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Giving Voice To Your Marketing Personality On The Web

Masterfully written by: J. Bader

If You Don't Someone Else Will

Every company has a personality whether they know it or not. If you don't develop and foster an appropriate marketing personality for your company, your employees and customers will do it for you, and that could be disastrous. Successful companies pay serious attention to creating and implementing a dominant corporate identity; and use it to deliver a consistent, coherent and cohesive Web-presence in the methodical and persistent pursuit of the company's core marketing objectives.

Marketing Personality and the Web

With the right marketing personality in place, companies can deliver their message in a memorable manner using all the assets at their disposal. Unfortunately, most businesses have failed to connect the dots between this not-so-abstract notion of marketing personality and its implementation in the ever-expanding Web-based business environment.

Today every business has a website; a company's Web-presence has become their single most important marketing platform, able to reach millions of potential customers on a one-to-one basis. But despite its promise; the Web has failed to live-up its potential - not because it can't, but rather because business leaders resist using its inherent multimedia capabilities.

Prospects are People Too

The Web like marketing is not about technology but rather communication; in order to attract, inform, and persuade our prospects to become customers, we must communicate how our companies can benefit those prospects; and in order to do that, we must relate to those prospects in a very human way. Experienced marketing executives understand most customers make purchases based on wants rather than needs, and that relationships trump hard evidence in the decision making process. The bottom-line: people buy things they want rather than things they need; and they buy them from people they like and trust, rather than from the lowest bidder.

A reliance on technical answers to human questions is a strategy doomed to fail. No matter how large or small you are as a company, and no matter how many prospects and customers you have in your database - they are all people not abstract business entities; their decisions are human not mechanical; and their dealings with you are based on relationships not transactions. Failure to grasp these fundamental issues has lead to botched business tactics like telemarketing that irritates, offshore service centers that regurgitate proforma answers, and websites that run on autopilot ignoring real enquiries from real people with real concerns.

Anyone who has every tried to decipher the arcane assembly instructions on a new product should know enough to know that written Q&As, FAQS, and database driven knowledge bases are not a substitute for the sound of the human voice. After hours of racking your brains trying to figure out what the instructions mean, they all of a sudden become clear when your spouse or friend reads them to you aloud. We understand, we learn, and we relate to what we hear. It is a primal imperative.

How We Learn, Comprehend, and Remember

Despite the evidence most people think visual presentation is our primary intake sense and that has lead to Web-development decisions and marketing attitudes that just don't add-up. There have been a number of studies that confirm verbal presentation as the primary sense with which we learn, understand, and remember what we experience. In her paper, Implications from Cognitive Research, Farzad Sharifan, PhD (University Mt. Lawley, Australia) presents research evidence that auditory presentation is superior to visual presentation.

There is ample evidence that we as a species grasp meaning, and comprehend more, when information is presented in the form of linear anecdotal narratives (storytelling) than in a straightforward recitation of factual information. In his research paper, Information Relevance and Recognition Memory: First, Second, and Third Person, Narrative, Bree Patrick Luck, Dept of Psychology, Georgia Southern University found Storytelling results in better factual recall of material than non-narrative presentation; and oral storytelling is a cross-cultural instructive method that promotes motivation, comprehension, and memory. These are important facts that should not be ignored when we think about delivering our marketing messages on the Web.

The hyperlinked nature of the Web provides a non-linear method of pursuing information, that as a communication method for presenting, persuading, and embedding our message in the minds of our audience flies-in-the-face of our natural instincts to relate, comprehend, and retain information presented in a linear oral narrative.
Giving an audience of distracted, attention-deficit Web-browsers the opportunity to hyperlink their way out of your carefully and expensively constructed website, is like leaving your front door open and wondering why your dog disappeared - audiences need structure and a linear framework within which they can absorb your message presented by a distinctive signature voice.

If you find this concept runs contrary to prevailing visual design thinking - it does, because most visual design schools teach visual design not communication. David Pisoni, professor of psychology and cognitive science and director of Indiana University's Speech Research Laboratory, is one of the nation's foremost authorities on spoken language processing. "We are interested in how people perceive and comprehend spoken language, This involves everything from the perception of phonemes [sounds] and syllables to word recognition, to what we call lexical access, or how people locate and retrieve the sound and meanings of words in memory, to sentence comprehension and spoken language understanding." Some of Pisoni's findings need to be understood by marketing professionals wishing to use the Web as a communication vehicle:
1. Familiarity with a voice helps the cognitive processing of the content;
2. Audiences store vast amounts of voice-related characteristics (pitch, speaking rate, dialect, gender, emotional state, and eccentricities) all of which provide a rich oral-rendering of personality and character that in turn enhances understanding and memory;
3. Voice is not an abstract ephemeral sense; it is concrete, substantive and richer than its visual alternative.

The Practicalities of Signature Voice Representing Marketing Personality

Using audio to deliver your marketing message and brand personality on the Web is not technically challenging, but understanding the implications and impact of such a presentation requires someone with an understanding of the psychology, medium, environment and process. Some small business early adapters have instinctively understood the value of oral presentation and have used it to present themselves on their websites. I won't say that this will never work, but unless they are a trained voice-over talent, it is unlikely that they are achieving what they want, compared to what could be achieved if done professionally.

Another group of earlier Web-audio adapters are professional speakers, authors, and expert presenters. It seems like a natural for this group to present themselves on the Web, but the ability to speak in front of an audience armed with copious Power Point slides, is not the same as delivering a Web-based presentation. Whereas a live conference audience will ignore stumbles, stammers and slip-ups, a Web-audience will interpret each mistake as a blunder. Like a photograph that displays every wrinkle and line in your face, so a flawed audio presentation will project a sloppy and amateurish persona.

The Familiar But Not Quite Recognizable Choice

We have all sat in front of our televisions listening to commercials with the sounds of familiar voices. Big-budget advertisers hire big-name actors to portray their products in fifteen- and thirty-second spots. Unlike straightforward testimonials these unnamed famous voice-overs make subtle use of voice recognition: Keffer Sutherland speaks for Ford, Sam Elliot for IBM, Gene Hackman for Lowes, and on and on, but none of these famous actors are actually identified.

According to Mark Forehand of the University of Washington Business School and Andrew Perkins of Rice University, in their article presented in the Journal of Consumer Research, "the presence of a celebrity voice can influence brand evaluation even when the consumer has no idea that the voice-over was provided by a celebrity ... When consumers did not recognize the celebrity, their brand evaluations shifted in the direction of their attitude toward that celebrity... This effect is called assimilation... Ultimately this is one of many examples of implicit cognition in advertising response - advertising features that influence people independent of their conscious awareness."

What does this mean for the average business wanting to add a signature voice to their website: you do not need to hire a major movie or television star to present your material, just a voice-over artist who can emulate the style, cadence, and deliver of a well-liked personality that represents the marketing persona you want to project.
With enough variation of voice characteristics, the savvy marketing manager who has properly defined his company's personality and selected a representative voice can take full advantage of 'implicit cognition' while projecting an independent, cost-effective signature personality that takes full advantage of the psychological advantages of Web-based voice-over presentation.

The Rational Approach is Highly Over-rated

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, 'The Tipping Point,' he points out that patients tend to sue doctors who don't spend enough time with them, rather than doctors who are incompetent. For the most part, consumers of medical services don't sue doctors they like, even if they screw-up. Customers are people and they react with their senses and instincts like people. Until we as marketing professionals learn to deal with customers as human beings, and relate to them on a human level, we will never achieve what is achievable, and our websites will continue to disappoint.