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Translating brand voice - Can you kill two birds with one tone?

When you read a book, do the characters have different voices in your head? Does Hagrid sound the same as Professor Dumbledore? This is ‘tone of voice’ in action. So, how can you apply this to a brand?

A brand’s tone of voice is how it sounds to its clients or consumers. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. It can be formal, funny, brazen, zany, plain… What matters is that it’s consistent. That’s what makes it recognisable.

Are you tone deaf?

You might not have noticed, but most brands have an image they want your brain to conjure up every time they ‘speak’ to you. A tone of voice is designed with its audience in mind, so helps build a rapport with its customers through patterns and familiarity. The more familiar you are with how a brand sounds, the closer you feel to it – like hearing a ‘warm friend’ answer the phone, right? But make no tones about it… they are, quite literally, designed.

Need some convincing? Check out Copy Capital speaker Nick Parker’s Voicebox kit for building a brand’s tone of voice: it identifies the ’11 Primary Voices’ – the distinctive ‘archetypal’ voices. Its ‘tarot cards’ help you think through which of those voices might be right for your brand.

Good news – you’re cured! Tone deaf no more… Why not test out your new-found knowledge on everyday brands? Any devout Chrome fan will be familiar with the distinctly Google-esque Aw, Snap!” error message. In fact, their style guide is freely available online, so we can spot their ‘conversational and friendly’ tone from a mile off.

This particular tone is most often replicated by ‘young’ brands, especially given the demands of millennial consumers who are no longer in search of an authority figure. They want down-to-earth labels that speak to them in their own language. As long as they don’t take it too far and end up trying to get ‘down with the kids’. Totes awks, fellow youths.

One much-loved example is – you guessed it – juice giant, Innocent Drinks. Their comedy tweets have won them 287K Twitter followers and perfectly showcase the brand’s human side. The fact the majority of their content has nothing to do with juice and everything to do with pop culture is testament to their dedication.

Making sure your voice carries overseas

So, brands clearly put the hours in to hit the right notes with their audience. But how does this work in other languages? When it comes to translating tone of voice, you need to consider how it will be received. Nobody wants to shout into the void.

Will ‘super-friendly-just-like-you-guys’ work in countries with an entire grammatical construct dedicated to being extra polite and respectful to strangers? Well, that all depends: Italian and Spanish have started opting for the less formal ‘tu’ or ‘tú’ respectively (both informal), while French Internet users still tend to see ‘vous’ (formal). There’s always one…

So, if you need a helping hand (or voice box) keeping your brand pitch perfect, WIT is all ears.


By Amy Reid, WIT Account Manager


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