I Recognize that Voice

Over Thanksgiving weekend, by husband and I watched lots of movies – it’s part of our tradition, since we aren’t football fans. As we were watching Wag the Dog, I started noticing the soundtrack, and thought “that sounds familiar – who is it?”. Of course, the internet makes it easy for these kinds of questions to be answered, so I quickly learned it was one of my favorite guitarists, Mark Knopfler. The music was created for the movie, so I wasn’t hearing immediately recognizable songs, but I recognized that the “voice” sounded familiar.

This got me thinking about how important it is for a brand to have a recognizable voice when it communicates, particularly in social channels. After all, we are hard-wired to recognize voices: a baby recognizes family voices almost immediately after birth. And research shows that familiarity helps to establish a better connection: people are more likely to listen to a voice they recognize.

I’m sure the same thing has happened to you; if not with music, then perhaps with a commercial that is being voiced by an actor often you’ve seen – and heard . You may have been watching an animated movie with your children and thought “well, of course, that’s Tom Hanks I’m hearing.”. That spark of recognition immediately creates a reaction, and adds context and understanding to the movie or commercial. There’s a reason that Tom Hanks is the voice of Toy Story’s Woody and not Sid, the mean kid next door.

To develop a recognizable voice over time, a brand must do at least three things:

  1. Speak regularly and consistently. It’s easier to recognize someone’s voice when you hear it at a time and place where it is expected, and when you hear that voice frequently. You don’t want to speak so much that you become annoying, but tweeting or posting once a week won’t cut it.
  2. Clearly identify your brand’s personality. We recognize people’s voices because of the timber, the rhythms, the accents of their speech. Before you can speak in a consistent voice, you must be able to articulate the complete personality of your brand. One approach that I have seen be very successful is Social Symphony’s Social Archetypeing™ approach, which helps a brand develop a “fully formed personality”. However you get there, it is essential for you to be able to articulate your brand’s personality in a way that will allow brand teams and agency partners to express that personality in a consistent manner.
  3. Bring the personality to life in words and pictures. Brand communications don’t always have an audio “voice-over” component, and in those channels, you must find ways to create a tone – a “voice” – through words or pictures. Think about what your brand’s personality would answer questions like:

– should the grammar always be perfectly correct? Would it be OK to use a phrase that isn’t technically correct (like Apple’s “think different”)?

– does the brand have a sense of humor? If so, is it a “laugh out loud” sort of voice, or is the humor more subtle? Would the humor have a poisitive tone or be more ironic?

– would it make sense to use colloquial expressions? Does the brand have a regional or national “accent”?

– should our photos include people? If so, should be people be reflective of only our target market? Would we use employees in our photos?

– should our imagery look professionally produced? Would it make sense to have photos look more informal, like snapshots?

– does our brand have a reason to be part of the conversation about things that are happening in the world: holidays, political or cultural events,  sudden trends or events?

By clearly understanding the brand’s personality, the answers to these questions become easy, and you are on your way to having a distinctive voice that people will recognize.

Facebook’s Page Post Targeting: What it Means for Brands

Facebook recently added a powerful feature for brand page administrators and community managers: Page Post Targeting. Before this feature was introduced, the only message segmentation available to brands was based on location: posts could be geotargeted to a specific country or city. Now, commmunity managers have many more options at their disposal: posts can be targeted by age, gender, interests, and more. So, what does this mean for brands?

Messaging can become more relevant. By developing content for specific segments and subsets of the community, the brand can be more like a true friend, and talk about things they know will be of interest.
Costs for Content Development and Community Management will increase. Because a brand will be developing several different streams of content, the number of posts will increase, along with the variable costs associated with developing those posts. Community Management and monitoring costs will also go up, both because of the increase in the total number of posts being made, and because of increased rates of response and engagement with the more targeted posts.
Editorial Calendars may become more complex. If brands are already using segmentation strategies in their email communications, the same editorial calendars may be able to be adopted for Facebook. But for brands that are not already developing segmented messaging, the work will get more complex and the management tools will need to evolve. Community managers are already working with social Editorial Calendars that include multiple dimensions such as channel, georgraphy, time of day, and day of week, and will now need to add the additional dimensions chosen for segmented messages.
Interaction counts may go down, but rates may go up. It will be important that Social Dashboards emphasize interaction rates rather than sheer numbers, as each of the segmented folks will be targeted to a smaller number of individuals. However, if relevant content is being created and the segmentation strategy is working, engagement rates should increase, resulting in increased overall reach. Community managers will want to spend time with those who read the dashboards to help them anticipate and understand these changes.

With these new tools available to them, brands that are large enought to have multiple consumer targets should modify their content strategies to include a a mix of content. Some posts should continue to be developed to be appropriate for the entire audience of brand friends. Messages that reference brand values, features, and attributes experienced by all consumers should continue to be delivered to everyone. New categories of content should be developed that will be focused more on the consumer and the lifestyle connection points they are likely to have with the brand. A producer of premium meats may want to speak differently to a 25 year old single man compared to a 35 year old married one – because they will likely be using the product in different ways and have a different path to their purchase decision.

The incremental costs for adding segmented content may pose a challenge to brands and digital managers with already tight budgets. Demonstrating the ROI for community engagement will become even more essential as brands seek to gain additional funding for these efforts. The linkage between rates of engagement and a consumer’s increase in purchase intent or sales volume will becomoe even more critical to quantify.

