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Brand Voice: Be Consistent, Be Yourself (Hopefully That Won’t Be A Conflict!)

December 17, 2019

cat hiding behind big lion mask pretending to be something he's notLike it or not, every brand has a personality. If you don’t choose it yourself, others will choose it for you, based on their impressions.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

There are different ways to define brand personality.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

There’s the academic approach:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Back in 1997, Stanford University marketing professor Jennifer Aaker identified 5 dimensions of brand personality: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication and Ruggedness.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can break each dimension down into certain traits, and certain brands will come to mind:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Sincerity: wholesome, cheerful (Betty Crocker, Michelin Tires– think of the lovable “Michelin Man“)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Excitement: daring, spirited (Nike, Red Bull, Virgin Airlines)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Competence: reliable, intelligent (Allstate Insurance, Rolex Watches)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Sophistication: upper class, charming (Apple Computer, Dos Equis– think of “The Most Interesting Man In The World“)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Ruggedness: outdoorsy, tough (Brawny Towels, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles)blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Which brand goes in which category is a matter of opinion. You could argue that some brands straddle categories— that Nike is both rugged and exciting, for example.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

The funniest category placement I came across: the ImagiBrand blog put Charmin Toilet Paper in the Excitement category. Why? Because Charmin made a “daring leap” to change with the times: from its folksy Mr. Whipple commercials to Charmin Bears singing about their shiny hineys.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Clearly “excitement” is a matter of perspective… 🚽😊blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

The academic approach to brand personality is helpful, a good place to start, but there’s a problem: we’d like to believe we’re all those things– wholesome, cheerful, daring, spirited, charming, tough– kinda like Betty Crocker drinking Red Bull and riding a Harley-Davidson. (There’s an image for you!)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We’d like to think our brand is all those things, too.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

So we need a more practical definition of brand personality. I like how Steve Harvey of Fabrik Brands defines it:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(Brand) personality is the… unique element that… makes it easier for you to create … relationships, rather than just (sales). For a personality to be effective, it needs to be memorable, and generate positive associations for your product or service.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Unique, memorable (my emphases): you need to be different, you need to find a way to make people remember you.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Mr. Harvey goes on to say:blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Whether we realize it or not, (we’re) constantly making assumptions about brands. (We figure out) whether a brand is suitable for us… by attributing specific characteristics to it, and (deciding) whether we reflect its (personality) traits…blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Can you sit down with a blank piece of paper and think your way to a brand personality?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I doubt it. You do have to think about it, but it’s going to come into focus as you define your target audience– the people you’re selling to. When you know what they need and what makes them tick, you’ll be able to relate to them– and that’s a huge part of personality, both brand and human.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Which brings us to brand voice.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Sometimes you hear brand voice defined in terms of a sliding scale: are you folksy or formal or somewhere in between?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Not particularly helpful, in my opinion.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

I like what marketing consultant Erika Heald says about brand voice. She sees it as a matter of consistency: if your logo didn’t appear on your content, could your audience still recognize it as coming from your brand? Could they hear your voice?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Or would a lot of it sound much like your competitors?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Your brand voice needs to be consistent, because you’re trying to position yourself as an easily identifiable and authoritative source for your area of expertise.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group, adds that your brand voice also needs to be likable. Being likable helps your audience relate to you, and makes them more likely to engage with and trust your brand.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

A few closing thoughts:blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

► Brand personality is more effective than brand talk.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

People like to come to their own conclusions about the brands that they do business with. That’s why establishing a personality is often more effective than simply telling people what you want them to think about you.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

► The keys to a successful brand personality: Be unique, be consistent, be likable.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

► So where does “Be yourself” come in?blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Sounds like a contradiction, and maybe it is. I saved it for last because it’s my own opinion.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Consider: most brands are small brands, and many of us, myself included, work alone.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

(According to the Census Bureau, the share of U.S. businesses with 20 or fewer workers was 98% in 2016, and there were 24.8 million non-employer businesses ( = individual proprietorships), compared to 5.6 million employer firms.)blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

A small business or self-employed person can’t manufacture a
false personae and maintain it over the long term. You need to be yourself: it’s an essential part of being unique, and being consistent.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

We can all think of people who’ve succeeded without being very likable– but it’s an unlikely path, only made possible, in most cases, by a very rare and desirable talent or unique skill.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Being likable is a much better bet. Is it really that hard? No. To a great extent, it means being polite, considerate, being a good listener, having a can-do attitude, and giving people the benefit of the doubt.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Perhaps some of those behaviors don’t come easily to some of us, but we can choose to practice them.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

And yes, it requires an ongoing commitment.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *    blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

About Mark: I’m an illustrator specializing in humor, editorial, branding, social media, and content marketing. My images are different, like your brand needs to be.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

You can view my portfolio, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Questions? Send me an email.blank vertical space, 40 pixels highRecommendation testimonial for Mark Armstrong Illustration from Angela Zimmerman, Editor-in-Chief, Crawdaddy Magazine

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mia Moravis permalink
    December 17, 2019 9:24 AM

    Mark, Bravo! So many levels of “Yes, yes, yes!” in my head right now! Thank you for this!

    Like

    • December 17, 2019 10:23 AM

      Thanks, Mia! So glad it scored a hit with you. I know I’m repeating myself, but having the support and encouragement of a true marketing professional like yourself means a heckuva lot– thank you!! 😊

      Like

  2. December 22, 2019 10:02 PM

    The statistic “U.S. businesses with 20 or fewer workers was 98% in 2016” was an interesting one. It makes me wonder about the current anti-capitalism sentiment in some circles. When these anti-capitalists rail against private companies, do they not realize that often the people whose time and labor powers those companies are the same people that own, or have a vested interest in those small companies?

    But, enough about the strange times we live in. Merry Christmas Mark, and all the best in 2020!

    Like

    • December 23, 2019 5:24 PM

      Strange times indeed, Margy, and I couldn’t agree with you more. Too many people equate “business” with major brands and huge corporations. They are a very small part (less than 2%) of U.S. businesses, but they get all the publicity. It’s the small businesses that take care of business for most of us. I’m sure that’s true in Canada as well.

      Thanks as ever for your friendship and support– a very Merry Christmas to you, and I wish you much happiness and success in the new year!!! 😊

      Like

  3. January 3, 2020 8:03 PM

    Thanks for the post. It is very informative. Especially appreciate your emphasis on creating a unique brand, one that will help companies stand out from the crowd.

    Like

    • January 4, 2020 5:44 AM

      Many thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Agreed: you have to get noticed, and that means standing out from the crowd. And it takes resolve and ongoing effort. The great temptation is to try to fit in, and do what everyone else is doing. Thanks again for your kind comment! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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