Byron Sharp and others have argued that brands are rarely differentiated but are more likely to be distinctive.
He says that if a brand has a successful point of differentiation, other brands will copy it and so they are unlikely to remain differentiated for long. So, to quote, well paraphrase a group of slightly less prominent brand gurus – Fun Boy Three and Bananarama 'It ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it, that’s what gets results'.
Sharp’s words echo the argument put forward some years ago by HHCL + Partners who bravely announced in their launch manifesto that the USP was dead, long live the USP. They too felt it was increasingly easy for your brand’s proposition to be copied, but that you could create a unique selling persona which they did for brands like Tango, Ronseal and First Direct
All this puts the emphasis firmly on brand personality and tone of voice as crucial to your brand’s future success.
However, despite the increased importance and the changes in the world of marketing, too many brands are relying on old and out-of-date approaches that rely on a few choice single adjectives and perhaps a celebrity like James Corden to create a single, consistent tone of voice.
Frankly it’s time that we took a fresh and challenging look at the way we want our brand’s to engage with audiences – with a deliberate emphasis on the plural of target groups.
The days of one-product one-brand are long dead and have been consigned to the marketing graveyard in the sky along with the original U.S.P. It’s harder to think of a brand that hasn’t been extended than to recall the vast majority of brands that now offer a range of products and services.
Therefore, today’s brands need to cross boundaries of category, country and audiences. Audiences who are likely to have different core demographics, psychographics and may come from very different cultures.
A single rigid tone of voice is highly unlikely to be suitable for all. Brands play many roles with different people and on different occasions. They must engage with multiple stakeholder groups with multiple needs simultaneously. They need to be brave and embrace new ways of thinking about tone of voice.
I would suggest that in the future brands’ tone of voice should be closer to an editorial style than the tone of a single writer/speaker.
Take an analogy with a radio station or newspaper. They may have different ‘tones’ for different parts of their offering - sports versus business versus leader column - but in the end they all come from the same ‘brand’, with a coherent editorial style. Think about the difference between the Sun and the Guardian in the UK
The entertainment industry has embraced this approach for many years. A simple example was the two different front covers of Harry Potter, but if you think of Star Wars and the plethora of its output its probably closer to the mark. While the brand remains the same the tone flexes across the films, the books, the picture books for children, the behind the scenes books, the ‘geeks’ specials whether these are about characters, planets, machines or weapons.
It was a while ago, but I remember first thinking about the limitations of one tone of voice when in the same month the then new Nokia Lumia appeared in Katy Perry’s Roar video and was used on a shoot by one of National Geographic’s photographers instead of his normal DSLR camera.
Since then and increasingly I believe brands need to manage this multiplicity, so they can talk about different things to different people at different times, without being seen as schizophrenic. As and when they do they will find that they have depth and sustainable appeal, they can still have a brand ‘feel’ but one which can cover the larger footprints they now make on society.
By Giles Lury, Executive Chairman at The Value Engineers