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Brand Voice: Center Stage at FUSE 2014!

Posted by: Brian Motz on April 30, 2014

FUSE, one of the most respected conferences in the brand strategy and design communities, was held April 7-9 at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago. Lauded for quality of content and an exacting strategy for attracting engaging presenters and attendees alike, this year’s installment of FUSE, One Collective Voice, did not disappoint.

Interbrand was proud to sponsor FUSE again this year, and to host a panel discussion entitled, “Hear and be Heard: Using Brand Voice to Create Value,” led by Paola Norambuena, Interbrand’s Executive Director of Verbal Identity for North America. 

Joining Paola on the panel were thought leaders in business and branding who have embraced brand voice, and acknowledge the essential role it plays as an expression of a brand’s personality.  At Interbrand, we believe that brands have the power to change the world, and as a natural outgrowth of that belief, we see brand voice as instrumental in building the right emotional connections with consumers globally.

How brand voice brings people and brands closer

Clayton Ruebensaal, VP of Global Marketing at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, shared video and stories with the panel and audience, illuminating how brand voice is deeply rooted in their communication strategies with loyal customers, but also in their global daily operating strategy. Creating the ultimate customer experience is an objective that transcends anything that could possibly be perceived as merely transactional. Rather, as Mr. Ruebensaal explained, their “Let Us Stay With You” campaign was conceived with the understanding that voice is at the core of one’s experience with the brand. The way they speak at Ritz-Carlton is the way they behave.

One particularly poignant example could not have made the connection between the brand’s intimate voice and its personal touch more clear. Management at one Ritz-Carlton location learned they had guests staying there to share a “final Christmas” with their mother, who was at the end of a long battle with cancer. Though Christmas was still far off, the family knew mom probably would not live long enough to be with them over the holidays, so they wanted to celebrate with her ahead of time. 

Determined to make this family’s stay incredibly meaningful, the Ritz-Carlton team immediately sprang to action. Staffers began to gather as many Christmas decorations as they could find—which, in the off-season, turned out to be a challenge. Many members of the team even went back to their own homes and dug out personal decorations and holiday treasures to add to the ambiance. In the end, they created a room for the family to gather in that was truly inspired, and an experience that would stay with that family forever.      

Similarly, Rick Slade, Senior Creative Director at Keurig Green Mountain, commented that “brand evolution reflects and acknowledges that of the consumer.” In other words, the changing needs of consumers influence how brands respond. Mr. Slade, for example, has witnessed and internalized the powerful communal aspect of gathering for coffee, tea, etc., and allows this to serve as inspiration for the creative direction of the brand. What role does brand voice play in connecting consumers with the brand experience? For Green Mountain, understanding the relationship people have with coffee—and the behaviors and feelings it elicits—is the key to knowing how to talk about coffee.

Coffee can signify different things to different people—the start of a new day, a momentary break from the daily grind, or fuel for what lies ahead. It can be consumed routinely or spontaneously, and it’s enjoyable either way. For some, the act of brewing coffee is a pleasurable little ritual; for others, it’s a mundane task they’d rather skip for an instant cup. But, despite these different preferences and associations, brand voice can be leveraged to tap into a universal idea or sentiment to communicate to varied audiences around the globe. In the case of Keurig Green Mountain, assuring consumers that it is “there for them,” transforms ordinary beverage consumption into an emotional brand experience.

Touching hearts and awakening minds

Brand Voice was relevant and widely discussed outside of Interbrand’s FUSE panel, as well. Perhaps most notably were the talks given by Phil Duncan, P&G’s Global Design Officer, and William Espey, Chipotle’s Brand Voice Lead. Mr. Duncan showcased the evolution of P&G’s campaigns aimed globally at mothers—the primary purchasers of P&G products—highlighted most recognizably in February during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. 

Astutely, P&G centered its brand voice around the ideal of global appreciation for moms; all they do, and all they are. After all, before Olympians were Olympians, they were children, and many mothers sacrificed greatly for their children to achieve their dreams. This intangible feeling was brought to life in a very tangible way with the creation of the P&G Family House. It was a place for families of the athletes to stay on P&G’s dime, and an overt “thank you” to moms, inspired by P&G’s consistent, reassuring brand voice.

Chipotle’s William Espey, on the other hand, candidly shared exactly why Chipotle operates unapologetically to produce the highest quality food possible from the initial sourcing of every material to the final product in-store. Being unapologetic allows Chipotle’s brand voice to convey a slightly irreverent, yet resolved tone that resonates very well with its rapidly growing customer base. It’s unique brand voice has also afforded Chipotle the ability to make a few animated short films that are truly captivating and inspiring (watch their “Back to the Start” and “The Scarecrow” videos on YouTube here), as well as a hysterical web-based original series that packs quite a punch with a satirical spin, lacking the guilt and snooze-factor of most documentaries (check out Farmed and Dangerous here)

As disparate as some of the panelists and featured speakers were, not to mention their presentations, there was a consonance in the collective message indicating that brand voice—whether expressed aloud, in the form of copy (online or off), or through social media engagement—must be consistent to be perceived as authentic. As much as we marketers seek to understand the consumer and meet them where they are, it is equally imperative that they know where our brands stand as well—and consistency in voice facilitates this exchange.

For more on Interbrand’s point of view on Brand Voice, please feel free to explore the three key white papers below, which might just help you find (or strengthen) your own brand’s voice.

With one voice
Give your name a voice
Hear, and be heard

Brian Motz is an Associate Director at Interbrand 

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