I’m going to describe three brands to you. Try to guess which ones they are. Brand #1 is clear, insightful and optimistic. Brand #2 is fun, funny and slightly irreverent. Brand #3 is hard-working, honest and approachable.
If you guessed your own brand for any of these, you’re both right and very, very wrong.
Every client brief or brand standards guide has this section: “What is our brand voice?” How is a sane brand supposed to answer that? Of course you’re insightful, hard-working and fun. Who wouldn’t want to be that? Or clear? Or honest? I have yet to see a brand that admits to being money-grubbing, treacherous and curmudgeonly.
“Brand voice” is supposed to guide people (both at the agency and within your own walls) in creating materials that are on-brand. This voice can mean anything from a simple email to a full-blown campaign.
However, in this endeavor, brand voice is nearly useless. There are limited positive adjectives with which to describe your brand, but there are unlimited brands to describe. Therefore, every brand voice starts to sound the same, because clear and insightful are essentially no different from smart and approachable.
My brand is like a pineapple.
It’s about showing, not telling. If people say they’re cool, they probably aren’t. But if they say they’re like Fonzie, maybe they’re worth hanging out with. Start drawing comparisons, and you end up with a more accurate portrayal of your brand’s image.
-If your brand were a superhero, what would his or her superpower be? Maybe your superpower is flight, because your product flies off the shelves. Or precognition, because you can predict market changes. Answer with what you have, not what you wish for. I’m sure Batman would have loved the power of flight, but he worked just fine with what he had.
-What type of cereal is your brand? Unless your brand is cereal, you’ll need to pick a car or fruit. Again, the key is the rationale. Are you crunchy? Healthy? Flaky? Do you have a prize inside? What type of box do you come in? Do kids love you or loathe you?
-How is your brand like a frog/Gandhi/a dinosaur/a bicycle/a politician? Example: Is it like a frog, because it can catch business that seems out of reach?
These are just a few examples. But if brands start thinking of themselves not in terms of words but rather examples of how they want people to feel about them, everyone involved in representing the brand will have a much easier time.
Barrett Condy is a senior copywriter at gyro, the global ideas shop.
Follow him @barrettcondy