I was still an undergrad student when the Citizens United ruling occurred in 2010, protecting the first amendment rights of corporations to make campaign contributions. Like many people my age, I was outraged over the idea of corporate personhood. How could a corporation be considered a human being in the eyes of the law? At the same time, I knew that corporations can get into contracts and declare ownership of copyright and trademarked materials. And as I started to get into the marketing communications field, I became aware of brands having a voice and personality on social media communications. Integrated marketing communications—where all points of contact resonate into one core message. Social media require interactivity between the brand and the consumer. It is a two-way communication line, unlike traditional TV, radio, and print (although those mediums have evolved with the growth of the internet and social media to include interactivity).
Brands with a Personality
“If your brand is a human being, what kind of human would it be?” I was surprised to discover a series of similar questions on a survey I was reading over for a client. I assumed that the person who developed the survey was trying to get a good idea of the culture and the brand’s identity. The survey occurred before I started working with the client, so I wasn’t involved in the discussion. The responses described my client’s brand as “feminine” and “timid” or “introverted,” a person who is over 35 years old, highly educated, and middle-class. Were they describing the brand, or their target base, or the make-up of the staff and board? It could be a combination of all three. It was as if the brand was being personified and I was able to leverage that.
Brands should absolutely have a personality. It is interacting with real human beings after all. But brands are not human beings in itself. Notice I’m using the word “it” instead of “they” when referring to a brand. Because brands are selling products or providing a service, it is still communicating with people. And having a unified style and message across all contact points is important because it avoids confusion and reinforces the brand’s position in the consumer’s mind. Brands are being represented by human beings, whether it is through online communications or interpersonal interaction. When you have humans using the brand’s name to communicate with prospects and customers, it is like they’re putting on a mask and advocating on the brand’s behalf.
Concepts of Brand Voice
In his book Face2face, David Lee King (2012) described three concepts of brand voice: listening, authentic communication, and sharing in a community.
Listening applies to all contact points and all aspects of business. When a product developer responds to complaints about a product, or an entrepreneur discover an opportunity to solve a problem, they are listening. Organizations listen to current and potential customers, offers the problem-solving product or service, and then listens to feedback about the offering and adjusts accordingly. Same thing happens when listening to complaints, by cutting through frustrations, listening, apologizing, and trying to make the experience a better one (King, 2012). There are even multiple ways for brands to eavesdrop on customers and learn their thoughts about product or service by setting up searches, subscribing to RSS feeds, and creating email alerts. Many messages on social media are public and it is imperative to keep track of good (and bad) word-of-mouth.
The second concept is authenticity. You essentially want to write like this: “This is really great Jill! We’ll be sure to pass this along to our friends at Smith Elementary.” Not like this: “Your response has been noted and will be responded to by one of our team in 2-3 business days” (Lee, 2014).
See the difference? The second sentence is so dull and robotic. Nobody wants to respond to cold and emotionless business drivel. Let the brand’s unique voice be heard by making it conversational. Taylor Hill at Harkins Creative said this about voice:
- Be a giver- provide good, solid info about the brand
- Be yourself- uniqueness, giving your take should be conversational
Voice consist of two elements – tone and content. Tone is the essence while content is the substance. Lee (2014) explains that a brand will have one voice and multiple tones to refine that voice. When forming a brand’s personality, I suggest coming up with a list of adjectives and listing synonyms. This is especially helpful for writing marketing narratives. Based on my client’s survey data, I determined these adjectives:
- Sincere – modest, humble, patient, authentic, genuine, and gentle
- Sympathetic – friendly, amicable, beneficial, welcoming
- Visionary – wise, creative, imaginative, inspiring
Go even further with a chart (from Lee’s article):
|Character/Persona – Who does your brand sound like?||Tone -What is the general vibe?|
|Friendly, professional, inspiring, sociable||Honest, humble, beneficial, creative, wise|
|Language – what kinds of words you use?||Purpose – Why are you on social media?|
|Simple, whimsy, fun, gentle, genuine||Engage, educate, inform, advocate, appreciate, entertain, create awareness|
There are some concerns about automation taking away jobs…but I don’t even think robots could ever replace human to human interaction. Automation would still have to be programmed by a programmer to communicate authentically. Otherwise, it is garbage.
The third concept, sharing, will take the brand’s message to other websites. Social media users foster a lot of knowledge sharing and relationship building through common interests. Provide news and updates related to your business. Demonstrate your expertise and teach your customers new tricks and tips. Information sharing is a great way to get your followers engaged and they’re more motivated to share with their friends and peers– doing the marketing for you.
Authenticity is still the rule —according to King (2012), Honda’s Facebook in 2009 received a lot of negative comments for its Crosstour SUV. One “customer”, Eddie Okubo, made a positive comment. However, Okubo is a product manager of Honda! Sure, it is his opinion, but it would’ve helped if he provided some kind of disclaimer. Instead, the customers called him out, saying he’s trying to save his job.
Maybe the brand can’t vote (the social media manager certainly can), but brands can communicate. A brand personality and voice humanizes the brand, providing an incentive to spread word of mouth and even do the marketing for them! Delighted customers are motivated to share a brand’s message because first impressions matter. Brand personality builds relationships, further reinforcing a brand’s position in the consumer’s mind.
King, D. L. (2012). Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools to create great customer connections. Medford, NJ: CyberAge Books/Information Today.
Lee, K. (2014, April 14). How to Find Your Social Media Marketing Voice: The Best Examples, Questions, and Guides. Retrieved from https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-marketing-voice-and-tone