With One Voice

What does it take to create a global brand experience? Global brand teams are responsible for building a strong brand with global presence while supporting and driving the business in each market. But because no brand is in the exact same position in the exact same context in every market, it can feel like a bit of a tug-of-war. The experience must be true to the global strategy while serving the needs of the markets, potentially putting two important goals at odds: global consistency vs. local relevance.

Brand voice plays an essential role. As an expression of personality, brand voice is core to building the right emotional connection throughout the experience globally. But in each market you must not only consider the strategic context for the brand but also the influence of language and culture.

So brand teams must be confident that the voice can deliver the emotional connection in every market, that the tools are in place for the voice to be useful in each culture/language, and that they have the ability to evaluate its impact globally based on the brand strategy.

When it comes to creating content, it’s easy to confuse sameness with consistency. The reality is that the more strictly you try to use the exact same words or phrases across languages, the less they sound the same. Which begs the question, what does consistency sound like for a global voice?

Getting your balance

It comes back to the powerful connection voice builds with your audiences. Voice should be based in a singular, consistent definition of that connection and the emotional and behavioral response desired from your audiences. However when it comes to execution of voice in actually copy—and this may feel counter-intuitive—flexibility will actually deliver this consistency.

Many brands have a well-defined voice and support it throughout their organization; however, that clear definition and guidance typically remains within the language of their country of origin. And the further away you get from there, geographically and linguistically, the more content is shaped by the instincts of local teams rather than the voice. Or worse, syndicated content is translated and handed to the markets without any consideration of the voice.

In evaluating the impact and utility of your voice globally, it’s helpful to think about these fundamental questions:

  1. What is your voice? Does it clearly define the emotional connection it is designed to inspire?
  2. What cultural and linguistic factors would shape this connection in each market? How do we flex the local expression given this context?
  3. What are the cultural factors that will impact how our audiences hear our voice? How does that inform measuring the success of our voice and the experience?

Looking at the cultural factors that will impact local expression and audience perception doesn’t have to be an exhaustive effort. By using the brand voice as a starting point, the effort should be focused on the language and cultural associations specific to the definition in the voice.

Here’s an example: a brand that desires customers to see them as a strategic partner might want their voice to show how they are insightful as a part of the brand experience. Given this intention, the brand would need to understand how different cultures understand the idea of insightful: both how it’s expressed and how people respond to insightful content.

An analysis of key markets would show that the nature of being insightful and speaking in an insightful way has some commonalities and key differences. Commonly, insightfulness is about being sharp and open to new ideas. It is expressed through the sharing of new perspectives or unexpected discoveries. But, depending on the market, these ideas may be more relevant expressed within the context of the present and immediate action or the future and a more macro or long-term vision.

Understanding the cultural context doesn’t change the voice, but gives the lens to calibrate the local content as an expression of that voice. It can be applied to provide tactical guidance—word choice, narrative structure, etc.—while still fulfilling the role of build the specific emotional connection defined in the voice. And in fact, applying these insight will make the content impactful, regardless of whether it’s created by local markets or conceptually translated from the original.

Knowing when you hear it

This cultural lens gives us the foundation for measurement as well. Appreciating the nuances of audience perception is vital to knowing if the response actually reflects what the voice is designed to deliver. Across markets, the voice may be achieving the same, desired connection, but audiences might use different words to describe the brand.

Going back to our example, if there are differences in the way insightful people express themselves, it makes sense that there would be differences in the way they are perceived. Depending on the language and culture, a person or brand that’s insightful would be describe in terms of their creative talent or their intellectual prowess. So if the voice is successful, in some markets audiences might talk about the brand in terms of being imaginative and in others, smart or perceptive.

When tracking branded conversation, the analysis in each market can measure both global consistency and local relevance. By looking at the language that plays back in audience responses to the voice, brands can evaluate the effectiveness of the content in that language and validate that it is building the emotional connection desired globally.

Working well, working together

Making brand voice work for each market is essential to having an experience that works globally. By allowing for flexibility based on language and cultural insights, brands will make voice actionable for local markets, while still building a consistent experience. And it supports a better relationship between local markets who will have more ownership of the voice and global brand teams who can provide better support and strategic guidance.

Relevance at an individual and cultural level is at the heart of creating a deeper emotional connection with audiences, and so strong brands must consider it with the same weight as global consistency. Likewise, as people become global citizens and digital channels make content universally accessible, a globally consistent experience is essential to the impact of the brand. Brands must focus on this balance to successfully drive and support the global growth of the business.

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Executive Director, Verbal Identity