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.