Sadly, the vast majority of brand communications today fail to achieve their objectives for several reasons. They lack clarity. They present conflicting messages. They often don’t even pay lip service to themes and messages integral to their communications.
The most effective brand voices are the result of a singular and powerful vision that is nurtured in environments that encourage innovation and excellence in communication.
The digital challenge to voice
Over the last 20 years, the digital revolution has raised the din of marketing communications exponentially, radically altering the messaging environment with its speed, novelty and noise. Every marketer needs to recalibrate his or her brand voice to find the right pitch and tone, and the ideal volume to be heard. This dynamic has forced organizations to:
- move from one-way communications to a dialogue
- incorporate personalization, flexibility and simplicity
- react instantly to rumor, speculation and criticism on the Internet
- convert brand communications to proliferating digital platforms
- build social responsibility into brand voice
- appropriately translate English for multi-national markets
Brand voice becomes a strong bond in shaping the strategies behind identity. A well-developed brand voice drives all communications to project a consistent personality and reinforce the customer experience. It’s the “red thread” running through every touchpoint and new media to reputation management.
Brand voice lessons
The following are 10 lessons that can provide a roadmap for brand stewards.
1. Create a clear, concise statement defining identity lays the foundation for building a sustainable voice throughout company communications.
2. Develop a short, overarching brand purpose — the reason for being in business and the calling your company follows in the market and society — should replace lengthy, generic mission / vision statements.
3. Leverage the intellectual power of the organization rather than seeking answers from customers about positioning, messaging, architecture and narrative. Try this inside-out approach to shake things up by inviting storytellers, investigative reporters, artists and even poets to participate in brainstorming sessions.
4. Authenticity is critical to voice. Projecting a vision of the corporation with a conscience is paramount. People want organizations to live up to values while owning up to mistakes.
Take CVS’ decision to stop selling tobacco products, which sent a purposeful message – at an expense of $2 billion in tobacco products sales. CVS has maintained profitable growth due to strong performance in its pharmacy services.
5. Always expect the unexpected. Today, anyone can inflict lasting damage on a brand within seconds, forcing businesses to have organizational voice programs in place with digital experts empowered to quickly and effectively respond.
6. Suppot meaningful conversations. Audiences are no longer passive.
7. A brand’s master narrative needs to incorporate stories that create emotional connections and promote loyalty.
8. To connect with audiences, brands must humanize, personalize and bring clarity to their voices. Clarity is the ultimate sophistication in an age of dissonance.
9. Virtually all organizations with a distinctive voice have a visionary leader who is unwilling to compromise the brand’s core values; one who creates a culture that encourages employees to live the brand voice. Courageous business leaders recognize the most powerful instrument for them to communicate is to live their brand. They must strive to reinforce their purpose, positioning and messages that drive their culture.
10. AI is rapidly creating a voice-centric world where virtual assistants will become the preferred communication platform. As more people use bots to gather information, to review and order goods and services, they will revolutionize how consumers interact with the marketplace.
Today, as marketers focus on migrating brand voice to new platforms, maintaining the essential personality of an organization will require new ways of dealing with consumer interactions. And, while the future poses many challenges, a coherent brand voice, supported by a pro-social brand purpose, will become even more important to success.
Over five decades, Alan Siegel has gained the stature of pillar of the establishment and provocative iconoclast while building Siegel+Gale, one of the leading global brand consultancies. In 2011, Alan created Siegelvision, a new company focused on solving tough branding and communications problems for purpose-driven organizations, non-profits and institutions of higher education.