Don’t Use That (Brand) Voice with Me

Brand Voice Should Invite, Not Forbid

My friend Dimitri* asked leading questions.

They weren’t the impossible questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “Why five toes? Why not seven?” where you could speculate together and combine ignorance.

No, Dimitri’s questions were contrived and assembled to manipulate your emotions and response. In conversation with Dimitri, you knew he was looking for some specific answer. But he would never tell what he wanted. He engineered his question so the one plain answer was what he wanted you to say. Then he could launch into a lengthy response. That wearying, frustrating game eventually led me to veto most of Dimitri’s questions.  

Manipulative content can be off-putting

Lots of firms play Dimitri’s game: their communication is guided only by a desire to sell (which is, after all, the point of corporations and not necessarily bad). But when the only conversation a company will entertain leads you to buy their product, that looks more like a monologue. People veto those conversations and walk away.

No one wants to be reduced to a number on a spreadsheet or a statistic. That’s why the used car salesman with the plaid jacket is a favorite target in our culture. It’s also why people easily dismiss manipulative speeches and boring lectures. Of course, some brands are famously annoying, like the “Save Big Money” voice of Menards, and we tune it out—except when we remember it because we want to save big money.

Inviting content builds relationships

There is more opportunity today to invite participation instead of hijacking it. And invitation, while harder because it requires thinking about someone else’s needs or desires, has the advantage of building a relationship.

What about user-generated content?

Leading content forces consumers into a conclusion carefully crafted by executives and marketing teams. In contrast, content that encourages public participation feels generous but can leave companies vulnerable to messaging outside their control. What if customers post negative reviews online? What if user-generated content makes a product look unappealing?  

The answer is that content that truly connects is worth the risks because it is powerfully persuasive. According to a recent survey by Nosto, 83% of consumers want more authenticity from brands.[i] A real-life view of a product or service compels today’s consumers, even if it’s not pretty or the wording isn’t perfect. Consumers want content that invites, not content that manipulates.

Monologue and the preachy/lecture-y voice have limited shelf-life.

*Not his real name. His real name was Smitty.

[i]Post-pandemic shifts in consumer shopping habits: Authenticity, personalization and the power of UGC. Nosto. Accessed October 24, 2022.

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