Every brand has a voice. Some are loud and brash, others are cheeky and show-off, some are shy, intelligent, clever, some make you smile… importantly, the best brands are identifiable by their tone of voice.
Irrespective of sector, and channel, the goal of any successful brand is of course to attract attention. Once you’ve got that then the relationship starts – you can spark up a conversation, show who you are and what you’re about, and hopefully encourage and build a meaningful relationship.
The way a brand talks needs to be carefully considered and crafted to suit, with the right levels of confidence, sense of humour and attitude.
We can all think of examples of where brands have got this wrong and it’s a hard, and very public, way to learn. But get it right and you have some of the best marketing you can ever hope for.
There is a confidence shown in the language used by brands such as First Direct with phrases like ‘Our mortgage rates are lower than a rapper’s jeans’, and salad chain Tossed with ‘the Tossers are coming’ on their hoarding. You could say this is an appropriate tone of voice for the target market… but when does it go just a little too far? John Lewis, on the other hand has a much less brash tone of voice, reassuring where needed, and thus building a trusted and long-term relationship with customers. When John Lewis talks, you believe what it says, and its expertise and knowledge gives it something important to talk about.
Shopping is a science – an intricate and complex journey of decisions – and for a brand to attract, engage and ultimately close a transaction, there needs to be an in-depth understanding of the target customer. And still, after that customer is identified, there is a series of customer mindsets to deal with: time and convenience, price, aspiration and desire, to name just a few. So how does it happen, why does one person buy from Topshop, the next from Primark, and another from ASOS? Tesco vs Waitrose, Volkswagon vs BMW, the truth is that we align ourselves with brands that suit us, brands that talk to us in our language and engage us in a conversation.
Simon Sinek talks about inspirational leadership in his TED talk. He suggests that those that lead understand the reason ‘why’… Why they do what they do, what’s the purpose, why do they get out of bed in the morning, and why should anyone care? Relating this directly to tone of voice means a brand must understand why they’re doing what they’re doing in order to communicate a relevant and meaningful message that someone will care about.
The growth of global retail presents us with an interesting new challenge: does a UK brand adapt to local markets, does it translate everything into each new language as it expands into new territories, or should the brand stay true to its heritage, maybe translating informative signage and communication, but keeping the brand message core to its heart?
J Crew recently opened in London and ahead of its arrival created a clever little piece of marketing on Tumblr – A Cockney rhyming slang article using language such as ‘daisy roots’, ‘whistle and flute’ and ‘tit for tat’. The much-anticipated launch of J Crew in the UK, combined with a wealth of positive feeling, meant that it could get away with this hyper-local language… it could almost be perceived as cute. But it could also be misinterpreted when you have no fan base – trying to emulate a local culture in a place you are new to could go badly wrong.
The question of whether you should adapt your language cannot be answered in a blanket yes or no, but it does seem that the most internationally powerful brands stay true to themselves and speak from the heart.
I recently read an article from The Drum called ‘Brands – it’s time to stop being faceless and start showing character on social media’. In the article The Drum talks about how, in its view, brands rather fall down when it comes to the simple act of conversation, and how the rise of Twitter and the introduction of the Facebook page have changed brands in a fundamental and still largely unrecognised way. Brands now (have to) talk. The Drum quite rightly poses the question: ‘Are customers interested in what brands have to say?’ Of course there’s no point in talking unless you have something to say. Storytelling needs to be genuine and straight from the heart.
Retail is no longer just about a physical space, where a brand controls what and how it communicates to its customers through traditional signage and messaging. The conversation is now two-way and free flowing, sometimes uncontrollable and largely driven by the customer. The prevalence of websites such as Trip Advisor and Amazon shows us that the voice of the customer is loud and clear; no one can deny the make or break power of the customer review. Embracing this is the only option for the retailer or brand and, again, careful consideration needs to be given to the brand’s voice across social media channels. Traditionally, brands have, in some way, always talked at the customer. We know customers will happily talk to fellow customers and now we need to open up and facilitate a peer-to-peer conversation, between customer and brand.
Talking to your customer builds trust, loyalty and ultimately brand love. Think of your customers less as customers, more as brand advocates or brand ambassadors.
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