It was 1990. We were in a quiet, trendy Hollywood restaurant whose name I never knew and I doubt still exists.
I was with an agency producer, working on a TV job for a large telecom client.
It was the unmistakable voice of an old friend. I wanted to jump up, hug him and tell him my whole family and all our friends missed him.
But I didn’t because he was speaking softly, it sounded private, and I didn’t want to interrupt.
Besides, we had never met, and I didn’t want to scare the hell out of him.
It was Don Knotts.
A.k.a. Barney Fife, Mr. Limpit and Ralph Furley.
I didn’t need to see him to know. Of course I turned my head. Of course it was him. That voice was completely unique.
Brands can also have a “voice.”
What exactly does that mean?
It’s what people hear when you communicate. It’s personality, character, style and substance. It demands attention.
Some brands have a voice as distinctive as Don Knotts.
They’ve developed an appropriate, effective way of communicating with their community through advertising, events, design, in-store experience, systems, service, websites, social media, cause advocacy and more. Think of McDonalds, Nike, Harley Davidson, Trader Joe’s, Southwest.
Each has a voice that attracts attention—and encourages relationships.
Smaller companies can also have a distinctive voice.
You can probably think of local retailers, or companies in specialty markets, whose voices make you listen.
You could easily pick out each one’s singular voice in a noisy room full of bloggers.
How do you develop your brand’s voice?
I don’t think there’s a quick answer. The fashionable answer is “be authentic.” But can a brand—an artificial construct—be authentic? Do the Dew, anyone?
I think it takes work, trial and error, and craftsmanship. It demands consistency.
Your brand’s voice might consist of characteristics like these:
None of these is right or wrong. The key is finding a voice that’s right for you.
I recommend ongoing work in three areas:
What do you really offer? Why is it important? Why are you, or what you do, different?
Know your competitors
Who else talks with your customers? What do your customers think of them?
Most importantly, know your customers
What are their true needs, practical and emotional? How can you fit into their life?
Excel at these, and you’ll communicate with confidence. Talk and write as if it were person to person. See what approaches work. Your voice will grow and develop.
I’m not sure this is enough to develop a voice as distinctive as Don Knotts, or even the Pillsbury Doughboy. But I think it’s a good start.
What do you think?