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.

What’s the Point of Facebook?

Last month, the Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled that the comments of fans published on an brand’s Facebook page are actually advertisements and must comply with industry self-regulation and consumer protection laws. This ruling created a lot of discussion among social media managers and digital marketers. It felt like the common consensus was “how can they expect this of us? There is no way we have the resources to read every single post on our Facebook page!”

I beg to differ. Whether or not it is required by regulations, I firmly believe that if a brand is going to create and maintain a social presence on Facebook, the brand SHOULD be reading every post. That level of listening is the reason for having a social presence in the first place: Facebook allows a brand to humanize itself, to express its personality, and to be a “friend” to those who want a relationship with the brand. It allows us to hear what people care about – and the folks that have decided to “like” our brand on Facebook are possibly our most important customers. Why wouldn’t we want to listen to everything they have to say?

For Facebook to be effective with consumers, the brand’s comments need to feel “at home” in the news feed of those who have decided to “like” the brand. The brand’s posts should be like a lot of the other content that shows up in an individual news feed: things that make you smile, make you wonder, help you learn something, or give you a way to bear with a long line at the DMV. The comments posted by a brand’s friends on the page matter just as much as what the brand creates.

I often liken a brand’s Facebook presence to a cocktail party, and the brand is the host of that party. As a host, you don’t want to talk too much about yourself, and you want to help your guests to enjoy themselves. If you are hosting a party, and someone obnoxious is destroying the atmosphere for everyone, you would do something about it; inappropriate comments on your Facebook page can have the same effect as that obnoxious boor. They spoil the party for everyone. It’s the host’s responsibility to handle the situation.

I’m not saying that I agree with the Advertising Standards Board’s view that consumer comments on a brand’s page are “advertising”. But I am saying that the brand has responsibility for them, even if we didn’t write them. They are on our page – a page we created to build a community. We must treat our brand’s Facebook pages as a two-way street. It is not simply a vehicle for us to deliver our brand message to a flock of sheep. It is a place to get acquainted with real people, build friendships, have some fun together. We can’t allow ourselves the excuse of saying we don’t have the time to listen to our friends, or even those who are “posing” as friends: if that’s the case, then we should simply shut down the Facebook page. Unless we treat our friends as more important that the brand, we won’t be able to generate real consumer engagement anyway. We must find the time, the resources, the social management system – whatever it takes to allow our brand to be a real friend. Otherwise, what’s the point?