Building relationships with your brand voice

July 5, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing


“It should be noted that when your order came in earlier, a few of us sat around at break and talked about how awesome your taste and decision-making ability was. We hope you had a wonderful time on the site; we enjoyed cyber-hanging out with you.”
The company who sold me boots last month thinks I have fantastic taste. I thought maybe I did, too, but it’s nice to have this suspicion confirmed. Now I’ll probably buy shoes from them again, just because I feel that my footwear-choosing genius has been recognized.
Although Cynical Me (who frequently shares morning coffee over e-mail with Ridiculously Fashionable Me) thought, “Okay, this cute marketing message is just here to flatter me,” but Happy Customer Me countered with: “I think I’ll ‘Like’ them on Facebook and post a picture of my new purchase on their Wall, just as soon as it gets here!”
The boots I bought were my first pair of Fluevogs; they’re unique and a bit artsy, and people even collect them. I think high-heeled lilac leather lace-ups are pretty great, but it’s possible nobody will compliment me on them. That’s okay, because the brand has successfully established itself as a fashion-forward friend who admires my style, all via a couple of e-mails and a welcoming Facebook Page. That little note — a friendly voice — made me want to interact with them as personally as they interacted with me.
On the other hand, that voice or personality won’t always be appropriate.  John Fluevog Shoes can reasonably expect that someone who buys its unusual shoes will appreciate having her taste complimented in a fun way. But if every retailer did this, it could get old … fast.
In the social media world, we talk about brands establishing relationships with their customers online, but the word “relationship” means that we are relating to one another as people do. Think of the relationships you have — as a parent, child, sibling, friend, colleague, or neighbor. The key is to figure out what relationship your customer desires from you in a crowded online field, and to fulfill that desire by casting your brand in a relational position using an appropriate voice.
As a brand, when you offer your customers an opportunity to interact with you, there has to be a compelling reason for them to do so. If you’re extending a discount, you might be a buddy sharing a deal, or a financial expert you met at a business event giving out advice on saving money. If you’re introducing new products, you might be the bleeding-cool friend with the latest gadgets whose style your customer aspires to emulate.
Sometimes your existing marketing plan casts you in the role of one of these people. But often it does not, so you can choose a relationship and voice that are most effective on Facebook or Twitter or the channel(s) where you’re interacting with your customers. 

How do you select the right brand ‘voice’?

Here are some things to think about if your brand doesn’t have an established “voice”:

  • Who are your core customers?
  • How do they view your brand? Traditional? Stylish? Reliable? Comfortable?
  • How do you want them to view your brand?
  • What is the existing tone of interactions between your customers and your brand?
  • What kind of attention do customers desire from your brand?
  • What does your existing marketing campaign, offline or online,  convey to your customers, and how can you compliment this with social media?

Who are your core customers?

You’re probably aware of the demographics of your customer base – sex, age, income level, lifestyle segment. What are their likes and dislikes? Are you listening to what they tell you in person and online?  What persona might make these customers feel that the brand is speaking to people like them? (Note that the demographic information available on your social network channels, like Facebook, can give you updated insights about which customers are already paying attention to you in that venue. Compare that to the demographic you actually want to reach. Do the two match?)

How do they view your brand?

Is it stylish? Staid and traditional? Reliable or funky-cool? Known for great customer service, or the best brand for bargain hunters? Does using your product or Liking it on Facebook convey anything about the customer to their friends and family?

How do you want them to view your brand?

Changing the image and tone established by your product mix, website art, or marketing and doing something different for social interaction isn’t advisable unless you’ve got a larger plan. If customers check out your Facebook Wall and your matter-of-fact national mortgage company suddenly sounds like the voice of Tina Fey in your status updates, you’d better be doing that intentionally as part of a larger rebrand or marketing project. Otherwise, the unexpected incongruity between the voice in your ads and your social efforts will throw your customers for a loop.
However, if your other marketing is wry and funny, customers will expect you to interact with them using that tone. If, like the insurance giant Geico, you use a quirky spokesman like the company’s famous gecko as its “voice” on Facebook, think about how you’ll interact with your fans around serious topics such as disaster claims. You might have another company spokesperson handy, or steer customers who need personalized attention and help to another venue.

What is the existing tone of interactions between your customers and your brand?

Is it amiable? Demanding? Impersonal? Are there lots of complaints because no one can get customer service resolutions via phone or email, so they’re bringing these problems to your Facebook discussion about this weekend’s sale on recliners? Decide how you’ll deal with complaints and negative feedback if you see a lot of it, and pay attention to what other commenters are saying.

What kind of attention do customers desire from your brand?

Are they giving you suggestions for new products? Asking about coupons? Wondering what shirts go with the skirts you sell? Tailor your brand’s voice to convey the information customers want, using the right tone. If you talk over them (because you’re sticking to the content calendar, gosh darn it!) and don’t interact and listen, you might as well be an automated bot.

How can social media compliment your existing marketing?

If your marketing says you’re the go-to brand for sophisticated automatic cappuccino makers or that you care about helping them create nutritious meals for their families, make sure your brand voice can back up the claim! This includes training your social media staff and giving outside moderation partners like LiveWorld clear instructions on voice and tone, along with an overview of how you want your customers to view your brand.
You’re probably spending a lot of effort, time, and money to position your brand with traditional marketing. Establishing the appropriate brand voice you use for social media will ensure you get the most bang for the buck.
This post is part of an ongoing social media marketing series on “Building Relationships” from LiveWorld, a social media agency that offers moderation, insight, and community programming Facebook services for Fortune 1000 brands.