When I was new to journalism I scored an interview with Ray Martin for a job as a researcher on Channel 9’s Midday Show (yes, it was a very long time ago).
All was going well until Ray said, “You’re very softly spoken, Sherene – how can I be sure you’re tough enough for our show? You don’t seem like someone who’s got what it takes to beat our competition to the top stories.”
Damnit – I had the skills to get the interview, but my quiet voice made me seem too timid to do the job.
And I really wanted that job. Midday may have been daytime television but it had the biggest names in news and entertainment. Partly it was Ray’s appeal but it was also the tenacity of the researchers who tracked down and convinced people to give them an exclusive interview.
I didn’t get the job because my voice didn’t match my promise. It let me down.
Is your brand voice letting you down?
Your brand voice is the personality of your business expressed through what you are saying and the way you are saying it. In my interview, I said I was up to the job but my voice gave the opposite impression.
How can you make sure your brand voice isn’t giving mixed messages?
Know your real strengths
First, you have to know what your brand voice is, and perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. Skype does this really well. They know the foundation of their business is complicated – who really understands how VoIP works? But how it works doesn’t matter. That’s not where the strength of the business lies.
Skype’s strength is not the technology but the way it can link people to their friends and loved ones anywhere on the planet. So they bypass the technical jargon and talk about the benefits of getting free calls through the Internet – the conversations and connections that happen because of it. And they talk in a way that is, according to the Skype brand book, human and plain speaking with gentle humour and simple language. They list the words they like (share, free, calls) and ones they don’t like (telephony, peer to peer and VoIP). Their brand voice makes it really easy for their customers to understand and remember what Skype is about.
Know what you believe
One of the reasons Skype’s voice is so distinctive lies in the second element to a successful brand voice – it’s genuine. Skype’s purpose is to give people around the world the chance to talk to each other for free. Their brand bible describes Skype as ‘for the people’ as well as ‘generous, proactive and interested.’ The approachable and friendly voice of the brand is totally in sync with that. A brand voice that’s real is always centred on the business’s purpose and values.
Know how to stay on track
Finally, a clear brand voice is consistent. There’s a reason that many successful companies have a style guide like Skype’s Brand Book – it keeps everyone on the same track whenever they are writing anything for the business. Inconsistency confuses people and undermines the brand promise. That’s when people end up going elsewhere for what they want.
Not every business can or will develop its own style guide but there’s real benefit in making a conscious choice about how your brand should sound, even if it’s just a couple of adjectives to help guide you or anyone else writing for your business.
Otherwise, like me, you might miss out on a golden opportunity because your words are saying one thing but your voice is saying something else. Years later I did get to work with Ray Martin. By then he was at A Current Affair and I had enough on my resume to show that I could be as dogged and determined as the next journo, even if I was still softly spoken. But Midday will always be the one that got away by a whisper.