Talk Isn’t Cheap: How a Unique Brand Voice Can Attract More Sales

Ann Handley is the world’s first ever Chief Content Officer.

She’s also a marketing guru who champions content as a way to connect with potential customers at her company Marketing Profs.

She’s the best-selling author of the book “Everybody Writes” and has been cited by Forbes as the most influencer woman in social media.

Today, she'll walk you through developing a major competitive advantage — your brand’s voice.

Ann digs into the amazing and creative brand of Freaker USA and gives you advice about how to make sure your brand’s voice is heard.

In this TGIM short, you'll...

  • Discover the real, tangible benefits of fine-tuning your brand's voice. 
  • Learn how Freaker USA uses a unique voice to set themselves apart.
  • Answer a few key questions that will help define your tone of voice.

Check out the full short below:

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Speaker: Let's start this story with a bit of an experiment. What would you think is this was the first thing you heard if our podcast? "Greetings and welcome to TGIM which in case you're curious stands for thank goodness it's Monday. We're here to deconstruct and optimize revenue maximization on the online commerce industry and marketplace." Ann Handly has got a message for you. Your company's voice probably sounds a lot like that. It's corporate and it's boring.

Ann: Yeah, most companies sound kind of buttoned. They sound a little bit aloof, a little bit removed. I don't know why that is really, I think a lot of it has to do with that we have this notion that businesses have to sound a certain way to be taken seriously which I don't think that's necessarily the case.

Speaker: In a world where you have to earn the time and attention of your potential customers, you can't afford to be boring.

Ann: There's a lot of noise out there. You go on Facebook and your company is competing with your wife or your husband or your friends. To break through, you really do need to think about differentiating yourself. The best way to do that I think is to take some risks.

Speaker: You need to stand out from the crowd and that means you've got to step up and think bigger, bolder and braver with your marketing.

Ann: The idea of bigger, bolder, braver is really around telling a bigger story, putting your product or service into a bigger context. Secondly being a little braver in the stories that you're telling, having a point of view. Finally really thinking about being bolder with the voice that you're using, with the story that you're telling and having a recognizable point of view. The exercise that I always try to give companies is that if you mast your logo, if you mast any visual identifier on your website or on your social channels, on anything that you publish or produce, would you recognize you or do you sound like everybody else? Do you sound like your competitors?

Speaker: Most companies don't put enough thinking or effort into finding their unique voice which is why they usually end up sounding like this. "Coming up on thank goodness it's Monday, we document the correct procedures and processes for evaluating the efficacy of your brand voice in the market place." Just think about all the things your brand voice says to your existing and your potential customers.

Ann: The brand voice is really important because I think that it helps you essentially broadcast or sort of put out there what's special about you, what's special about your business, what's unique about your product or your services, what's your company culture like? All those things. "When you hear this kind of brand voice, what do you imagine our company culture is like? I bet you have a fairly clear picture of what makes our company special, absolutely nothing." When it's done right, when you're using a tone of voice that really does reflect who you are as a company, I think it can be a really powerful tool. Honestly it's vastly undervalued by most companies out there so there's a huge opportunity for companies to really think about their tone of voice as a differentiator then use it to communicate with the folks they're trying to reach.

Speaker: Coming up later in the show, Ann's going to dive into one of the best brand voices out there, a company that makes drink insulators of all things called Freaker USA then Ann's going to tell you how to go about crafting your own brand's unique voice to make sure it really does not sound like this. "Stick around folks, we will have a tutorial you can follow along on a downloadable PDF file that you can find in a folder labeled fun on the corporate internet."

Narrator: Anne Handley loves Freaker USA.

Anne: I love Freakers. Let's talk Freakers.

Narrator: There's a great story about how she discovered them, and it's all related to their brand voice.

