Think about some of the most successful brands you know. McDonald's, Geico, Target - what do they all have in common? Consistency and authenticity across channels. No matter how you interact with these brands and others like them - whether through an online advertisement, an email campaign, or product packaging - you know who you are communicating with and what to expect.
Consistency is not easy to build and maintain nowadays. New channels of communication continuously change the game for marketers as technology evolves. How can you mold your content to each touchpoint while maintaining an authentic and universally recognized voice? Here to discuss some pro tips is Karyn Snyder, Phase2’s Web Analyst & Content Strategist.
Define Your Voice
Cara: I’ve found that when an organization is redesigning their website or other digital touchpoints, unanticipated brand questions tend to surface, such as, “what is our brand voice in the first place?”. Can you explain to us what an authentic brand voice is?
Karyn: So I think an authentic brand voice should really convey the principles on which the organization was founded and those values that continue to drive its mission on a daily basis. It requires more than just touting an organization’s strengths - the key really is identifying what differentiates you from others and then using that language to consistently reinforce those ideals across all the media.
Cara: How can companies really identify those attributes? Sometimes you have to dig deep to really define this.
Karyn: Organizations often turn inward to determine how they want to portray themselves, and then they try to incorporate that into their messaging and their voice. But I think the really important step companies need to take is to look at themselves from the outside and understand how they are being perceived. There can often be qualities that are not recognized by the organization, but which are clearly making an impression on customers and prospects. Businesses have to question whether or not the current audience perception is how they want to be seen, or if they need to change something about their tenor so that the voice they intend is heard.
Cara: Why does an authentic brand voice matter in the first place?
Karyn: An authentic brand voice establishes rapport. The language should immediately reveal a type of personality to your audience. And just like you can quickly get an understanding of a person when you encounter them, you should be able to quickly discern things about an organization in the way it reveals itself through communication.
If the authentic voice is consistently applied over time that voice will become immediately recognizable to the audience. Think about the most well-known brands, and strong brands in general. As soon as you encounter their signage, their commercials, anything, you immediately know it's coming from them. It’s a trusted, recognized, familiar relationship between the audience and the organization.
Cara: You sort of tapped into this a little earlier, but if an organization hasn’t clearly defined their brand voice, where and how do they begin?
Karyn: I think they have to look at their foundation, their roots, why they were established to begin with, and then look at their evolution over time. There are certain qualities that are engrained in every organization, so every company must dig deep and look at those qualities, and evaluate them. And their voice needs to really take into consideration what their future aspirations are and where they want to take the organization.
Cara: So before we get into how to modify your brand voice based on the digital touchpoint, can you explain the difference between things being the same and things being consistent - because even in my work I find that can sometimes be a difficult idea for people to really understand?
Karyn: So this is something people do have a hard time understanding, and if they don’t totally understand it they can have a difficult time modifying communications across different media.
So “same” to me means exact or identical, whereas “consistent” allows for a degree of variation to meet the need at hand. Consistency is an application of a standard, it's the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, so to speak, so it allows a little bit of wiggle room.
Cara: So how does a brand voice vary based on the digital touch point? And what issues do you see our clients consistently having and what can they do to remedy it?
Karyn: So the message has to be adjusted to the medium to be delivered effectively but the differences across media should be very nuanced, otherwise it results in a very disjointed experience and it doesn’t resonate well with the audience. I think it’s really confusing and insincere when a brand will try to be hip on social media when they’ve got a very staid presence in print. So brands can tweak their messaging a bit but they have to be very careful. I think it’s very important that the common voice is used so all communication seems like it is coming from the same person.
Just like I communicate with my kids, and my parents, and my boss, I can tweak my expression a little bit, but at the end of the day everybody knows it's Karyn speaking. It shouldn’t sound like 3 or 4 different people based on who I am speaking to.
Cara: And how do the considerations vary, or do they, for physical and one-to-one touch points? In our line of work we obviously look closely at the digital touchpoints, but we all know that the audience doesn’t see that differentiation and that the most successful brands understand how to create a cohesive experience across all channels.
Karyn: There has to be consistency across all of the touchpoints. Geico is probably one of the best examples. They’ve got billboards, they’ve got print advertising, they’ve got radio advertising and they all have that Geico feel to it. And it’s not just the gecko, the “spokesperson”. They’ve got a whole message that “in 15 minutes, you can save a lot of money.” And they tweak that message, but it’s always a little quirky, even though the radio ads are different from the television ads. It’s not just that they are taking the dialogue from the TV ad and putting it on the radio. They make it very specific and the same with the web advertising pop ups and the billboards. They all have the same mood to them, the same tone, and it has to be applied consistently.
Retail is another place that you need to really have that consistency. When you are encountering a sales clerk or calling a company and speaking with their customer service representative on the phone, it's important that everybody has the same mission and they are communicating in a way that is consistent and in service of that mission.
Put Yourself in Your Audience’s Shoes
Cara: Do you have tips for each touchpoint or things people should keep in mind when crafting content for each touchpoint - like website, and even specific content on websites, Apps, voice assistants, etc?
Karyn: I don’t have any advice per touchpoint. I think the key to success is looking at it holistically.
The message should feel like it’s coming from the same person regardless of the touchpoint. You have to make sure that all of the teams that are producing the content are thinking with the same mindset and are working with the same tools and the same vocabulary to produce content that is not disjointed.
A good analogy is a TV show. It’s a whole team of writers creating the characters and the storylines, but there is obviously a clear difference between Lost and Seinfeld. Even though it’s a group of writers with separate voices, they’ve learned how to speak in the same manner so the end product has the same personality. So you need to give people the tools to do that. And it’s also really important to remember that at the end of the day it’s a person you are trying to communicate with, so keep in mind how a person is going to interact with and receive your content on various platforms.
Cara: And adding to that, in my work I really try to emphasize the environment the audience is consuming the content on. A billboard vs. a blog post, for example. I’ve found what is most important is focusing on the audience experience. It doesn’t matter what you want to say, what matters is that the audience can and does understand it.
Karyn: Yes, I think it really comes down to putting yourself in the shoes of the information consumer.
If you were at the receiving end of this message, would this make any sense to you, or would this just be confusing or annoying? We all have our communications goals, but if we are not making our case in the right way and getting the point across we are missing the mark.
Cara: Since the emergence of ALL of these omni-channel touchpoints is new, achieving an authentic brand voice across all touchpoints is still something organizations are trying to figure out. Where do you see the biggest need for improvement?
Karyn: The way organizations are structured and looking at key performance indicators is often very disjointed. There are staff members in a number of different places in the organization maintaining brand content - somebody is responsible for the social media channel, somebody is responsible for the website, other people are responsible for print advertising or the billboards or the signage in the stores and they are all in different departments. And there are usually independent department goals at a very high level, but the tactics aren’t there to apply the voice consistently across all of the contributors.
Read more about creating and reporting on an effective, consistent omni-channel brand content strategy here.