Should you change your brand’s voice?
The estimated reading time for this post is 5 minutes
Imagine two people who were really good friends once. One gets a job promotion is moves to the other side of the country, where they have a totally different accent. That friend who moved, let's call him Barnes, didn't have that much time to visit his old home town that much — but he did adapt quickly.
The friend who stayed, let's call him Nobles (original, I know) lived his life normally, occasionally being in touch with Barnes through less in-person means of communication, such as emails and text messages and very few occasional voice or regular calls.
When Barnes and Nobles reunited, however, the shock that the latter had on the speech changes of the first were huge. They could barely understand each other — even though they were still friends.
What was missing from their experience? Better communication and understanding of each other.
When you change your brand's voice, don't do like Barnes did. Occasionally tipping your audience that you are changing a your brand's voice will do more harm than good.
Imagine if Apple suddenly inject too much humor on their Commercials. How would their audience respond?
Questions to ask yourself
Answer these first before continuing.
- Do I really need to change my brand's voice?
- Who my audience is?
- How much communication do I need and where is my target audience at?
Don't cheat, answer these first. Grab pen and paper and quickly sketch answers to these questions. Use any format you like (lists, paragraphs, etc). I want you to adjust your answers as you read through. But do write your answers.
What are you doing this for? Are you rebranding or are you trying to look more like your competitors? If the answer is the later — and it probably is — then don't change unless you must and don't try to sound like them. Just like a logo, an identity color, a brand's voice is the ultimate recognition of a brand. In certain cases, humor is welcome, but in others, it's not. (Imagine a bank which brand's voice is overly humorous. Trustworthy?)
Place your brand's values and that of your audience's back to back and think: how would they hear me if they saw a creative post on Facebook with our brand sounding like that? Would it be genuine? Would they relate? Would they welcome the change?
Most of the times those answers are best answered not by you, but by your audience and target market themselves. You cannot anticipate how the market will receive your changes — until they do, or not.
However, they might be the ones turning you down over a competitor's better product or service. In this case, it's not just the voice that needs to change, it's the whole business concept — not the brand, mind you, but the corporative characteristics of your business. That is, maybe your strategies, values and mission, and USP are not strong enough.
This probably should have been the first question, but if you stopped at the last paragraph and realized that was it... Then this is the next issue. If you redefine your business concept, that means you will be targeting a different audience altogether.
The law of contraction
Is your audience a tribe or is it a generalization of a characteristic?
The law of contraction (Al Ries, The 22 Immutable laws of branding) or what I call niching down, says that the more specific you are about who you are marketing and trying to create a communication channel with, the more you are perceived as a professional.
When you only do one thing, you get pretty good at doing that one thing.
What is smarter? Being everything to everyone, adding more things to sell, or selling one thing and being the best at it?
Certainly, the second option. You know what's great? Most marketers will do the opposite, and that's why you have just a handful of big dominating brands. Coke or Pepsi?
What happens when you cut a share of the market just for your brand?
Others will follow and copy you. You create a trend, a market and competition. That means you are the leader —and please, do it smart so you remain the leader of the niche you come up with. That means you will get respect.
What about the brands that do similar things?
Don't worry about them. Simple.
Learn from them if there is something to learn, but don't cripple your brand's values and mission for something that doesn't resonate with your brand's proposal.
If you came all the way down here — assuming then your business concept is on point and you are creating a new share of the market — you now need to assess your audience directly and deeply.
Who are they? Where are they? Are they young fellas that spend a lot of time on the computer, which also means most likely in the social media channels? What are their habits? What websites they visit? Ask yourself questions about habits of your audience.
Once you know where they are spending their time — and mind you, that could also be physically — you need to start communicating the changes. There are innumerous ways to do that, and you need to do that for a while for it to sink in people's mind.
One of my favorites humans, Sean McCabe, used to do lettering client works under his company SeanWes. That's the Sean I first "met". He shifted to a learning platform, where he other great people teach creatives to build and grow sustainable businesses. Some people still know him for the letter guy. Some people welcomed the change, some didn't. When you change, some people will love you nevertheless and support your cause, some people will hate you. That's ok. I still love Sean 😉
When you change the message, you cannot expect to everyone to understand, assimilate and agree with it. The same stands for your brand's voice. However, like every great rule, there are exceptions.
These exceptions are when the brand is too ingrained in people's minds. Changing a brand's voice is just not a complete shift (or a pivot, as we'd call it), like Sean's, but a nuanced one. It's the Apple example. Would you appreciate if Apple suddenly looked and sounded too messy and less minimalist? Too "old" or too "young"? Would the audience welcome it? Would it make sense in the brand's values and mission to make that change?
Go back to your brand's basics and do some thinking. Check back your values, mission, USP. Evaluate with your audience. Then come back here and check this article again and see if your answers to these questions remained the same or if they changed.