voice in branding

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.





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It is a rarity in branding circles that you don’t hear references to “voice.”  A subset of voice is “tone and manner.”  Tone and manner are often found on creative briefs. They can be important so long as they, alone, are not carrying the brand directive. Voice or tone and manner often sound like this: “helpful and happy.” “caring and motherly,” or “innovative and direct.”  

Voice is a quality, not a strategy. A brand strategy is not built with tone, voice or personality – it is built upon a persuasive, business-winning, organizing principle (one claim, three support planks) — the components of which are both desired by consumers and well-delivered by the product.  When “what consumers want” is not well-delivered, that’s a problem. Not insurmountable, but it may curtail market share. It also may suggest segmentation opportunities. Not everyone likes anchovies.   

Voice is an adornment to a brand strategy. It can work well in support, but alone never carries the day. Peace!

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