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Has your brand found its voice?

Brands, like people, have personalities. Is your brand hip or techie? Sexy or serious? The way brands speak — in advertising, on the shelf, on your tablet, in person — reflects their unique personalities.

The concept of voice isn’t new when it comes to creating an individual piece of communication. Brand owners and agencies alike will often talk about the overall tone of a piece. ‘Does it sound like us?’ ‘Is that really our voice?’

But what’s not as widely practiced is the art of truly understanding what your tone or brand voice really is, codifying it and applying it across multiple brand touch points, target audiences and situations.

While we won’t get into the nuts and bolts of what goes into a brand voice strategy and tactical direction during this post (you can learn more about our brand voice services here), we will take a look at four interesting examples of unique and powerful brand voices in very different markets.

We will look at the overarching strategies and specific tactics each brand uses to deploy a consistent, ‘hey, that sounds like us’ voice across multiple touch points.

J. Peterman 

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Most people know of J. Peterman as the eccentric owner of the catalog company where Elaine from Seinfeld worked in the hit TV show. In reality, it’s actually a real business, much the same as it was portrayed in the show. The brand sells vintage women’s and men’s clothing, accessories, luggage and one-of-a-kind pieces over the internet and by catalog. It also uses language at every turn to pull consumers into the brand’s unique world.

The Strategy: 

Traveling is about experiences. And experiences bring us stories. J.Peterman’s brand voice balances simple, brilliant storytelling with a literary slant to engage consumers and sell “uncommonly good stuff.”

The Tactics:

  • Choose inspired words. Good things,” a “J. Peterman Enthusiast,” “Impromptu Web Sales & Secret Codes…” each word and phrase makes for a simple yet exciting read even for something as basic as a subscribe invitation.

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  • Tell the brand story in clear, matter of fact terms. No fluff. No hyperbole. Just honest, warm, believable stuff.

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  • Embrace fiction. Here’s a simple, fun story about a man named Max, his lady friend, and how his hand-tailored pinstripe suite make him feel like he owns the world.

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  • Avoid the norm. For there are no “shopping carts” at JPeterman.com. Instead, you fill up your “bag,” which seems significantly more sensible for a J. Peterman enthusiast.

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  • Make some stories life lessons. After all, we all can use a refresher now and then. This story does a great job of pointing out a nice life lesson then tying it back to the product at hand. Remember to keep it first-person signular, as that’s how J. Peterman would want it.

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  • Paint a picture or set a scene with your langauge. How? Here you’ll see the writer pinpoint specific years, times, locations and historical events. Don’t be shy about setting the reader right into the story either with langauge like “You’re wearing this Parisian-designed Jacquard weave dress, strolling on the wite-sand beach, revealing your shocking female physicality…” Online or in a catalog, there you can’t try the dress on, but with J. Peterman, you might find yourself in one of the stories, which is just as good.

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  • Welcome folklore. Although technically not a highlighted aspect of the J. Peterman brand by the company itself, the fictionalized J. Peterman character in Seinfeld, played by John O’Hurley, has given the brand celebrity status that cannot, and should not, be ignored.

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  • Continue to build the mystique around the founder and leader. Intelligent. Inquisitive. A curious mind who searches the world for uncommonly good stuff. For experience. For adventure. For you. That’s J. Peterman.

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Tough Mudder


10_Tough_MudderIn business, there are followers, and there are leaders. Tough Mudder is the leader, and some might say originator, of the endurance event series space. Participants in Tough Mudder events traverse 10–12 mile long military-style obstacle courses. Designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength, obstacles often play off of common human fears, such as fire, water and heights. The courses are no cakewalk. And the rough and tough voice supports this.

The Tough Mudder brand clearly appeals to a young, active and aggressive audience around the world. After all, they position themselves as “Ironman meets Burning Man.” By using language that connects with this audiences’ inner-beast, and by speaking in a way that shows us the only thing we have to fear is our own inhibitions, the Touch Mudder voice is funny, unique and highly engaging.

The Tactics:

  • Be clear and commanding about your story. Tough Mudder tells it right up front. Try some self-depricating humor to soften the chest beating. Because afterall, you’re at the helm of “probably the toughest event on the planet.

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  • Take a strong stance. “Marathon running is boring.” This is probably true for Mudders. And who cares if you dissagree. Don’t be afraid to say a few tough words, too. If there is something out there that deserves to be called “lame-ass,” call it what it is. Lastly, just when you think the voice takes itself too seriously, it shows you the warm, fuzzy and inspiring side of why this brand and business is really killing it. Teamwork and camraderie are key themes.

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  • Make a pledge central to the experience. While many brands have missions, manifests and other stuff, these guys are different. They, and every participant in Tough Mudder, subscribes to a pledge. Five clear points to recite over and over as you push your body and mind past the limits.

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  • Be a goof-ball. It shows that the brand and events are truly fun. Run potential particpants through a Tough Mudder test so they can learn about themselves, what it takes to finish an event, and experience the brand early on.

