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August, 2018 Craig Motlong

Cutting through with voice

Modern brand principle: Cutting through with voice

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Voice is one of those things that you know when you hear it. It’s easy to tune out, especially if we’ve heard it before, like preflight instructions given by flight attendants. And then Air New Zealand goes and does something like this.

That tells me that I’m on an airline with a sense of humor, going to a magical place, and that my journey is going to be epic. But listen to the words: it’s the same safety instructions every other airline is required by law to use.
The difference is voice.

Some brands are defined through their voice. The major difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola isn’t in the formula, or the logos, or the iconic bottles. It’s in how they talk to you. Coke has always been about friendship, and sharing, and community, from when they invented the red suit of Santa Claus to when Mean Joe Greene tossed his jersey to a kid. Pepsi’s all about youth, excitement, what’s next, from Michael Jackson (successful) to Kendall Jenner (not so much). The reason flavored soda water has legions of brand loyalists is because of that tone of voice.

Voice can help you differentiate in crowded markets. Clothing brand Marine Layer talks like their clothes feel: soft, casual and relaxed. Patagonia earnestly wants you to put your money where your environmentalism is, inspiring you to pitch in and help. Cotopaxi invites you to join a tribe of thrill-seeking adventure junkies who turn every weekend into outdoor possibilities. They all sell casual clothes. They are all well-made, fashionable, and comfortable. But the voice they each use is individual and distinct, inviting a whole different set of customers into their tent.

Voice can help create an opening where there isn’t one. Nobody needed another instant messaging client, until Slack made IM fun again. They stripped away all the inessentials from a chat client and just got back to basics. Their refreshing, minimalist let’s-have-fun voice helps customers feel like Slack isn’t just another chat. Their business model, combined with an authentic and thoughtful tone, made Slack the fastest growing startup ever, earning $1 billion in two years.

Voice is where brands come out to play. Voice can be serious or playful, intense or laid-back, professional or casual. But there is one inviolable rule: you have to stay true to yourself. American Express is never going to be a laugh riot. Target’s not suddenly going to start being super serious. Taco Bell isn’t going to start appealing to your inner gourmet. Knowing who you are to customers is half the battle. Once you have that stake in the ground, you can start to hone your voice, and learn what resonates most with customers.

This is modern branding: being clear about what you say, and intentional about how you say it. If you master your voice and connect with an audience consistently and creatively, it leads to experiences that customers never forget.

Your brand voice is an essential part of your identity. Let us know how we can help you find it.

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