We're not talking about brand names here.
To be honest, many of the brand names I've seen over the years — particularly on the Internet — give me absolutely no clue as to what the company is, does, or offers.
For example, there is one company that I deal with whose current name is, I'm assuming, an acronym of the original name. And their logo isn't any help either. It's a graphical representation of a running man.
It's a sporting goods company, right? Nope . . . an electrical products distributor.
To be fair, that's not a new phenomenon. Indecipherable names and cryptic logos have always been around. Some of the biggest companies in existence have names and logos that don't provide any idea of what the business is all about. So then, what do you do to promote who you really are? How do you help your targeted prospects relate to your message?
And more importantly, how do you let them know they actually are "the chosen ones" and that you are their best — strike that —only option?
The partial answer: develop a brand voice as part of your marketing strategy. You've got to talk to your targeted market to let them know who you are and why that matters to them.
That's the topic for discussion today.
So, what's a brand?
Branding is nothing new; it's been around for hundreds, even thousands of years.
In the early days of the American Wild West, huge ranches raised huge herds of cows to drive across the plains to a huge marketplace. When it was time for the sale, the cowboys at each ranch herded their cattle cross country to market. When the cattle drive started, the herds from different ranches were far apart.
But the closer to market they got, the closer to each other they got. Soon the herds began to mingle together. Now I don't know about you, but one cow looks pretty much like every other cow to me.
Well, the cowboys realized they needed some way to identify to which herd the individual cows belonged. So they fashioned iron "logos,", heated them in a fire, and applied the Unique Ranch Identification Mark to the outer packaging of the bovine product.
They branded the cows.
The brand became the symbol of the ranch (often the hand-forged brand became the actual name of the ranch) and in many cases was used by cattle brokers as an indicator of the quality and suitability of the livestock. The cows all looked the same, but the reputation behind the brand singled them out.
The "Rocking Chair Ranch" cows, for example, were of better quality than the cows from the "Moon-shaped Squiggly Line Underscore Dot Dot Dot Ranch."
So you could say that a brand is something that identifies and sets apart your "unique" company or product from all the other "unique" companies or products in the marketplace.
Even if they're quite similar and not necessarily all that unique.
What is a brand voice?
It's how you call out to your own herd.
Your brand voice is how you "sound" to your market and clients. It's the way in which you communicate your personality and values. The brand voice identifies and explains your "ranch."
Do you need to have a brand persona and voice? No.
But if you don't brand yourself and communicate that persona to your market base, you become a mere commodity. And commodities are judged almost entirely on price.
Finding the right brand voice begins to create a community of loyal followers. People begin to not only identify the brand, but identify with the brand as well.
For example, in my hometown we have a local classic-rock radio station, 93.3 The Eagle. Because of the way the station has developed and promoted its brand voice, its regular listeners call themselves "The Loyal Royal Army." And loyal they are, even fanatical.
The royal part is still up for debate.
Why is your brand voice — its tone — all that important?
It humanizes you.
As I mentioned, the brand voice sets your company apart from all the others and prevents you from becoming just another commodity, just another product. When your brand voice communicates effectively, it creates familiarity and a sense of community.
And that builds trust and dedication.
When trust and dedication exist, your client or customer begins to "feel" you. Your business has the power to influence and persuade, even in areas unrelated to your product or service.
People don't always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel. ~ American author Maya Angelou
When communicated consistently and effectively, your brand voice builds solid relationships with your customers. Indeed, they become true followers and not just product users. Your brand can become the ultimate symbol of your type of product, even if similar products from other companies exist.
For example, take the lowly facial tissue. For many years people have asked for a Kleenex® when they needed to blow their noses, even when the product available was from another company.
Facial tissues became Kleenex®.
Their brand voice made sure of that.
So, how do you find this "voice" for your brand?
It's not a snap decision.
It's a decision based on a process that includes several important steps. And these steps include questions about both your company and your prospective market.
What are your core values?
The first step in the process begins with a question: Why do you even exist?
Okay, I know you exist to make money, right? But, come on, now . . . there's more to it than that. And it goes way beyond the old maxim, "Find a need and fill it." Dig deep down and uncover your company's core values. What product or service do you provide and WHY do you provide it?
Often a company's values extend beyond just providing for material or social needs. Your company may appeal to the more spiritual or more human side of the consumer. Discovering that is a stepping stone toward developing your brand's voice.
Akin to that is how you perceive the innate value of your product — its reason for being — and how you want this reason presented.
Take laundry detergent, for example. One product may be presented as "green" and good for the environment, while still effectively cleaning your clothes. Another may tout its scientific research and formulation to give the best possible results.
Both use science in their development; but the values of that science are presented differently.
How do you handle "work?"
Two companies with the same or similar product often conduct business differently. This includes not only production and sales, but employee interactions as well.
Some work with the "family" atmosphere. Others are more rigid, more standardized and rule oriented. Discovering your work atmosphere is crucial to developing your brand's voice because it will help determine your particular targeted market, matching your values and work ethics with theirs.
Can you sum it up in five words or less?
Kate Kiefer Lee, a contributor to Forbes.com, poses 10 questions that help you find your brand's voice. One of them is, "Can you describe your company in 3-5 words?"
It's not always easy, but boiling your company's values down until you end up with one, concise sentence is a valuable exercise. It's very similar to creating a mantra, as Guy Kawasaki would recommend.
But it does push the process of developing your brand's voice one step closer to fruition.
Setting your brand's tone of voice
Once you've discovered who you really are, it's now time to build your brand's persona and voice.
Actually, there is one more step. But it's a step that can't be taken until you've completed all the above tasks. You see, it's only after you've discovered who you really are that you can determine your ideal audience, your targeted customers.
I actually use a worksheet that defines my ideal prospect for me and for the clients I write for. I call it a 3-D worksheet because when it's completed, I have a three-dimensional image of my ideal prospect in my head, name included.
Eavesdrop on your target's conversations.
- How do they talk? Are they formal, casual, upbeat?
- What do they discuss?
- What world issues are important to them?
- Then figure out how your product or service fits in.
If it doesn't fit in, move on to another target. If you try to force a fit with a less than ideal targeted market, it will be a fight every step of the way.
Believe me . . . I've tried. Got the scars to prove it.
When you have defined your ideal customer, client or prospect it is time to begin "toning" your brand's voice. And many times it will include more than just the vocabulary that's used. Vocab is just one part of your overall brand voice.
Once you've discovered your ideal target and how they talk, speak to them in their language. And do that consistently. If you suddenly change the tone of your voice, perhaps in trying to capture another audience's attention, you will confuse them.
Finally, realize that consistency of tone is not limited to words, grammar and punctuation. Everything from your logo to your website to the colors and fonts used in your printed materials must be and live in harmony with your brand's voice.
Develop a clear, consistent and strong brand voice and you will be uniquely identified and stand out in the herd of competitors. Who knows . . . you might be the next Kleenex®.