you about something that’s really positive, truly worth celebrating. How would the casual brand address that? How excited would it get? How would the more formal brand tell to you about it? It would probably still upbeat but less out of control. On the flip side, how would these two brand voices talk to you about a serious, difficult subject? How a single brand voice addresses happy and somber topics requires a moderation of tone.

Voice reflects the brand’s “personality” and should be consistent in all cases. Tone adapts to the message and so must be variable.

This is why even the wildest and craziest brands must think about how that zany personality would speak to a difficult, but unavoidable, subject. And the most stone-cold serious brands must consider how they would express a celebratory mood.

Ask Boardwalk to find your true, authentic voice.

These days, as mentioned above, no brands are taking on super-serious personalities. Even business sectors like banking, insurance and credit – considered to be among the most formal and stodgy of enterprises – are opting to go casual, even zany. Nobody really wants to deal with banking, insurance or credit. For most of us, it’s a necessary chore. (I won’t say evil.) It’s like doing your homework or eating your vegetables. So these companies are trying to be more fun. They’re trying to be more human, more approachable.

After establishing Dennis Haysbert as their #1 spokesperson, Allstate added a new campaign featuring actor Dean Winters who plays a character called Mayhem. This campaign sells the exact same products that the Haysbert campaign does. But it does it with wild humor, using a completely different voice and tone. Does having two completely different campaigns, with two completely different voices work for Allstate? I guess it must because they’ve been running both for years. Maybe it’s an insurance thing. Look at Geico’s varied campaigns. But, for most brands, one voice is probably all you want.

To find that voice, the wise marketer looks to the business’s brand platform. What purpose does this product or service play in the life of our customers? What emotional benefit do they feel when they buy from us? How do we intend to fulfill our purpose and deliver that emotional benefit? How are we positioned versus our competition? What voices are they using? Do we want our voice to be similar? Or do we want to speak in stark contrast to the other voices in the sector?

A careful exploration of these issues will uncover the kind of messaging you should be doing and, in turn, what sort of voice is best suited to deliver that messaging. Take your time making this decision. You’ll be living with it for years.


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