Friday 14 February 2014

The importance of being authentic

A distinctive character and tone of voice are both vital in helping brands stand out from the crowd. But what underpins them both? Authenticity.

The whiff of inauthenticity
Ol’ Hemmingway used to say that every person has an in-built bulls**t detector. We think he was spot on: when it comes to brands, anything that isn’t authentic will be exposed sooner or later. 

'People don't believe I'm human. Weird.'
Just look at the trend for chatty copy. Consumers have been force-fed colloquial greetings and whimsy by every company under the sun. When it works, it works well. Take First Direct. Their stripped back, conversational tone matches the simplified service they offer. And because it’s original with lots of quirkiness, it sounds authentic.
However, with others, such attempts just sound ingratiating. Template replies from Virgin Media are a good (or bad) example. A fun and friendly ‘Hey there!’ rings false when the rest of the communication could’ve been written by an irritated Soviet robot. And don’t even get us started on the Google ‘Oops’. 

Don’t be a sheep. Be a lion. Or a wolf, or something.
Authenticity can’t be cloned. The identikit panting female tones of Capital Radio’s ads are testament to that. It’s as if every advertiser has employed the same voice over artist. The result is white noise – with brand differentiation evaporating into the ether. More invention is needed; more self-discovery.

Character building
So how do brands unearth their own distinctive tone of voice? Well, one effective way is defining the company right down to the nitty-gritty, faintly ridiculous details. What sort of car would your brand drive? What sort of a job would it have? What would its attitude be towards gay marriage or shark finning in the South Pacific?

Deducing the answers to these questions draws out the company’s authentic character. Then it’s about bringing it to life. The graphics guys may disagree, but language is by far and away the most effective means of doing this. 

Get your story straight
Authenticity also relies on consistency. To stay true to their character, brands need either dedicated writers or precise writing guidelines - and ideally both. As so much copy is written in-house by non-specialist staff writers, tone of voice guidelines are now common. We see a lot of these and not many give you the language traits you need to create an authentic TOV.

Our advice?
Don’t play it safe: look for idiosyncrasy. Render authenticity, don’t just imitate it. Hire a copywriter – and let them dig.

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