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.

Stock and Flow: not just for Economists anymore

A continuing challenge for community managers for brands is to keep the conversation relevant and fresh. At the Signal Chicago conference in Sept. 2011, a presentation by James Gross of Percolate introduced me to a new way of thinking about this challenge. He quoted an idea from SnarkMarket: the concept that economists call Stock and Flow is a great way to think about conversations and social content.

“Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.”

I went to Wikipedia to get a better understanding of the economic theory behind the Stock and Flow idea and found this very helpful illustration. It helped me to visualize the division of a brand’s marketing investments between the development of enduring content and the tactics to distribute that content to consumers. A brand can’t post / tweet/ send the same content over and over: it “depreciates” in value to an individual consumer as soon as it is consumed (and hopefully shared). The brand needs to continually add to the “stock” of share-worthy content to earn the continued interest of its existing consumers.

When a brand is new in the marketplace, more of the brand’s resources may need to be devoted to developing “stock”. As the brand gains traction and gathers friends and consumers, the conversations from these consumers can help the brand identify new sources for stock content; the consumer-generated content may even be repurposed.

Since brands are adding new “friends” all the time, brands should create tactics that help these new consumers discover the already existing “stock” content. Brands must own usage rights for images, sounds and words in perpetuity, to allow the stock content to maintain its value and availability for continued use. Stock content allows a brand to be “always on”, and allows brands to look at the development of this content as an investment in a mid- to long-term asset.