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Speaking for the Holidays: Brand Voice and Holiday Shopping

Posted by: Taylor Ariosto on December 12, 2013
Holiday Shopping

Slashed prices, promotions and snowflake-covered stores reflect the competition for holiday dollars. All vie for customers’ attention—and their money.

But what about voice? Does it stay consistent? Or do prices and promotions take over, blanketing voice in seasonality?

Voice is a brand’s style of speaking and writing. Like a singular book or movie character’s way of speaking—the words she uses, the way she strings sentences together – voice makes a brand memorable. Without it, communication falls flat; it won’t reflect a company’s strategy, personality or values.

So how do retail brands use voice for the holidays?

Take Target. Casual and fun, with a dash of family-friendly humor, Target uses approachable and everyday language to help it stand out in a marketplace that’s heavily price-driven. “Are we pumped for @Iron_Man3? You bet your sweet boot jets,” it tweeted this year. “How easy was that?” it emailed.

For the holidays, it’s no different. Promotions are there, sure, but they’re hand-in-hand with Target’s easy language and playfulness. “Happy Hauling Days! Redeem any Cartwheel deal from 11/24-11/27 and unlock a bonus savings spot.” it posted on Facebook. “Maybe Santa’s secretly on Facebook? Share a photo of your kid’s letter to Santa and hashtag it with #MyKindofHoliday.”

Look at another holiday shopping heavyweight, Best Buy. To talk tech to techies, Best Buy uses relaxed, slightly masculine language, the way you’d speak to a roomful of college guys.

“From the big ones, to the really big ones. From the smart ones, to the highest def ones!” it proclaimed about televisions. “Get ready to experience the pads-cracking, spiral-throwing, quarterback-sacking, interception-grabbing, pass-catching authenticity!” it heralded the release of Madden NFL 25.

Like hearing a voice you know in a crowded room, specific language and tone makes the brand easy to identify. That’s not to say that promotions don’t appear throughout summer and fall, but days before holiday shopping reaches its peak, they start to take over.

“Get a FREE $75 Best Buy gift card with the purchase of an iPad…,” one communication said. “Get great deals now including Black Friday pricing on Samsung HDTVs,” said another.

Without the reference to Best Buy, could you name the brand? Not likely. That college guy-like language still appears in places, but it’s not as consistent. “5 days until Black Friday. 5 days of daily deals. Coincidence? That’s just how we roll.”

It’s an example of how the holiday shopping season, or any kind of seasonality and promotion, can start to erode brand voice. Days ahead of Black Friday, shoppers may have lined up – and in some cases, pitched tents—to look for a deal, but they were there, and will be throughout this holiday shopping season and the year ahead, because of the established brand, which includes voice.

Let’s figure out a way to have it flex – and not disappear—with the season.

Taylor Ariosto is a Consultant in Verbal Identity for Interbrand New York.

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