In one of our previous posts, we analysed several examples of well-known brands arranged into three groups, based on where they belong on a differentiation spectrum ranging from meaningful differentiation (1), to somewhat meaningful differentiation (2), to no differentiation at all (3).
We defined meaningful brand differentiation as taking place when the brand’s uniqueness is based on a true and significant difference in its offering, in particular, when the brand manages to create a new product sub-category. