Brand authenticity and the power of the voice

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ICF Next on the key characteristics marketers should employ when using voice tech.

The most powerful tools at our disposal are often the most accessible. As technology races beyond the frontiers of imagination and brand strategies become increasingly multi-channel and complex, it’s easy to forget the potential of our most basic form of communication.

Enter, the voice – the vehicle for expression and connection used by brands and humans every day. For brands, finding the ‘right’ voice has always been crucial. Voices humanise us – and when companies feel like people, we want to be friends with them.

Inspiring participation that leads to advocacy

Authenticity, transparency, personalisation and storytelling give the voice more power, flexibility and responsibility than ever, and technological developments and lifestyle shifts of the modern age bring more ways for voices to impact audiences. Once at the sole disposal of brands to talk to (or at) audiences, now, voices are at their most effective and influential when brands use them to start two-way conversations with their audiences.

When brands resonate with an audience, they enable participation – making people feel involved, connected and part of a community. This kind of authentic, shared experience makes audiences more likely to recommend that brand – turning its voice into their own, and becoming advocates as a result.

Word-of-mouth marketing like this is growing in popularity and power, blurring lines not just between brands and audiences, but across channels and networks, as organic conversation drives visibility through everything from Instagram comments to YouTube videos. User-generated-content demonstrates this transaction of authenticity in practice, with customer reviews 12 times more trusted than direct marketing, and 85% of consumers citing it as more influential than brand photos or videos.

As an agency, it’s vital to appreciate the importance of an authentic voice as we build content into a strategy – whether that’s for transformation, engagement, loyalty or growth. It’s crucial to speak an audience’s language to connect with it effectively. And with modes of communication changing faster than ever, we are constantly looking to adapt, refine and refocus what we say and how we say it. It’s all part of our approach – it has to be.

Mapping brand activism to authenticity and audiences

The elusive goal of authenticity can easily slip away when a brand fails to listen to what its audience says or wants. In the past few years, brand activism has risen in popularity to the point where 86% of consumers say they actively want brands to take a stand on social issues – but this is often where we see brands losing their edge as they try to be everything to everyone. Even the most influential voices can fall flat without an authentic message to keep them relevant and present.

In contrast, Nationwide Building Society’s Voices video campaign harnesses the mighty combination of a unique voice and a resonant message to create trust, differentiation and authenticity. In it, a series of poets perform original material based on given themes – a raw communication of impactful messages that not only gained widespread critical acclaim, but also contributed to a 7% growth in switched accounts.

But as the building society discovered, speaking out comes with its own challenges. The campaign’s inclusive message and diverse delivery provoked a minority to react with racism, homophobic and sexist opinions, which were voiced through social media.

But this kind of division can serve to strengthen authenticity; when brands speak out for the values they believe in, they often create stronger, more meaningful customer relationships. Nationwide went on to work with ISBA, the Met Police and Stop Hate UK to create #ChallengeHate, an initiative to help brands tackle hate speech across their platforms.

Bringing it all together: authenticity, participation, advocacy and activism

Authentic voices are the ones that make us feel something. The ones that make us want to join in the conversation – the ones that make us stop and think. And in a world of constant acceleration and change, where audiences seek purpose and meaning from brands more than ever, voices that more quickly adapt to the trends, possibilities and demands of the future are the ones that stay relevant. Not only must brands speak with care, craft, and awareness, with responsibility, knowledge and a willingness to adapt – they must accurately reflect a genuine, audience-aligned mission.

The voices of the future don’t communicate messages – they live and breathe them. Authenticity is what happens when it all comes together.

James Wilkins, Managing partner at ICF Next with contributions from copywriter Kate Ryrie.

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