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One Brand, Many Voices


​In marketing communications, a consistent brand voice used to be a holy grail of sorts. It was universally accepted that Jane Consumer needed to hear the same thing when she watched a Coke commercial, saw a Coke ad, drove by a Coke billboard, or read a slogan on her Coke can. 

As career direct marketers, over the years we've become adept at adding promotional urgency to established brand voices. But, it was always important that our work — whether direct mail, billstuffers, package or newspaper inserts, radio spots, print ads, or coupons — correlated with and complemented whatever brand advertising was out there. 

Essentially, our work needed to "play well with others."

Of course, since it's direct, the work also needed to work. Sometimes that was a balancing act. (But, that was always part of the fun.)

The earliest websites we developed (mid-1990s, the veritable dark ages of the Internet — and no, we won't tell you how old we are) were in essence corporate brochures delivered through a computer screen. Interactivity, other than fairly linear navigation, was non-existent. The medium was still a one-way street. And, we made sure that each website was a direct translation of the client's brand voice.

But technology has changed — dramatically — over the past (um) twenty years. Not only has the user experience become more dynamic and dimensional, but clients have multiple online platforms: from their official corporate website to product, campaign or audience microsites, and any variety of social media presences. What's happened is that, driven by new media communications, one voice has become many.

And that's okay.

Customers and prospects no longer expect to hear the same old thing (in the same old words) every time they engage with a brand. In fact, if that were the case, it wouldn't feel natural. The way a company describes itself in a 48-page annual report simply can't fit into 280 characters on Twitter. Users expect to get different perspectives via different platforms, regardless of length. What feels appropriate in a corporate brochure would bore someone reading a blog post. And the casual first-person opinion you might find in a blog would seem way too casual for a more official publication.

Recently, we worked with a local hospital's marketing team to define the right brand guidelines for all of the different channels they use to communicate with donors, doctors, and patients. Here's what we came up with ...

• Written in first-person plural ("We") and second-person ("You")
• Big pictures, small words
• Simple, but never silly
• Friendly, helpful, and conversational

Research Studies/Professional Papers
• Written in third-person, official hospital voice
• Formal, scholarly perspective
• Research and fact-based content
• Professional, technical, and note-worthy

Health Topics for Patients
• Written in third-person, hospital voice
• Hospital caregivers' perspective
• Focus on patient needs and benefits
• Simple, engaging, informative but easy-to-read

Outbound Marketing Communications
• Written in second-person ("You")
• Creative presentation of concepts, content
• Benefits focus
• Backed by facts

• Written in first-person singular ("I")
• Everyday language
• Strong personal opinion and passion is okay ...
• But, backed by facts

Of course, none of these individual brand personalities should contradict each other. (You wouldn't for example, state in one place that your goal is to help sick children and then profess utter disinterest in doing so somewhere else.) They are shades of the same color, but deftly crafted to take advantage of what each platform has to offer. Your audience for each may be different. Or they may be the same but in a different frame of mind. In some cases, they want to hear from an institution. In others, from a team of people. And in still others, from individuals with their own points of view.

Today's consumers don't want to be told what to think. If you're lucky, they want to engage. They want to hear stories from real people as well as a finely-tuned brand message.

More voices — as long as they "play well with others" — can be louder than one.

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