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  • This really isn’t a tactic or anything. We just thought this was hilarious, because we actually have someone on the team that drives a Vespa and a Prius.

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  • This too. We could probably individually do a keg. Collectively, the team at Tanj could take the fridge.

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  • Which is probably the only reason the team at Tanj are pre-Tough Mudder Certified Bad-asses.

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  • Name things. Tough Mudder takes the time to create clever, sometimes raunchy, names for each obstacle on the course. This inspires participants, plus it makes the experience more memorable and easier to share with others. It’s also a shrewd business move — one that serves as protection for Tough Mudder’s intellectual property and course designs.

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  • Talk to your team like you do participants. After all, everyone is in it together. Internal employee communications (here we see a blurb about what it’s like to work at Tough Mudder) carry the same voice, tone and style all the way through.

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Tullamore Dew


20_Tullamore_DewWhiskey. A distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. There are so many classes, types, flavors and brands of whiskey that selecting one for yourself or a friend can be quite dizzying. One brand, Tullamore Dew, cuts through the clutter with a unique, intelligent and bold verbal identity that bridges past and present.

Highly emotional, extremely evolved, slightly abstract, insanely Irish. That’s the Tullamore Dew brand voice. The brand itself is based on a mood. A mood set by language — famous quotations, toasts, values, life scenes and self-evident truths. And setting the right mood starts with selecting the right words.

The Tactics:

  • Start with a simple, memorable phrase — “Glasses Up…” This is where the Teullamore Dew story begins. The language functions as a tagline, a story opener, a scene ender and a hook to be used almost anywhere to tie the message back to the brand. The brand’s US website is essentially one page, and it’s almost all copy. But who cares when you’ve got an intruiging story to tell and Irish whiskey to sell.

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  • Just quote. Amazing quotes from famous folks bring the brand to life in ad campaigns. Here we have a James Joyce quote about the agreeableness of a whiskey pour.

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  • Quote more. Get aspirational and high level. Philosophical and grand are just fine.

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  • Avoid quotes everyone knows. The writers search deep. Dig further. And unearth gems that enlighten the soul.

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  • Talk about the big stuff. Like life and its meaning.

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  • Give people something to talk about. When we drink, we usually drink with friends. And what’s drinking with friends all about? Talking. Toasting. Laughing and having an all around good time. Given the simplicity of the Tullamore Dew brand communications and limited number of touchpoints, we thought this was an excellent way to continue the conversation, provide drinkers with some wonderful words and tasteful toast, all while extending the brand beyond advertising and the bottle.

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  • Offer choices. Users can pick which type of toast they’d like to make, then narrow it down based on more criteria. Themes, dispositions, the type of company…

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  • Tailor your toast to a T.

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  • It’s ‘Glasses Up.’ You’ve got a set of wonderfully funny, inspiring, endearing or enriching things to say to those at your table. All thanks to Tullamore Dew.

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  • More toast to share and inspire… 

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  • And more quotes from famous historical figures… 

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Graphic Direction


32_Graphic_DirectionGraphic Direction is a Toronto-based print consultancy. In the last few years the company has tried to distance itself, both its brand and the service offering, from traditional printers. Full disclosure: we developed the Graphic Direction voice as part of an overall rebrand with our friends at SMITHRAIS. So featuring them here is partially a shameless plug. But we also think it is an interesting example of how a smaller B2B company can effectively use language and personality to differentiate itself from the competition and be highly relevant to its target audience. For Graphic Direction, their core target audience is graphic designers and agencies.

Disruptive. Edgy. Proud. Loud. The language Graphic Direction uses shakes up an industry born from one of the oldest modern inventions to date — the printing press. It reaches out directly to its designer audience and says ‘hey, we speak your language, let’s do something cool. Let’s chat.’

The Tactics:

  • Use voice to show how we’re different, but also that Graphic Direction is different. Remember the audience, they’re used to speaking to printers who, while nice people, aren’t the hippest cats on the block. Make it crystal clear that Graphic Direction is special.

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  • Be personable and cool. While the content of the copy is all about design, printing, services and capabilities, the business, like all businesses, is really about people. If customers like you, they’ll want to work with you. So be cool, alright?

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  • Take a stance. Tell and show who Graphic Direction is in clear, bold terms. If you ever think your audience is wondering, ‘well, what can they do for me,’ hit them hard by telling them exactly what Graphic Direction will deliver.

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  • Be casual and clear. ‘Casual’ speaks to collaboration, which is a core aspect of the Graphic Direction brand. ‘Clear’ speaks to a visionary approach. Show your audience that Graphic Direction has an innovative approach to bringing ideas to life.

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  • It’s okay to be a little geeky too. For example, in charts and graphs and stuff, don’t just fill them with simple, single words or simple phrases. Say something fun and true to get people’s attention and pique their interest.

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So that’s it. Four fun brands that have something unique to say, and a unique way of saying it.

If you are interested in learning more about how a brand voice program can activate your brand, say hello to Tanj.

We’re always happy to help.

 

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