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Developing a tone of voice for your multi-market brand.

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

Before even thinking about how your brand can stand out from the crowd and how tone of voice relates to its personality, we need to ask ourselves; what is tone of voice in marketing? Tone of voice in marketing refers to the consistent style, personality, and attitude that a brand adopts in its communication with its target audience. It’s a reflection of the brand's values, culture, and overall brand identity. The tone of voice sets the tone for how the brand communicates its messages, whether it's through written content, advertising campaigns, social media posts, or other marketing materials. Developing a consistent tone of voice for your multi-market brand is crucial to maintain a cohesive brand identity across different cultures and languages.

The tone of voice should align with the brand's target audience and the perception it wants to create. It can vary from formal and professional to casual and conversational, depending on the brand's image and the preferences of its target market.

Below are steps to help you develop a tone of voice that resonates with your target audience in different markets and languages:

Firstly, we need to start by identifying the core values and personality traits that define your brand. Consider the emotions and perceptions you want to evoke in your audience. Is your brand playful, authoritative, caring, or innovative? Clearly defining these attributes will guide the development of your tone of voice. Researching your target markets will help you gain a deep understanding of the cultures, customs, and preferences of your target markets, while conducting market research, analyzing consumer behaviour, and exploring local trends will help you identify the communication styles that are most effective and culturally appropriate in each market.

Adapt your tone of voice, don't just translate – remember that direct translation of your brand's tone of voice may not work well in different languages and cultures. Instead, adapt your tone of voice to suit the local market while staying true to your brand values. Consider nuances in language, humour, and cultural references to ensure your messaging resonates with local audiences. Create a comprehensive style guide that outlines the elements of your tone of voice and be sure to include guidelines for vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and formatting. Provide examples of how to express your brand attributes through different scenarios and communication channels. You’d be surprised at how many brands fall victim to tone adaptation and translation blunders. Let’s have a look at a few examples:

#1 Canned and frozen foods company, The Jolly Green Giant, has been a friendly face in the US and the UK since the 1960s. However, when the brand was translated in Arabic, their beloved mascot inadvertently became the “Intimidating Green Ogre”.

#2 KFC’s long-standing “finger-licking good” tagline became much less appetising when it was directly translated into Chinese as “eat your fingers off”.

#3 In Italy, the quintessentially British gin and tonic didn’t sound so refreshing after a major translation fail by Schweppes… “gin and toilet water” anyone?

#4 Pepsi is another example of a big brand translation blunder. Its tagline, “Pepsi brings you back to life” became terrifyingly literal in Chinese, translating as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.

#5 Parker spelt out the obvious when they tried to tell the Mexican market that their new ballpoint pens “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. By confusing the Spanish for ‘embarrass’ with ‘embarzar’, they ended up reassuring audiences that their pens “won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.”

#6 Without a basic knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese colloquialisms, Ford made the mistake of launching the Ford Pinto – ‘pinto’ being a local slang term meaning ‘tiny male genitals’.

#7 Coors is another brand that didn’t account for colloquialisms when its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” translated into Spanish as an informal term for having diarrhoea.

#8 Paxam, an Iranian consumer goods company, marketed their laundry soap in English speaking markets using the Farsi word for “snow,” resulting in shelves of packs labelled “Barf Soap.”

While maintaining consistency is important, you also need to adapt your tone of voice to the specific preferences and cultural nuances of each market – this is especially true if you want to take advantage of the benefits of effective brand translation. Consider factors such as humour, formality, directness, and storytelling styles that resonate with the local audience. This might involve working with local experts or conducting focus groups to gather feedback. Training and communication with teams will ensure that your teams, both internal and external, are aware of your brand's tone of voice guidelines. Conduct training sessions, provide examples, and foster open communication to ensure everyone understands how to apply the tone of voice consistently across all content and touchpoints. Regularly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of your tone of voice in each market. Analyze customer feedback, engagement metrics, and market trends to identify areas for improvement, and use this feedback to refine and iterate your tone of voice guidelines to better resonate with your target audience.

Regardless of the market, authenticity is key. Ensure that your tone of voice aligns with your brand's values and remains genuine. Consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that speak with authenticity and have a clear brand identity.

Remember that developing a tone of voice for a multi-market brand is an ongoing process. Stay adaptable, listen to your customers, and be willing to make adjustments to your messaging as you gain insights and learn from each market's unique characteristics.

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