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The Importance of Finding Your “Brand Voice”
by Len Stein, President, Visibility Public Relations


When branding pioneer Alan Siegel ( coined the term “brand voice” back in the mid-’80s, he labored in a command-and-control, print-dominated, single-screen media ecology where the Annual Report was king. Today, as the triple-screen universe converges with the next web, brand voice has emerged as the key to successfully engaging consumers whose light-speed social media networks can determine a brand’s fate virtually overnight.

With the meaning of a brand wide open to public interpretation, and prone to hyperbole and misconceptions, corporate managers must thread a thicket of sticky challenges to successfully communicate brand mission, values and philosophy. Moreover, as brands become the publishers of their own unfolding stories, they need intelligent editors who can provide stakeholders with a stream of high-value content that is packed with utility, seeded with inspiration, and that is honestly empathetic. Anything less will not suffice in a world where consumers can simply click away or spin around and mount a web-wide counter-attack on brands that refuse to walk their talk.

Content, the Foundation of Conversation

Content is the key to brand voice, but brands, to date, have a poor record of strategically engaging in meaningful conversations with consumers (aka people).  Brand stewards must recognize that content is but a means to the end. Content drives conversations. Conversation is the way to engage people. Engaging with people is the only way brands will survive and thrive in a social mediated environment. And, it is the corporate, the brand voice that defines the brand personality for better or worse.

So how can marketers craft a brand voice that will inspire and support the brand mission? It starts with people, who project their expectations and aspiration onto brands and seek fulfillment through the brand relationship. Brands, like people, have characters that set the boundaries of potential relationships, in terms of appropriate content, style, voice and diction.

Talk Their Language

Start by listening carefully to your brand constituents, both to their voice and to their chief concerns, their brand expectations. To foster positive relationships a brand must cultivate a distinctive personality and then talk straight to its audience engaging them on their terms. The first rule - Put the consumer first. Learn to talk their language.

Next, determine the brand story line, your distinctive point of view based on the brand mission, its raison d’etre.  If the brand managers don’t know, and heartily agree, on the brand text, don’t expect consumers to get it either. Before you take the first step toward engagement, get your story straight, edit it concisely and pledge to stick to the script as you enter the multi-channel media world.

So, who gets to tell the brand story? All brands needs human voices, rather than a droning corporate Hal, whether the channel be television, Facebook, Twitter or a White Paper. Spokesperson recruits must project as peers of their audiences, no talking up or down. Enthusiasm backed by solid knowledge, prepped by proper media training, is required of all those who handle Twitter or customer service incomings, as well as the CEO who addresses financial stakeholders.

Focus on the Audience

The brand focus should be squarely fixed on the concerns of its audiences, not its own problems, if you hope to foster trust. Do the research. Determine what consumers want from your brand. Review the brand heritage; explore the brand essence. Then write stories that deliver brand truths in conversational, emotional tones. No preaching, no hard selling, simply telling with the goal of helping to ease some aspect of someone’s daily burden, whether its stress, home maintenance or financial planning.

The more people can relate to the brand as a distinctive, trust-worthy personality (read, individual), the more approachable it will become and a deeper the customer relationship (loyalty and engagement) will develop.


The Author

Len Stein

Veteran public relations specialist Len Stein founded Visibility to help creative age marketing services companies establish industry though-leadership to enhance their competitive positioning.

In 25 years, VISIBILITY has represented several hundred companies in all marketing disciplines: advertising, branding and industrial design, magazine and book publishing, graphics and motion design, innovation, marketing research, trend forecasting, digital strategy, web development, social media, e-commerce, guerilla marketing, commercial television production and animation, feature film effects, and numerous marketing consulting practices.

A pioneer in the interactive public relations space, VISIBILITY represented New York’s first “multi-media” agency, Einstein & Sandom, and leaders including: OgilvyOne, Organic New York, DeepEnd and Rapp Digital, and numerous challenger agencies like Site Specific and Oven Digital. For several years, he wrote the "PR in Cyberspace" column for ClickZ and earlier for ChannelSeven. Currently he frequently contributes columns to Marketing Daily.

Len continues to represent innovative firms such as digital strategists Last Exit (New York and London) and youth social media marketing firm Archrival. He continues to advocate for evolving communications technologies and for a more central role for the PR profession in his columns in Media Post’s Marketing Daily.

Len Stein
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Copyright 2010 by Len Stein. All rights reserved.

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