In The Era Of Gonzo Marketing, Brand Voice Is King

Every day we read about another brand, company or even sports team failing on Twitter. But for all those who fail, many more win. They do so by staying true to their brand voice. 

Possessing a true voice has always been vitally important to a brand’s success, but never more than it is now. With multiple messages across multiple channels – and social media on the front line – having a guiding voice that presides higher than the latest video, post or tweet of the moment may now be a brand’s most valuable asset. And its best chance at maintaining a long-term, meaningful relationship with its consumers.

At its simplest, brand voice can be defined as not what we say, but how we say it. The personality DNA that runs through a brand, imparts characteristics more human than corporate, it gives it a soul. Not a public facing tagline, but an internal belief – it soars over other attributes as an unspoken link between brand and consumer. Strategy and positioning are critical, but they are rational expressions. Brand voice is different. It exudes emotion. It adds nuance and fills the spaces between strategy and execution with the stuff we can feel. Strategy and execution may help a consumer decide to buy a product, but voice is what helps them decide whether they actually like you or not. 



An example of someone doing it right is Oreo. Of all that the brand has done right over the past few years, understanding, honing and beautifully delivering on its voice may be its crowning achievement. The campaign line is “Wonderfilled,” but so is the brand’s attitude and outlook on life. And that youthful optimism makes every tweet, ad and song they put out that much more special. 

The opposite of Oreo? Schizophrenia. Unfortunately, many brands suffer from a voice that wavers across channels – corporate within their branding efforts, frat house in social media. 

There’s no sure formula for getting to a strong voice, but a few guiding principles can help.

1. Be as specific and distinct as possible. Create a voice that everyone from the CEO to a junior copywriter on the first day of the job will understand and know how to apply. We once worked on a retail account whose brand voice we described as “we’re unimpressed with our impressiveness.” No wiggle room in those words.

2. Use human language; write it as if you were describing a person. Strip out the corporate formality. It’s not a “tenet” or “credo,” it’s a voice. Think and deliver yours with the charisma of a person you admire and want to spend time with.

3. Go back to where you started. A brand’s voice is rarely something made up as much as uncovered from its origins, purpose and point of distinction when it began. Look to the truth behind the founder of a company, its brand voice usually resides there.

4. Don’t let social media run away with your brand voice. Create something so clear and important that it can’t be toppled by one over-zealous tweet.

For many brands, the day of three television commercials wrapped up in a tagline is dead and gone. Now a campaign consists of hits and bits that come in constant waves across multiple channels. Tactics, offers, promos, contests – they’re all coming in different forms. And real-time responses to cultural and social events can make opportunity override strategy at any given time. To expect a consumer to keep track of all of your messages over time is ludicrous. But somehow they’ll remember your voice if it’s strong.

Of all the arguments for brand voice, the best may be this – job security. As the lines between advertising and entertainment, consumer-targeted, consumer-generated and the next YouTube sensation all blur together, the role of a real brand steward becomes increasingly valuable. To be able to tell the difference between what’s novel and what is right, what feel like “us” and what doesn’t“ – this is what will separate the true brand stewards from the gonzo marketers. And those who can do both – be prolific with content and still steward the brand – will thrive.

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