This enhanced targeting capability gives community managers and Facebook content editors powerful new ways to increase the rate at which the brand’s friends interact with brand content. By working closely with market research and consumer insights collegues to identify the targetable characteristics of the most influential members of the community, community managers can augment their existing general content with relevant posts that will result in higher rates of engagement with the brand’s friends.

Woody Allen was talking about Your Brand

Woody Allen famously said: “80% of success is showing up”.  This is as true for brands as it is for people – the key to brand building in today’s environment is to be found by potential consumers when they are in a receptive situation. These days, each of us has an unprecendented level of control over the messages we receive. We can choose when and how to be entertained, get the news, or learn about what is happening with our friends. If we have a question, we can look up the answer. If we want to solve a problem, we can ask others who have faced the same challenge. As long as the source of the solution is credible, we usually don’t care much about where the solutions t comes from: it could be a person halfway around the world, or a brand that is in our kitchen pantry. Brand marketers need to find ways to “show up” in relevant places, with relevant content, to be successful in this evolving landscape.

We have all changed the way we consume media. Studies show that we actually consume more than ever, as the number of channels through which media is delivered has exploded in recent years. And because of this, brands are changing the way we market our products and services. Brand marketers can no longer choose the channels into which we place our messages and count on our messages being received. Brands must rely more on “being found”.  New phrases like “brands as publishers”, “content marketing”, “inbound” and “always on” are being added to our marketing lexicon to help us express these changing ways of marketing.

The premise behind these phrases is that marketers are moving away from an environment where the brand simply needed to create messages and deliver those messages to their consumers through a few mass market vehicles. Today the number of channels through which a message can be delivered has exploded to a size that makes it impossible for a brand to rely on placing its message in all the right places. We must make sure that the messages are compelling enough to be passed along to the channels we can’t afford to reach.

So how can brands be sure that they “show up”?

1. Understand your consumer’s decision journey and where they get information as they are considering and evaluating your brand and be sure that your content is in places s/he will be looking – at all stages along the decision journey, online and offline. Identify ways to “recognize” individual consumers as they interact with the brand at each stage and record each touch point.

2. Design content that will add value to the consumer’s life when they find it: make them smile, solve their problem, make their life easier. Provide consistent and relevant content at every stage in the journey, to increase the opportunity to be included in the consumer’s evaluation set and to reinforce a positive experience after purchase.

3. Identify the consumers that have entered the loyalty loop, and no longer go through the consideration and evaluation stages before they buy your brand. Develop strategies to help them advocate for your brand to others, in online and offline channels, and reward them in tangible and intangible ways for doing so. Seek to establish a relationship with them: listen to them, remember their birthday, let them get to know you – and I mean YOU, the real person(s) behind the brand, not some corporate entity. Help them to share their experience with and loyalty to your brand with others – in the thousands of channels a brand’s advertising dollars could never reach.

If Woody Allen is right, and 80% of success is just showing up, brands will be successful as they allocate their marketing resources to ensure that they “show up”.

Stop Targeting Your Consumers

Have you noticed how the language of marketing often sounds like we are in the military? In our marketing and media plans, we use words like “target” and “campaign” – it sounds like the brand is the aggressor and that the marketer’s job is to attack the consumer. I have a mental picture of a shooter in an arcade or a fair, firing at targets and knocking them down as quickly as they pop up.

As digital marketing allows brands to converse with their customers in increasingly direct ways, it is time to change our language – because words matter. What you call something influences your behavior towards it. As brand marketers, we have always sought to create an emotional relationship between the brand and the consume. Digital tools allow us to create content that is more personalized than ever before, and it is time to change our language to words that reflect a relationship.

In our personal lives, we meet strangers, who then may become interesting acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances become friends. Some folks say that strangers are just friends that they haven’t yet met. We often meet new friends through introductions by current friends. Brand marketers seeking to create relationships between the brand and the consumer should use the same kinds of language, recognizing that there are real people at both ends of the marketing communications – not “targets”, but potential friends of the brand.

A blog post by Jon Holden put it well: “Getting to truly know the people you are marketing for, and finding unique ways to tell their stories and connect on a personal level will go a long way to establishing trust and loyalty”.

So, how does thinking about our customers as friends and potential friends change our marketing plans? Here are a few ways:

  • Rather than defining messages the brand wants to send, we develop messages that our friends will want to receive: something that will be useful in their daily life, something that will make them smile or stimulate a new idea.
  • Rather than creating content for strict demographic or behavioral targets for our messages, we create content for the people who have told us they already have a relationship with the brand by signing up for email, subscribing to an RSS feed, and/or becoming a friend on Facebook or following us on Twitter.
  • Instead of creating a TV spot or video that is designed to be watched many times in one or two channels, we create a video that is designed to be talked about, passed along, changed, spoofed.
  • Our brand messages to our friends are designed with the understanding that they have a very brief shelf life, and we need many more messages. A relationship isn’t built by sending one present to a friend on a special occasion; it is built by small interactions every day, over time (and still remembering the special occasion with something special.)

Instead of “targeting our consumers”, brands need to “talk to our friends” and “invite our acquaintances” – and by creating valuable content for both our friends and acquaintances, we earn the right to be introduced to others. This allows the brand message to spread organically – to more channels, in a more credible way, than would be possible for a brand operating in the “targeting” model.

Don’t be shy. Go ahead, say “hello”.