Imagine that only one more task stands between you and your dream job.
You’ve aced the interviews. You’ve made it to the final selection round.
Victory is within your well-prepared grasp.
But what do they ask you to do to demonstrate your amazingness?
Train a harem of 360 concubines to be soldiers.
Truth is, that’s pretty much what happened to ancient Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu in 500 BC.
(So if you find yourself in that position, you could get tips from him).
But yes, it’s an unlikely scenario for the average Joe/Josephine.
So let’s think about a problem you might actually have…
If you’re reading this then I’m gonna guess a big one is this: making your brand shine brighter than your competitors.
Yep, standing out from the crowd is at the top of every brand’s wishlist.
But Sun Tzu still might be able to help you out with some words of wisdom here.
Of course, military strategy was more his thing, but we can steal this gem:
“If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
In other words, if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you won’t know how to deal with it.
What’s that got to do with competing brands in 2020?
Well, you need to understand the differences between yours and your competitor’s brand if you want to play them to your advantage.
And your brand’s tone of voice (a.k.a how you speak to your audience) should be one of those differences.
HINT: a strong and unique brand voice can be one thing standing between you and hoards of eager customers.
But it’s noisy out there though, and customers might struggle to hear you amongst the chatter of other brands competing for their attention.
So how do you get that brand voice pitch-perfect?
Here’s the good news: many of those other brands will be singing off the same hymn sheet as each other. And that presents an opportunity for you to belt out something different.
Think of yourself as Beyonce and they’re…the rest of Destiny’s Child.
But before you can stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to know what the crowd sounds like.
And that means doing some good old competitor analysis.
Knowledge is power, as they say.
But first, let’s get introspective…
THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
If you don’t know what makes your business special, neither will your (would-be) customers.
You need to be straight on what your brand stands for and how you want the world to see it. Or rather, feel about it
What made you go for that last pair of trainers you bought – Breathability? Arch support?
Probably not. You just knew which ones you wanted to wear.
Product elements are comparable between the big-name trainers but most people have a brand they’re drawn to.
Customers follow their hearts when handing over their cash, so it matters how your brand makes people feel (desire) and react (buy).
And thinking before speaking comes down to getting back to basics:
GET TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
To get through to your customers, you need to know who they are. That means getting clear on their attributes and on what makes them gravitate towards your brand.
So, what customer info do you need?
- Get specific on demographics. These describe who your customer is based on e.g. age range, location, lifestyle etc.
- Don’t forget the psychographics. This is how your customers feel and why they behave in a certain way.
Let’s look at this example from HubSpot:
- Aged 45-65
- Married, with children
- Dealing with issues of weight gain, diabetes, lack of energy or hormonal imbalance
- Household income $100K+
- Concerned with health and appearance
- Wants a healthy lifestyle, but doesn’t have much time
- Enjoys going online in the evenings, a big fan of Pinterest
- Tends to favour quality over economy
- Finds fulfilment in her career and family
- Values time with a small group of friends
You can see why you need both, right?
When you understand these points, you can start to tailor a brand voice to suit your audience. A voice that speaks to them directly. And resonates.
And of course, you can dig even deeper into your target audience to gather unique insights.
For facts & figures:
- Lead capture forms: ask customers to enter some basic info in order to access stuff they might want (freebies, special offers, updates etc)
- Surveys: go one step further and ask them to complete a survey. Only ask questions that are important to you and send to relevant people only (survey fatigue is real).
For deep & meaningful conversations:
- Social listening: tune in to conversations people are having about your brand and any related topics. Use social media channels to monitor mentions of your company and relevant keywords too e.g your products and competitors. Read these comments in context to understand the sentiment behind them.
- Buyer interviews: get up close and personal with your customer. Interview current and potential buyers of your product/service to get first-hand feedback, good and bad. This hubspot blog tells you more.
- Focus groups: another way to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Gather qualitative answers from a group of people representing your brand’s customer persona.
All this info you gather can be used to sharpen your brand voice and make it even stronger than your competitors’.
NAIL YOUR BRAND VALUES
Before you can perfect your brand’s tone of voice, you need to know what you stand for.
Your brand values form the foundations of all your communications. And write the code your business should live by.
Your customers have values too, and your brand should click with whatever makes them tick.
Think about the most important aspects of your brand when considering its values:
Is nurturing a sense of community what makes it get up in the morning? Has it got a commitment to diversity running through its veins?
