“Hello, I’m your husband. How do you do?”

Do you know how couples counsellors spot a relationship that doesn’t have much holding it together?
It’s not the heated arguments: that means there’s an area of shared concern, even if the terms are disputed.
It’s when the partners are using a persistently formal tone of voice with each other: they know each other, why aren’t they engaging?

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It’s easy for brands to make the same mistake.

Many brands speak with a consistently formal voice. At least, then, there’s no danger of chaos.

But the customer can engage with a brand in an ever-diversifying range of channels. (Spoiler: this won’t stop any time soon). And those customers now want to be part of an evolving conversation, not the recipient of a monologue. Brands which refuse to acknowledge the different roles of the channels, lose engagement.

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Some brands have learnt to flex their voice to suit the channel. For example, Clarks shoes.

On its website landing page, it adjusts its brand voice to turn up its on-trend fashion creds. But on its WhatsApp channel, where it’s reasonable to expect the only visitors are people who are already fans, Clark’s deepens their engagement by turning the fashion down and turning the brand’s heritage up.

But in both channels, the voice is distinctly Clarks.

Inside and outside the commercial world, at home and at work, language is only effective when both parties acknowledge the conversation’s context. Luckily, language is the quickest, least expensive and most easily changed of all the branding elements. And when a brand learns to flex its voice depending on the channel it’s speaking in (and even better, how long this person has been a customer of the brand) it can, like Clarks, take people from being interested to being engaged. It will also reduce churn rates in moments of crisis, and help build robust and more valuable relationships.

If you want to find out more about how your voice is performing, a brand language audit is relatively quick and easy. And looking closely at the language you use will always reveal valuable information. (Email me if you’d like to have a chat about this.)

So why is the flex of the voice so often overlooked? What can be done?

The couples’ counsellors have their advice.

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For brands, it’s about learning that your voice can’t be defined by just 4 adjectives. (Especially if those 4 adjectives are Human, Warm, Friendly, and Approachable).*

Perhaps the full 140-pages that you’d find in a brand’s visual identity guidelines aren’t needed. But anyone who writes for the brand (and that includes not just the ‘writers’, but Customer Service, front line staff, the CEO, investor relations) needs to understand the brand voice’s overarching narrative and the ground-level stuff like lexicon, sentence length.

Mostly, it’s about knowing how to turn those brand-defining adjectives up and down according to where the brand is speaking. Think of it as one of the Graphic Equalisers that you saw on Hi-Fi systems in the 90s.

House music? Turn the bass up.
Female solo artist? Turn the bass down, turn the treble up.

Giving writers a short burst of training in the Graphic EQ of the brand voice is fast and effective. It’s also fun.

But this flexibility of voice isn’t just for hipster brands like Clarks.

The BBC has understood how to flex its voice since the 70s. The Radio 1 DJ is definitely BBC. So is the Radio 2 DJ. But they’re also noticeably different.

And last month, BBC launched a WhatsApp channel using a voice that was still BBC but moderated to speak to the ‘Young, Angry and Connected’.

If you’re going through a difficult time personally, I don’t mean to trivialise. If you’re starting a new relationship with customers in a new channel, or via a new product, or playing the field courtesy of recent new investment, you’ll know the challenges of adapting your brand’s voice.

If you would like to hear more about how we help brands create language which creates change (including how we’re helping one of the UK’s most famous brands speak for different products and through different channels), just email us.

It’s good to talk.
In confidence, of course.

*By the way, if your company has a tone of voice document and it DOESN’T contain the adjective ‘human’, please send us a copy and we’ll send you a gift package from Hotel Chocolat. Seriously. You’re already ahead of 98% of brands working on their tone of voice. Just email us a copy with an address where we can send something back to you.