Don’t be a bland brand

“People choose their brands as they choose their friends. You choose friends not usually because of specific skills or physical attributes but simply because you like them as people.”

Stephen King

Not that one – the JWT one

Typically, a client will tell me their brand voice is passionate, friendly and honest. Other words often offered are dedicated, authentic and trustworthy. Let’s think about that for a moment. What brand wouldn’t want to be all of these things? What brand aims to be unfriendly, dishonest and inauthentic?

“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.”
Shirley Polykoff

The Advertising Hall of Fame says Shirley is “an advertising creator extraordinaire and a pioneering role model for professional women.”

We’re writing to people every time we write an ad, an email, a web banner. And we’re interrupting their day, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. So we must make everything feel like a natural conversation – easy and interesting. We must write how we talk. More importantly, we must write how our consumers talk so we slip right into their day without them feeling like we’re interrupting.

If Copywriting is a conversation, wouldn’t we always sound friendly and honest. And authentic and trustworthy? These principles should be our default. They aren’t actually that helpful when we’re trying to create a voice that’ll stand out from our competitors. There’s nothing distinctive about them.

So we need words that work harder to help us create our voice. Words we can really get behind. Words that really define a brand personality and evoke character. Words like playful, formal, romantic, cheeky, flirty, and serious.

How do we do it? Ask lots and lots and lots of questions. Question everything.

Is our brand smart?
Is our brand serious?
Is our brand sassy?
Is our brand stylish?
Is our brand sophisticated?
Is our brand silly?
Is our brand soppy?
Is our brand sensitive?
Is our brand sad?
Is our brand serious?

And keep asking such questions. They don’t all have to start with S.

What does our brand eat?
What does our brand drink?
What does our brand wear?
What does our brand watch?
What does our brand read?
What does our brand do at work?
What does our brand do at the gym?
What does our brand do at the weekend?
What does our brand do on holiday?

I did all this with the Sky Atlantic team a couple of years ago. We found that the brand was a stylish male. A bit suave. A bit cool. Rather sexy. Confident and captivating. Creative. Men want to be like him, women want to be with him. He drinks Scotch not pints. He smokes.

In fact, we found that Sky Atlantic was just like Don Draper in Mad Men.

When we find a character to represent our brand, we find it easier to write with that character in mind. What would our character say? What words and phrases would our character use?

All this takes time. Time to research, time to investigate, time to create. But it’s what gets our brand noticed. Having a distinctive personality makes sure we stand out and appeal to our consumers. It’s what helps them remember us.

“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business”

Steve Forbes, Editor In Chief, Forbes Magazine

Sadly, so many brands don’t take the time to research, investigate or create. They default to being passionate, friendly and honest, which means they don’t have a distinctive personality, they won’t stand out and they won’t be remembered. That’s why I recently collaborated with Paul Mellor of Mellor & Smith  to create our Bland Book. It shows how every brand looks when they don’t do the things they need to do to be the brand their consumer wants them to be.

You can download the Bland Book here

Bland Book credits:

Copy: Vikki Ross, Vikki Ross Writes
Art Direction: Paul Mellor, Mellor & Smith
Artwork: Grace State, Mellor & Smith

Vikki Ross is a Copywriter and Brand and Tone of Voice Specialist


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