One Brand, Many Voices

Conventional branding wisdom tells us that brands need to have a single, consistent voice. They need to use it in everything they do and they need to use it the same way every time. The reasoning goes that people are more likely to buy things from someone they trust, and they’re more able to trust someone they know. So brands should try to be knowable—consistent and predictable.

But that’s not how identity works in real life. I have an indoor voice and an outdoor voice, a playful voice and a somber voice. I talk to my friends differently when we’re trying to solve something than when I’m telling a story. And I’m still me in both cases. It seems like the copywriting rule of “one brand, one voice” precludes a brand from being dynamic and multi-faceted in the way that real people are. And expressing ourselves in different ways doesn’t make us any less recognizable or coherent in daily life. It actually helps others learn more about us when they can see how we use different voices in different circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about this while I write the copy for Fjord Audio’s web store. In the current design (since changed) I use copy from an anachronistic poster that I made for Fjord XLR last winter. It borrows the copywriting style from 1970s magazine ads: cheesy, desperately casual, and salesperson-esque. I spent hours reading old Playboy ads (just the ads!) trying to get that old ad-man-style writing into my head. The way I was using it in the intro section of our web store, it stood apart from any other copy on the website (e.g. the Fjord XLR product description and About page, both of which I wrote in my own voice, or some company version of it). But that didn’t strike me as a mistake—it felt like an expression of one facet of the company, a constitutive part of a multifaceted whole.

I think it would be a shame if copywriting rules prevented us from stretching out and having fun like that. Maybe I would have been wrong to include that ad copy in the store design—I wouldn’t really know unless I A/B tested it (I’ve still never figured out how to use one of those A/B optimization platforms). But I do know that I appreciate the opportunity to grow and explore the company’s voice (and my voice within it), while avoiding monotony.