The question was somewhat tongue-in-cheek and I think the host expected me to mount some kind of defence. Accompanied by a self-deprecating chuckle, obviously, so as not to appear too earnest and un-British, but still, ultimately, insistently, positive. After all, surely my whole profession is being called into question if consumers don’t actually care about all this brand voice stuff.
Disappointingly, my answer was simply, “No. No they really don’t.”
And I meant it. People absolutely do not care. They’re busy, tired, distracted, stressed. They’ve got jobs to do, bills to pay, kids to raise, pandemics to navigate. They definitely don’t have time to give a shit about your brand’s voice.
They’re not analysing every page of your website, reflecting on what kind of adjectives you use or where you put your full stops or whether your sentences are long or short or if you follow conventional grammar rules.
They’re not scrolling your IG during Love Island ad breaks and turning to their partner with a sudden look of feverish devotion and saying goddammit these guys have just got such a terrific tone of voice can you hand me my credit card babe.
But here’s the good news. That doesn’t actually matter. Because your voice isn’t the thing – it’s the window into the thing.
You don’t want people to notice what kind of adjectives you use or where you put your full stops or whether your sentences are long or short or if you follow conventional grammar rules. You want them to notice the picture those things collectively paint of who you are as a business and how what you’re offering will fit into their lives.
You want them to scan your site, skim a product description, glance at a tweet or two and somehow, quietly, unconsciously, just come away feeling that you’re their kind of people.
Because the best communication builds a connection. And the thing about connections is that if they’re really any good people will be too busy making them to think about the fact that that’s what they’re doing.
It’s like when you meet someone at a friend’s wedding or at a business event or while your kid’s terrorising snails at the local park, and you start chatting about the pretentiously small portions of food you’ve just been served or the fact that wearing a name tag makes you feel like a bit of a twat or how that adorable hat their child is wearing came from Sainsburys and how great is it that supermarkets actually do quite nice kids clothes these days, and before you know it you’re regaling this near-stranger with the story about how at your own wedding the best man drunkenly punched the celebrant – quite accidentally of course – so you couldn’t actually do the legal bit properly until several weeks afterwards or you’re unexpectedly dispensing career advice as you learn all about the bee-keeping business they’ve been steadily growing on the side of their main job for the last five years or you’re commiserating about just how fucking hard it is to be a working mum despite the fact that gender equality has apparently come so far, and when you head home later you either had a good time or you didn’t.
You weren’t analysing the conversations you were having. You were just having them. And they were either good or they weren’t.
So keep that in your mind when you’re on your 47th email with the compliance team about that one word they just can’t let go of. When you’re trying, yet again, to persuade reluctant colleagues that following the verbal identity guide isn’t just for the marketing team. When you’re second-guessing yourself because your boss doesn’t want to make room in the budget for hiring outside help to hone your tone.
When it all seems like maybe it’s a lot of work and fuss and time and effort for something that surely most normal humans won’t care about or even notice.
You’re right. They won’t.
But ultimately it’s not your voice itself that matters. It’s the connection that your voice is (or isn’t) able to build.
And if you get that right, people won’t just give a shit – they’ll give you their money.
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