The brand manager's guide to tone of voice


Image credit: John Coffey CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In today’s cluttered and complex marketplace, how a brand sounds and speaks to the public is key to its success, shaping its popular (or unpopular) perception. What you say matters, but how you say it is just as important. Every piece of copy consumers read feeds their impression of your brand, so it’s essential to make sure you’re hitting all the right notes.

One of the best ways to learn how is to study the masters. Below are four brands we think have nailed their tone of voice – and how this helps them shift units and build a loyal customer base.


BrewDog


From their defiantly Scottish standpoint to their intensely strong drinks, BrewDog has created their own punk niche in a crowded market. They position themselves as an alternative to conventional ales, relying on their craft beer and IPA prowess to deliver a quality product supported by an inescapably attention-seeking brand machine. Their audience is young, educated and knowing, reflected in their spiky, devil-may-care tone of voice. 



Note their idiosyncratic beer labels: products are described as an “artisan rebel pilsner” or “iconoclastic amber ale,” with tongue-in-cheek names monikers including ‘Trashy Blonde’ and ‘5a.m. Saint’/ The company’s wacky advertising efforts and creative use of digital media (like their crowd-funded ‘Equity for Punks’ deal) show how embracing an off-the-wall tone of voice can disrupt even the most staid sectors.


Old Spice


Today, Terry Crews has helped lift Old Spice to the top shelf of the gym locker – a far cry from their pre-2010 struggle against Axe. So what changed? Their tone of voice, along with their design identity. Rather than change a classic formula, Old Spice edited their copy style and focused on attracting a new millennial demographic. Starting with the iconic “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, their new advertising comms used a comical, exaggerated masculinity, with sweet-smelling success.



The first campaign captured 75% of all conversations about male body wash; market share consolidated by subsequent TV/online spots, which all featured the same actor responding addressing viewers in his signature style.


Innocent


Among quirky, casual brands, it’s universally recognised that Innocent drinks have the best tone of voice for miles. The original chatty company originated a whole style of chummy brand conversation, with labels that give prime positioning to light-hearted jokes – not boring benefit-driven lists.



The “Innocent promise” is a claim that products will always be healthy and delicious, never featuring any “weird stuff”. The brand’s social media is top notch, from their compliment generator to Facebook posts poking fun at corporate drudgery (and this). Sunny since inception, Innocent manage to be authentically charming and demonstrate the importance of consistency with any tone of voice.


Skinnygirl


Another player in the alcoholic drinks market, Skinnygirl use their tone of voice to target women and promote an aspirational image. Claiming to be “so much more than cocktails,” the brand shifts the focus of their copy from merely selling a product to instead selling a ‘skinny’ lifestyle.



Their current campaign, Drink Like a Lady, equates their low-calorie drinks with being classy. Skinnygirl’s main success comes from the way they use a traditionally feminine epithet (skinny) and shape it into something empowering and thus appealing to their core demographic.


So, there you have it. A brand’s tone of voice is a soft power: cheap to change, but hugely effective in repositioning a business. Harder, more expensive strategies – like changing a product recipe or material feature – is impossible with many heritage brands. Instead, it’s more cost-effective to use marketing techniques like tone of voice to help modernise and drive sales. 


The key is knowing exactly who your audience is – who they are, how they speak, and how they want to talk to brands.


#Branding #BrewDog #OldSpice #Innocent