Everyone in brand marketing understands the importance of clearly defining and living your brand tone-of-voice but I am not sure many brands stay true to their personality. In some cases, let the creative teams win and run a muck. As blogger Harriet Cummings says “A tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” Some brands tone-of-voice are just down-right boring or nonexistent, and others change their voice daily depending on who is controlling it or where it’s being used. It’s so easy to fall for fun and humorous creative, but by not matching your brand’s tone and voice, you could be diluting your brand’s hard-earned equity.
Rob Marsh, copywriter and author of the blog Brandstory says “very little attention is paid to brand voice—the words, phrases, and characteristics that set a brand apart take a back seat to the more “important” visual aspects of the brand.” The reason why is because defining and living a brand tone-of-voice is damn hard. It is especially hard when many people are involved in producing various communications, each having a different point-of-views of what the brand voice should be. If done right, the brand tone-of-voice can be distinctive, recognisable and unique. In life, sometime it’s more important on how you say something than what you say. As American author Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”
A brands tone-of-voice, when consistent, can tell consumers a great deal about the brand, especially its attitude and overall personality. To be successful whatever the brands tone-of-voice is, it must be consistently delivered everywhere. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that most people aren’t aware of the many different tones they project. But with a brand you can build a brand image from a consistent tone that accentuates its brand values and personality. Nigel Edginton-Vigus, Creative director at Blue Hive advertising agency says many large brands are schizophrenia with their tone-of-voice. You can go from a friendly and chatty physical brand experience a cold and cluttered online experience. “It’s like finishing this amazing love-making session and you lie back content with bliss and your partner turns to you and says ‘affirmative you now have been logged out. Thank you.’”
To illustrate the importance of a brands tone-of-voice, I have selected three brands in the men’s shaving industry who demonstrate three different voices.
The Designer Shave
The first one is Harry’s, an online low-cost provider of high quality men’s shaving products. Harry’s was founded by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider, two bright millennials who shared a passion “for simple design, appreciation of well-made things, and a belief that companies should try to make the world a better place.” Not surprising, Jeff went on to become co-founder of the trendy online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker. Harry’s website states “Harry’s was built out of respect for quality craftsmanship. Simple design, modern convenience and most importantly for guys who think they shouldn’t have to overpay for a great shave.”
Viewing Harry’s website or their lifestyle blog-a-zine Five O’clock gives you an immediate feel of a New Yorker Magazine layout. Their tone is calm with subtle, dry, sophisticated humour, yet very easy going and approachable. It’s confident and smart without the hassle or aggression. You feel clean and positive about the experience.
The High Performance Shave
The next example is the mammoth Gillette brand worth $20.4 billion and part of Procter & Gamble that controls 70% of the global blades and razor market. When you think of Gillette, you think of technologically advanced superiority shaving – so how complex can “the Best a Man Can Get.” Their tone-of-voice reeks of masculinity, confidence, precision and calculated. Every time I shave with my Fusion Proglide razor with the new Flexball technology, I think I am driving an Audi RS 7 Quattro with a V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Foot to the floor, the best I can get. Plus the maintenance cost to boot.
In 2014, the Gillette brand shifted into a new gear with a tone-of-voice that didn’t fit the brand. Maybe they are trying to be more human, like their competitors. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like the Gillette brand I grew up with. When did the Gillette brand start becoming funny?
The Cheap and Cheery Shave
I am sure everyone has seen the youtube video of Michael Dubin co-founder of Dollar Shave Club ranting about how F**KING GREAT their one dollar blades are. The Dollar Shave Club, a subscription based razor company’s tone-of-voice is funny, cheeky and makes fun of Gillette. They quickly tap into every man’s feeling of getting ripped-off with the high cost of razor blades. Their underdog brand has no flashy models or famous sports stars. They’re just down-to-earth, humble, witty and supported by an unbelievable price. Today, buying a pack of razors isn’t cheap. A pack of eight blades can set you back $35 to $40 dollars. The Dollar Shave Club taps into consumer frustration. “Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice,” Dubin said in an Adweek article by Tim Nudd. “Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it’s important to remind people, here’s a guy who’s just like you, finding a solution to a real problem.”
Who would have thought a simple product like a razor blade could be as complex as it concerns their tone-of-voice? But like a human, a brand’s attitude and personality is complex. Many brands leave the tone-of-voice to be driven and cultivated by the creative folks and designers, but in actual fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility working for a brand to emulate the brand’s attitude, personality and with its customers. It even becomes more important when more employees are communicating with customers through social channels. Every brand needs a voice and tone guide to ensure employees are consistently projecting it. The guide forces the brand to clearly define what is its tone-of-voice and gives the brand a benchmark to judge future content. Maybe this would have helped Gillette from making the “first real suit” commercial. I don’t think so.
If you can’t describe your brands tone-of-voice and don’t see it in any of your communications, it might be time to start building your brand’s voice and tone guide. Click here to view some examples and tips to help inspire you.
Remember it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.