Anne: My brother Bill loves beer but he lives out in outside of Phoenix, Arizona where it's super hot in the summer time. In order to be able to enjoy his beer outside, he wanted to find a can koozie, which is essentially like a drink insulator. He went online and he tried to figure out, "I want a fun can koozie." He Googles it. He finds one that describes themselves as a drink insulator. It was very utilitarian. It's like, "We keep your bottle beverages colder longer, plus we fold flat for a maximum pocket portability." That sounds like the kind of can koozie that you would get free at a trade show. He didn't want that. He keeps Googling. He finds another one that described themselves as a "fit in your can like a glove" and literally, it's like a deer skin insulator.
He keeps Googling. He finds a company called Freaker USA. The way that Freaker USA describes themselves does not sound like they're describing a drink insulator. They describe themselves as established in 2011. Freaker quickly grew to be the global leader of preventing moist handshakes and sweaty beverages, or something sort of similar to that. They go on to say that they're not just selling you a drink insulator, they're actually giving you an invitation to a new lifestyle, like a background music to a never ending journey of enjoying your beverages cold. My point of telling you this story is that it's just a wonderful description of what's basically a pretty commonplace pedestrian product. It almost sounds like a movement. It sounds like a call to arms so to speak, rather than just a product description.

Narrator: Anne got us so excited about Freaker USA that we actually reached out to the woman behind the amazing and creative Freaker brand voice.

Lauren: Hi, I'm Lauren Perkowskis. I am a co-founder of Freaker USA and I do all of the copyrighting and internet stuff. All intents and purposes, I am the voice of Freaker. Freaker USA is a company and we started off making these one size fits all drink insulators. We've since delved into socks also. It's in the gift industry, so it's very gifty, pretty non-essential to being alive, but really fun to have products.

Narrator: Even the story of how Freaker USA came into existence is fun and 100% in line with the brand's voice. The CEO and co-founder Zach Crane started the company after attending a sewing class.

Lauren: He was living in his car, traveling around. He came into Wilmington, North Carolina which is where we are now. He found himself with hobbies that were a little unconventional for a young 20 something white straight dude. He found himself going to Stitch and Bitches, which are knitting groups from I would say an older woman stereotype. At a Stitch and Bitch, they taught him how to knit a beer koozie. He finally was able to knit one, and then all of his friends really liked it, so he tried to do another and he was really bad at it. It evolved for him to that, from he would go to Goodwill and start getting old sweaters, cutting them up, sewing them into beer bottle shapes, and they did really well. He got them into the local boutique and they were selling really well, so he was like, "Well, how do I minimize the workload?" He went to a local hosiery mill and started getting them manufactured at which point he realized, "Oh, these have spandex. Then they can stretch to fit anything. Maybe I should just make a company."

Narrator: Once the company started, the brand voice naturally evolved from Lauren and Zach's personalities.

Lauren: One of my favorite things that was an accident and started early on, and we've tried to weave it in and out of our company life, was in our first kickstarter. The opening scene when Zach was just talking to the camera, introducing himself as a human being rather than a CEO, he's talking to the camera and he was like, "You smell great today. Are those new shoes?"

Zach: Chicka boom boom. My name is Zach. I love your hair. I love your new shoes. Are those new shoes? You smell so good.

Lauren: The "Are those new shoes? You smell great today," it's on all of our retail packages. If you go to our website, and buy a ...

Lauren: You found all of our retail packages, so if you go to our website and you know buy a random Freakers that have our brand name vomited all over it, and right when you open it up it says guess what, and then you open the package and it says you smell great today.

Speaker: Ann says that stories like this, because they're totally true and authentic, are also marketing gold.

Speaker: What Freaker is doing so wonderfully, and why I love this company so much, is because yeah they're quirky, but at the same time think about it from a marketing point of view, they're definitely telling a bigger story. They're not just selling a commodity, they're not just selling a drink insulator, instead they're putting their product in the context of your life, and telling you why it should matter to you.

Lauren: Koozies are not fun. When somebody thinks of them, they don't think of a need to have a product. Whereas a lifestyle brand, it's cool, people desire it, they want to be associated with the lifestyle that a company is selling, rather than just the product that a company is selling, and I think that the voice of the company has had a lot to do with establishing that as a lifestyle brand rather than a manufacturer of a product.

Speaker: Freaker definitely has the clear, bold tone of voice. If you stripped off all the visuals, all the product images or even the branding, you would recognize them. They don't sound like those other companies out there that are just sort of describing their can insulator from a pretty boring point of view, instead they sound bolder.

