John Gilbert reigned as the highest-paid matinee idol of the Silent Screen. Audiences thrilled to his on-screen lovemaking with off-screen lover Greta Garbo. Men envied him. Women swooned over him.
But today, few people remember John Gilbert, much less his movies. So, what happened to a Hollywood heartthrob who swashbuckled his way through 90 features in 15 years?
Gilbert’s voice wasn’t bad — it was just ordinary. Unfortunately, “ordinary” didn’t match people’s idea of a brooding romantic lead. When John Gilbert declared his passion in a talkie, audiences laughed. And just like that, he was box office poison.
John Gilbert couldn’t do much about his voice, but QSRs have complete control over theirs. Despite this, many “voice” their brand in a way that is either uninteresting or inconsistent with the experience. This isn’t just a lost opportunity. It’s damaging to the brand and corrosive to customer relationships.
Before going further, let me explain what I mean when I refer to “voice” in brand and marketing:
Voice is attitude. Voice is personality. Voice figures in look and feel and atmosphere and ambiance and customer experience. It’s in everything from your logo to your menu descriptions to your website copy and e-mail blasts. It’s in color, text, jargon, even punctuation.
Voice can be …
Voice is the “regular guy” brand persona that Subway adopted with spokesman Jarod Fogle. His true story brought a pitch-perfect tenor to the chain’s claims to be a healthful QSR option. People identified with Jarod, and because his everyman voice rang true, they bought into his message. A brand that had lacked distinctive character now had an effective, believable and durable personality; the Jarod campaign that set Subway sales on a solid upward trajectory is now in its tenth year.
We’ve also seen what happens when brand voice doesn’t ring true.
In particular, I’m thinking of a client that presented their restaurant chain as a hip, happening concept geared toward teens and young adults. Their brand messages featured images and references intended for young audiences: ads with teen talent and buzz words, cute jingles and dancing entrées.
When sales sagged, the client assumed it was the menu and tried new entrées. When that didn’t help, they opted for brand analysis. Perception testing groups revealed that the food was fine, but the brand voice, which was modulated to Gen Y and Gen X, was incongruent with the brand personality, which appealed to Boomers, families with small children, and groups.
So, what do you do if you suspect your concept has Robin Williams’ personality, but Ben Stein’s voice? What needs to be changed … and how?
1. Determine how customers view the concept through a brand study that includes third party-moderated testing groups. Don’t try to moderate groups yourself or, worse, “ask around.” People will tell you what you want to hear, which can be nice, but misleading.
2. Trust the results and adjust your voice to conform to customer expectations. This means adopting a tone, style and vocabulary — both graphic and literary — that fully and effectively convey your brand personality. It may feel unnatural at first, but as positive response begins, the confidence and authority of your voice will grow.
3. Bring in people who can give your voice an authentic ring. This can involve difficult changes — in personnel, marketing partners and vendors. But the right players make all the difference in giving your concept a convincing, consistent aura. It’s why we can’t imagine anyone but Robert DeNiro playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.
4. Be consistent in all your branding and marketing elements. It’s tempting to cut corners because you don’t want to mess with (or pay for) a menu revamp and a Web overhaul and all the other stuff. But they’re all integral to your brand story. And changing voice in the middle of it is as annoying as Kevin Costner’s sporadic (and bad) English accent in Robin Hood.
5. Most importantly, once you’ve established your brand voice, stick with it. KFC has invested huge sums changing its brand voice in an attempt to draw new customers, but has succeeded only in demonstrating what happens when your voice changes as often as a 12-year-old boy’s: Nobody takes you seriously.
Your voice is your choice. Choose well. Then speak up for your brand.
Lori Walderich is chief creative officer at IdeaStudio, a chain restaurant marketing and promotions firm. Her company helps restaurant clients align their branding and implement strategic marketing plans to achieve consistent, sustainable growth.