Personas, character sketches of the type of person a particular brand is targeting, are often helpful for putting a human face on potential customers. When thinking about big numbers of people it’s easy to lose sight of the individuals comprising those groups.
Lululemon’s founder once said that he created a “‘muse’ who would inspire all merchandise — a 32-year-old professional single woman named Ocean who makes $100,000 a year.”
He described her as: “engaged, has her own condo, is traveling, fashionable, has an hour and a half to work out a day.” Ocean’s male counterpart, Duke, is 35, makes over $100,000 a year, and is an “‘athletic opportunist,’ surfing in the summer, snowboarding in the winter, and he [is] willing to pay for quality.”
Lululemon is a high-end, aspirational brand with a focus on lifestyle, and these personas represent that aspiration. If Lululemon can appeal to the Oceans and Dukes of the world, millions more who aspire to be like them, will pay attention.
Recent research suggest that not only should brands be developing personas for their target markets, they should seriously consider examining what kind of person the brand itself would be.
Who is Your Brand?
Using imagery, language, and tone that fits a persona creates a holistic brand identity. Not only does this reinforce the brand message but it results in an emotional connection with the consumer.
Starbucks is famous for always considering not just the functional value of their coffee, but the consumer’s affinity for and connection to the brand. Coffee drinkers don’t go to a Starbucks just for a coffee, they go for an enjoyable, comfortable experience. They like who Starbucks is and what it stands for and feel at home there.
Every brand needs a unique personality to differentiate itself from the crowd. They do so by staking claim to different design elements, for example Home Depot wants to own the color orange and BMW identifies itself by the use of its iconic split grill.
These companies also create their identity through brand language, which extends to virtually all written material related to their brand, including the brand name itself, taglines, packaging information, and even internal company documentation.
Disney wants to be synonymous with words like ‘magic’ and ‘fantasy.’ Starbucks built its brand around words like “growth,” “roasted,” and “earthy.” Tide would like nothing better than for you to hear the words “clean” and “bright” in your head whenever you see their logo. Each brand has examined its core traits and applied them universally to own a particular part of the zeitgeist, our collective experience.
Branding expert Martin Lindstrom studied the effectiveness of their efforts, reporting that:
“74 percent of today’s consumers associate the word ‘crunch’ with Kellogg’s. Another 59 percent consider the word ‘masculine’ and Gillette as one and the same.”
However, one of the limitations of rigid brand identities is that it can be difficult to adapt when the marketplace changes or if you wish to branch out. At some level, Gillette’s success with men, undercuts its products targeted to women, who may feel the brand is only partially focused on them.
Finding the Right Tone
If your brand language is what you say, your tone of voice is how you say it. In 2015, brand language consultants at The Writer released a report analyzing the use of tone in brand language by Fortune 1000 companies. Their study found that:
“80% of the businesses surveyed have no formal tone of voice (or what some call verbal identity).”
But an equal percentage of the companies that did employ a tone of voice called it “…just as – or more – important than their brand’s visual identity.”
It’s particularly useful to brands offering highly technical products and services that are laden with mystifying jargon and acronyms that can scare off all but the most sophisticated customers. Networking giant Cisco was faced with that problem a few years ago, finding both its customers and even people within the company had trouble understanding its many businesses and the diverse markets it operates in.
So, the company initiated a global plan to find a simpler and more consistent tone of voice. According to Michael Lenz, Cisco’s Global Director of Brand Experience: “Intentionally governing your brand’s voice pays dividends across your customer’s entire journey. The emotional feedback and data have proven it repeatedly. It’s the real foundation of your brand experience.”
Not only does striking the right tone make things easier for everyone to understand, but if you are careful in choosing a style that matches your brand’s ethos it makes you more distinctive and recognizable. Recognition builds trust. As your audience picks up on your tone and becomes familiar with it, they learn they can depend on your brand to stay true to its values.
The marketplace today is too busy and too competitive for half measures. Failure to develop your brand language and employ it persistently could be costing you sales and undercutting your brand equity. Think about who you are, what you stand for, and showcase that identity to the world with every word.