“You slip into a suit for an interview, and you dress your language up too. You can wear what you like linguistically or sartorially when you’re at home or with friends, but most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances.” – Stephen Fry

 

I love this quote from Stephen Fry. It speaks to the need to adjust our words and tone – our voice – to suit how we want to be perceived. It’s the same for any brand trying to find their unique voice.

‘We must speak with the one voice,’ is one of the most common statements you’ll hear in strategic planning sessions, corporate boardrooms and brand brainstorming sessions – but how easy is it to put into practice?

When your organisation is varied in the roles it performs and the people it speaks to every day, how do you make sure your content, both written and verbal, communicate one consistent brand personality?

Here’s a few tips to help ‘suit up’ your language to make it the right fit for you or your client’s brand, allowing you to put forward the one voice with confidence and clarity.

Define your personality and find your voice

Think of a group of colleagues. Some may be described as serious, intellectual and considered – and they show this in the designer clothes they wear, their articulation of all topics academic and perfect elocution in their rounded vowels when speaking.

Other friends are loud, edgy, over the top. They shout when they speak, they wear their hearts on their sleeves and don’t really care much for designer clothes. They are what they are.

Both archetypes have their place but for different reasons, and you’ll be drawn to them at different times. What makes them unique is personality.

The way they speak to you, engage and converse is how they get their message across – and shapes how you relate to them.

It’s the same with any organisation, product or service wanting to build a differentiated brand in a cluttered marketplace. A consistent personality will begin to define a unique and compelling voice.

Think of a brand such as Nando’s. You instantly know what you’re getting. It’s playful, edgy and bursting with personality. And it’s the same whether you’re reading a menu, clicking through their website or skimming a press advert. The company makes sure its unique voice is there in everything it does – up front and in your face.

At the other end of the scale is a group such as World Vision. Compassion, purpose and hope give substance and power to its words. ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Direct yet eloquent.

Every organisation has to own a voice that’s relevant and distinctive. Otherwise, an organisation’s brand will simply blend into the background, turning into wallpaper – nice to look at, but mostly ignored.

Make it real

Putting your voice down on paper is one thing; living it is another.

It doesn’t take much for customers to see through hollow promises that don’t live up to a brand personality – today’s customer is savvy and he or she has already done their research before they have picked up the phone, walked in the door or emailed you an enquiry.

Richard Branson has built brands that are an extension of his own personality – he is the brand trailblazer, at times irreverent, fiercely determined, accessible, and always fighting for a better way. You know it’s Virgin, not just by the name and look, but by the confidence and passion in the voice.

Branson’s vision for Virgin: “I believe that in the future we will be able to enjoy healthy and fulfilling lifestyles whilst minimising the negative impact we have on the world.”

No corporate speak and jargon is used by Branson: “We strive to be responsible corporate citizens.” Just a simple and honest statement grounded in his entrepreneurial spirit.

You can hear his voice in everything Virgin does: “We have always succeeded in business by offering consumers another way, a better way and being willing to fight in their corner. One thing has remained true; our belief in the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to help us rise to the new challenges that we all face.”

Virgin knows that if the company moves away from the personality of its voice, it will damage the loyalty it has worked so hard to build over time.

Once you begin pretending to be what you’re not, why should anyone believe in anything you have to say?

One voice, many tones

With the growing amount of media channels available to us as marketers today, we have limitless opportunities to craft a unique voice that adapts and connects with our customers at many different levels.

How you use your voice will also change depending on the medium. But the words you use, and how you want to say it, should remain consistent with your overall brand personality.

Monocle is the perfect example. Its global briefings on international affairs span a host of platforms, from a published magazine through to blogs and radio broadcasts. Each one is tailored to its particular mediums, but are all articulated with the same level of humanity and insight that is a hallmark of Monocle.

It’s important to craft a voice that represents your personality, yet adapts tonally to the different scenarios you engage in with your customers and the various channels you use to connect with them.

Give them something to believe in

It doesn’t matter how strong your organisation’s voice is, if your own people don’t believe in it then it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.

Again, it can’t finish as just words in a style guide. People need to be engaged by your voice. Understand what it means. Be inspired by it. Your best ambassadors are the people who have to live and breathe it every day.

You need to get out there and show them how to do it. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised that for many organisations, introducing their new brand amounts to sending around a PDF of the new style guide. That’s not engagement; that’s laziness.

People at all levels of the business need to be actively engaged – from executives through to the people at the coalface. Run presentations, hold writing workshops, give real life examples of what to do and what not to do. It’s about helping them believe in the brand, but it’s the only true way that they will stop and think next time they’re writing that letter, or crafting that advert – and think about the impact they will have within a living, breathing brand.

Also, don’t stop engaging once the brand has been rolled out. As your team grows and changes over time it’s critical to continually coach and mentor people to keep them true to your voice. Add brand education to your training regime. Get your human resources team on board to make it happen.

Tell a story

For thousands of years, Indigenous Australians have used storytelling to embrace their culture and identity and give a distinguishable voice for each community. Homer’s Odyssey, one of the most famous tales in literature, has survived throughout history and resonated with people through the simple art of storytelling well before it was published in print. Its voice remains as strong and distinct today as when it was created.

A sense of storytelling is one of the best ways to connect with people. It gives depth and personality to your voice, as well as context. It makes what you have to say easier to relate to and engage with. It’s also memorable. Just think about the great stories you’ve been told – they stay with you, they make a lasting impression. A strong brand voice that comes alive through story telling is the same.

Crumpler does it brilliantly. From its blog to its retail face to the detailed descriptions behind its bags – you’ve got to love a laptop bag called ‘The Pinnacle of Horror’. You get a clear picture of who they are and what they believe in. Even their ‘Til Death Do us Part Warranty’ has a story to tell. Story telling is simply part of Crumpler’s fabric.

For the M5 Project, a men’s preventive health movement, we created a manifesto for all men to inspire and drive them into action. It was emotive and real and told a simple story through words of the challenge men must all take up to decrease five preventable men’s’ deaths an hour to zero. It was far more powerful than a clever headline.

If you can take people along with you, share a bit more about the organisation’s ethos, and what drives it through your writing, then you might just start to form relationships with your clients and customers, which will stand the test of time.

Put your suit on

So, ready to ‘suit up’ your language to create that one voice for your brand?

Hopefully these tips will help you shape a voice that’s relevant, uniquely yours and stands out from the crowd. And most importantly, it will enable your people to speak with the one voice – and in so doing fully embrace your brand.

Richard Foster
BY Richard Foster ON 25 January 2012
Richard Foster is the head of writing at Melbourne branding agency TANK. Richard’s focus is helping organisations find clarity and meaning in their written and spoken communications. For more information visit tankbranding.com.au