Brands are strong and memorable when they have a distinctive, consistent, relevant brand voice. It is embedded in their ad executions across channels, in their public actions and PR, in the engagement with their fans and followers on social media, and everywhere they have a visible presence. It is expressed in their choice of language, of images, of topics, of media and of partnerships, among other things. Brands are strong and memorable when they have a distinctive, consistent, relevant brand voice. The cultivation, management and protection of that voice requires a deep understanding of what the brand stands for and what it does not.
It also needs an organizational commitment and a strong directive to be consistent. Brand voice should flow from a series of strategic, internal decisions that map back to the mission and vision of the organization. And yet, under the strain of distributed marketing functions and real time responses, all too often we see that voice falter.
Commonly, the voice wavers when some rogue agent forgets or neglects the brand DNA or is missioned to attract a certain demographic. Misguided attempts to speak in the voice of the audience or to directly address a disrupting competitor can lead a brand astray. It is painful to watch, and can make recovery difficult.
Consider the immense investment in a brand like CNN over decades, across different media channels around the globe. The CNN I watch every morning on cable TV is filled with political commentary, national and world news, and is the go-to resource for many people for real-time updates when catastrophe strikes around the world. It’s not always in-depth reporting, but it is timely and accurate, and I trust CNN as an information source.
The CNN I know online is dedicated to the news, but incorporates a fair amount of fluff and human interest in the form of sponsored content, celebrity news, and various pandering polls. But still, the news remains primary and the online experience puts the consumer in charge of their content mix so they can choose fluff when they want it. Importantly, the fluff remains segregated from the news to a large degree.
Recently, I signed up for a CNN daily email. It’s delivered with a cheery “Good Morning” from CNN and purports to deliver the five things I need to know to get up and out the door each morning. But the voice is jarringly off for a journalistic news source.
The cutesy, sarcastic tone and intentional use of slang and misspellings to discuss serious world issues doesn’t fit the CNN brand as it has come to mean and this direction erodes trust. To their credit, in the aftermath of recent terror attacks when the news was particularly somber, they consciously adjusted that tone for a day or two.