Speaker: So what are the ingredients to this magic Freaker USA voice? It's pretty clear Lauren's got it down pat.

Lauren: Describing it, I would say it's pretty positive and very inclusive with and overlay of a weird internet vibe. There's a lot of facepalm-y puns mixed with a little bit of wanderlust mixed with being 4 years old forever. It's also an excuse to make public some silliness that would usually just be between some friends over a bottle of wine. My roommate now has this very strange theory that Barbara Bush is actually Marilyn Monroe. I'll find ways to take those strange things that are usually just late at night theories between friends and put them into a public sphere that something, somehow ties into a business.

Speaker: That's pretty fun. Now maybe wine-filled conspiracy theories won't exactly work for your brand, but later in the show Ann Handley will be back to bring you some advice about how to apply the lessons of Freaker USA to your company's unique voice.

Speaker: Hello again, remember me? I'm your current brand voice; generic, boring, and corporate. Well apparently my personal quarterly forecast is looking rocky. Ann Handley is about to make me obsolete.

Ann: I feel like it's a little bit confusing for people. When I talk about tone of voice I'm not talking about things like grammar. Really what tone of voice means, it's how your writing or your copy sounds in the person's head that you're trying to reach when he or she reads it. I think there are many ways to say the same thing, right we all know this. If you have say an unadorned hot dog, right, you can ask for a condiment in a couple different ways, you can say give me the mustard, which is very authoritative. You can say can you pass me the mustard which gives you a different feel about the person asking the question and then you could say, pardon me, do you have any grey poupon, that's essentially saying the same thing but it's using a different tone of voice to convey an action in each situation. There is no one size fits all and that's kind of the point.

The idea is you want to go through this exercise and figure out all right, who are we, why do we do what we do, and then what are we like to deal with, and use those attributes to start to define your tone of voice.

Speaker: So feel free to pause this podcast and recording right now. Listen to some soothing music, and answer those three questions. Who are we, why do we do what we do, and what are we like to deal with? Go ahead, we'll be right here when you get back.

We're back. Here's exercise number 2.

Ann: I think of it as a marketing mad lib in a way, you know that kids game where you can sort of input a noun, adjective, and verb and come up with a story at the end of the day. Rather than thinking through noun and adjective, and so on, just think about 3 adjectives that would best describe your company. I haven't had this conversation with Freaker, but if I did I'm sure it would be something like fun, and oddball, and a little bit creative. What are the 3 words that best describe your own company?

Speaker: I have just completed the mad lib exercise, my 3 adjectives are boring, corporate, and finally, stiff.

Speaker: Now don't despair if you're intimidated by the bold creativity of Freaker USA though, not every voice is the same. Ann's company is a great example of something less, well, Freakery.

Ann: At marketing prophets, we actually define our tone of voice in 4 different ways. We think of ourselves as accessible, we think of ourselves as personal and affiliative, because we are marketers marketing to marketers, we think of ourselves as smart, so we don't want to dumb things down but we don't overly complicate things so that we just sound smart, we actually want to make it concise for our audience, and then finally we our fun, we're relaxed and casual. That's 4 words, but I wanted to share them with you because I just wanted to be sure that you know that the idea of tone of voice isn't about being crazy our wacky or out there, it's really just about thinking through who you are and how is it that you communicate.

Speaker: And for a last piece of advice on brand voice, let's go back to Lauren at Freaker USA. This probably won't be a shocker by now, but she's got a creative and colorful way to get in the zone with your brand new brand voice.

Lauren: You might be a salesperson but you might want to change your mindset of being a salesperson to you are now an entertainer. You are no longer Susan, you are now RuPaul. The world that we live in moves a jillion miles per second and people are looking for an escape that will make them smile. If you sell air conditioners it doesn't matter how boring your product is, you are not an air conditioner, your brain is not an air conditioner, and your customer is not an air conditioner, and even if you might be boring and your customers might be boring, everybody still notices a little bit of humor in unexpected places and it's always appreciated. I think that using the mindset of maybe a drag queen, rather than a cubicle, would help a lot of people in unexpected places.

Speaker: That is the best piece of advice I've ever heard.

Lauren: Well thank you.

Show notes:

About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.