Monday, April 9, 2007

A Conversation with Robocop

Tone of Voice: “Our brand needs to sound human, and our copy should read as if you are having a conversation with someone over coffee”

Brand Values: Approachable, Honest, Humble, and Friendly.

If your dreaded brand guideline booklet does not have any resemblance to the above, I’m sure you have come across many brands that do. As trivial as it may sound it is the sole yet high rising and mighty pillar that holds up marketing managers’ false sense of hope. Everyone wants to have an approachable brand that is friendly and human-like; but is setting strict communication guidelines and adhering to preset values the best way to do it? Do you actually set guidelines, values, and conversation parameters before you go out to have coffee with your friends? Imagine that, human beings with tone of voice guidelines…I believe the closest we can get to imagining that would be a cup of coffee with Robocop.

In reality conversation is not a science, and therefore advertising cannot be one either. To give justice to the tone of voice statement above (mentioned in most corporate guidelines); a brand should not have preset values and tone of voice guidelines. When one goes out for coffee or to a bar s/he change conversation topics more than 10 times, and as one does s/he changes tonality, facial expressions, and attitudes so how can brands stick to preset characteristics and be human? A person who speaks in the same way all the time is considered monotonous and boring, whereas a brand that does that is praised for its consistency.
Nic touched on this point a little with his post on karaoke brands.

I believe that brands should communicate in different ways and have constantly evolving values, from friendly to frustrated, honest to sarcastic, and non-fiction informative to fictional entertaining. Similar to the human stream of consciousness and the constantly evolving conversational topics that pick up on ‘values’ from previous ones, brand communication should narrate a story linking all of their communication together. As with human conversation, there need not be an overarching theme, but there needs to be continuation or a trail. Here’s an example of a human evolving conversation: Hey did you watch the game yesterday, that referee made a really bad call; he certainly did I wonder how the NBA would treat such an offence. At work if I make a bad call on my inventory shelf-life I get a 20% pay cut. Yeah I hear you, at home if I don’t notice that my wife changed her hair color I get to sleep on the couch. Speaking of your wife, are you free for poker next Monday?”

For brands to be human and friendly they should not be what the industry labels as ‘consistent’, they should create conversation and build on that conversation; also contrary to old school advertising rituals a brand should not have the typical smile and friendly attitude in everything it says – unless you want it to sound like

On the same note and somewhat building on transmedia planning, when a addresses you (similar to anyone else), it should not have the same tone when talking to you over coffee as it does when you are at work, or having a drink in a pub. Humans naturally change moods, talk about different things, and have a general dynamic personality; therefore if brands want to become more personal, human, and engaging they should do the same.


Anonymous said...

I would like to add to your idea of having many moods and tones of voice the fact that branding 101 teached us that our brands belong to the letting go, we open up the doors to multifacetedness...

The issue is letting go...

Anonymous said...

the the, I would argue that this is branding 102, 101 was more of a push aproach focusing on hard sell "push" advertising. 102 is about truly customer-centric (customer created / customer owned brands)

Anonymous said...

great.. agreed. In theory, you are absolutely right, but could you give examples as to the application of this?

when you go out for coffee with a friend X, you already know the "brand" X through multiple interactions, different situations. You can predict certain reactions and even if you cannot, you can always confidently rule out other reactions (the "that's so unlike you" type of thing).

so how do you recommend having a brand take different tonalities and facettes when the consumer's interactions with the brand remain very limited and thus lose the personality of the brand?

fk said...

An example can be the Barclays bank ad "Big Bank" where they mock the arrogance concept.
Any brand can have personality traits, but they can change tonalities. If a person / brand is friendly or social, they can still get pissed off from time to time, and they can be different at work and play.
What I'm trying to say is we should differentiate personality from tonality, personality can always be reflected through image and general feel and therefore always be reinforced at every interaction.