Whatever your non-negotiables are, you need to get your brand values down. Written down, at that. Get them tattooed across your bicep. Ok, too far, but you should at least have a specific list of what makes up your brand’s ethos.
Here’s a handy article from Medium about how to work them out.
Let’s assume your brand has discovered itself, like a gap year student returning from Cambodia. You’ve got the fundamentals lined up but you still need the personality to deliver.
Ever heard a good joke told badly? Yeah, cringe.
It’s all very well saying “it’s what’s inside that counts” (shout out to Mum), but if you can’t connect with your audience, they’ll never find out how great you are.
For brand personality, think about the traits your brand would have if it did a Pinocchio and came to life as a real person.
Are they the life and soul of the party or the reliable designated driver? Do they ooze enigmatic sex appeal or radiate homegrown authenticity?
Mirroring your audience is the way to go here, as it makes your brand relatable. We’re more likely to buy from those we “get”.
Once that distinctive personality has been outlined, you’ve got good foundations for hitting the right note with your brand’s tone of voice – how your brand speaks. It should scream “YOUR BRAND” and it needs to be unique to get noticed.
Check out these product taglines from Apple and Microsoft:
- “Just the right amount of everything”
- “Get creative, get things done and stay in touch with hardware and software designed to bring people together.”
You might be able to guess which is which. But that’s not because of what’s being said about the products, it’s because of how it’s being said.
- Apple’s brand voice is confident, casual and concise. This example is just that – short and self-assured.
- Microsoft’s brand voice is “above all, simple and human”. They aim for clear explanations in natural language
These competing brands have distinctive tones of voice which support their own brand personalities.
How to hone that tone:
- If your brand’s voice doesn’t match its personality, it won’t work. Aiming for a fun, lively brand? Talk in an informal, upbeat way. Want to command the utmost trust and respect? Better not. And bear in mind there are some to avoid.
- Differentiating yourself is key. You don’t want customers feeling like they’re scanning for their car in an endless sea of blue and grey vehicles in the car park. Be a yellow car. Or a yellow helicopter.
- Imagine your brand personified again. If it could speak, how would it tip the scales on contrasting tones of voice? e.g professional vs chummy, enthusiastic vs measured. This will shape your communications so give it some real thought.
- Tone alone won’t cut it – your voice also needs the oomph to rise above the hubbub. How do you generate that power? Crank it up with words your audience can relate to and are attracted to (dust off your customer hat for this).
- Be consistent with your voice across all channels. We’ve all been messed around by someone giving mixed messages. It’s confusing. We don’t like it.
Loud and proud is what you’re going for and fine-tuning these details will make your customers listen up.
Suss ‘em out
Wearing white to a wedding is a faux pas.
It’s the bride’s time to shine, and she’s going to do so in white. Come the big day, she puts on that dress safe in the knowledge that her outfit will stand out…because she knows what everyone else is(n’t) wearing.
Be a bridezilla when it comes to your brand.
I don’t mean throw a hissy fit over the wrong chair covers, but be certain of what’s going to make you stand out, by knowing how everyone else is blending in.
For sussing out your brand’s competition, you’ll need to do your homework. Today’s assignment: analysing your competitor’s brand voice
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Now you know a brand voice when you see/hear one, you’ll notice it in your competition.
- What does the tone of voice they use indicate about their brand?
- Are they befriending the audience or being straightforward with them?
- What language do they use to support this – e.g powerful words, colloquialisms
- What feelings does this generate – e.g exclusivity, familiarity
Study the language to understand the voice and you’ll soon know what you’re dealing with.
WHERE TO LOOK
I hope you’re ok with snooping…
Here are the first places to start looking – or listening – for your competitor’s voice :
- Your competition’s social media accounts are a goldmine for this. You can see how they talk to customers – and how customers talk to them. If you’re not sure exactly who you’re competing with or what they’re doing on social media, this Hootsuite blog might help.
- They probably gave a lot of thought to the words used on their company website so this is a good indication of what personality and voice they’re going for. Take note of what language they use to describe their business and what they talk about the most.
- Go undercover as a customer. Register for updates and see how they address you when that email comes through. Are they a “Dear Sir” brand or a “Hiya babe” brand? How do they sign off – Faithfully yours? Peace out?
Worry about your competitor’s brand voice. Gathering all this info gives you the upper hand when it comes to finely crafting your own.
Now, imagine I’m using a loud town crier’s voice to summarise:
Hear ye, hear ye! Attention seekers: you need to know what your competition is saying in order to say it differently.
(town crier’s bell)