1) Where on the spectrum is your brand voice pitching itself?
Some brands talk in a distinctly ‘abusive’ way; think about how banks used to talk to you. Most brands have a tone of voice which is pitched in the broad middle of ‘submissive’ styling, often including a free gift or a discount to win over the consumer. At the better end of the spectrum are the collaborative brands, talking confidently and building loyalty. Energy provider Octopus has done this brilliantly in its tone; only the other day I got a text describing a new deal as ‘Squid pro quo’.
2) Is the ‘one global brand voice’ finished?
In 2021, we’ll see different countries emerging from the current crisis at different rates, and with different lasting effects on society and culture. Will a monolithic brand voice now seem deaf to real life? Uncaring? Disengaged? A brand voice is the most flexible of a brand’s assets, and ideally suited to being adapted by different regions. A good example of this is a recent project we worked on for Twinings. Huge credit to the leadership team here, who recognised that the difference in markets across the world demanded a framework to allow their local experts to develop their own brand verbal style, whilst staying true to the wider brand. We developed a specific piece of IP, to give regional marketing leads a brand language framework they could use and adapt. This is something I definitely expect to see more of as we head into next year.
3) Keep it simple.
Simple language is more effective. Netflix has won 200 million consumers from a landing page with just 26 words. What would you lose if you shortened your copy by 50%? Not much, but you’d gain clarity and engagement.
4) Use language to deepen your consumer’s relationship with your brand over time.
Marketers need to recognise that, like any relationship, one between brand and consumer changes. Over time, adapt your tone to suggest a closeness, or at least a familiarity. My bank still writes to me like I’ve just signed up. Gradually developing a more engaging tone will help you lock in a long-term dialogue and help you be forgiven when you hit bumps in the road.
5) Today, everyone in your company is writing for your brand.
Once you have your fully developed verbal guidelines, you need to ensure that everyone writing is trained in how to use them correctly. That could be, or perhaps even be should be anyone from legal to commercial to marketing. Vauxhall understood this when they asked us to train staff from across the business: the focus wasn’t just external comms, but customer experience and internal comms as well.
So, now is the time to take a real look at your brand’s language. Is it really engaging your consumers? Will it keep your brand performing in the context of the current challenges? Be honest, have you ever read any of your brand copy and felt a tingle of excitement, or even thought about it three minutes later? If your brand language isn’t engaging you, it isn’t engaging your customers, and it’s time to update it.
Chris West is CEO of Verbal Identity