Think about the music you love; the podcasts you listen to; the TV shows you watch. Heck, think of your oldest friends.
Do any of these things or people have voices that you just can’t stand? Probably not. We like things and people that sound pleasant to our ears. No one ever said, “I love this show because the main character sounds like a very sad cat,” or “I love this magazine because it bitterly condescends to me.”
Any successful voice must be appealing to its audience. This goes for brands as well as human beings (for now we will leave out animals and their emotional states, however valid).
Appealing to Your Brand’s Audience
Here are a few examples of branded voices that have successfully appealed to a very different set of audiences, and how I might describe them.
- AirBnB: a caring friend with wholesome values, who’s probably also a good baker
- Old Spice: that one zany guy in your social circle whose Halloween costume is always the most revealing, for some reason
- The New Yorker: the most educated and slightly pretentious (in a good way) one of your aunts or uncles
- Google: the smartest, but somehow also the friendliest, person in your computer lab class
- Apple’s Siri: your friendly robot buddy, who we wish would know all things, but is at least entertaining when it doesn’t
Each of these brands appeal to their audience successfully, but differently. Many others operate within different market dynamics that prevent them from being too friendly, or too bold. Global companies in diverse, highly regulated industries have to use much more caution in their brand voice. In B2B environments, seriousness and credibility are, in most cases, more appropriate than wit and humor.
Because of these dynamics, what often happens is that brands run the risk of playing it too safe. They are so careful with their voice and tone that it takes on a neutral quality, with so much mass appeal that it comes to be described with that most dreaded of descriptors: “corporate.” Faceless. Not human or relatable.
So, how do brands balance safety with appeal?
Balancing Safety with Brand Voice and Tone
At Ketchum, we help clients face this issue all the time. Here are a few ways your brand can balance being too safe and “corporate” with voice and tone:
1. Study your audiences.
How well do you know your audience, really? What other content are they consuming? What other brands do they follow on social channels? Developing audience personas reveals insights and signals for how your brand can appeal to them.
2. Aim for three primary qualities.
Don’t overthink it. You know your brand, and once you develop audience insights, focus on three core qualities your voice should have, and define them. For instance, a B2B technology brand might go with “Savvy, Credible and Clever” and hone in on those three elements only. Less is more when it comes to voice.
3. Empower your editors.
It’s safe to assume that with each of the brands referenced above, there is an editorial team that enforces voice and tone. That means they employ writers who can write to it, and say no to internal stakeholders trying to push out content that doesn’t meet it. Without empowering editors to uphold voice and tone, a brand’s content will often drift into being overly safe.
4. Be channel-specific.
Remember that in today’s multi-channel world, you can sound differently depending on the channel. This can help appease internal stakeholders with diverse opinions on how the brand should sound. Your Twitter voice should be more conversational, for instance, while an investor-focused press release can be announced on LinkedIn in a more professional tone.
5. Evolve over time.
Voice and tone isn’t a “set it and forget it” thing. Reevaluate your brand’s voice a few times per year, looking at how content is performing, and how audiences are talking about the brand to see what changes should be made. Often, brands will find their content isn’t performing as well as it could be, and a voice that is overly safe or corporate could be the problem.
If your brand seems to be playing it too safe, and the result is struggling to overcome a monotonous tone, consider the tips above. No matter how complex your business or marketplace, a better-defined voice and tone can help your content break through and channels work harder for you. Just ask Siri.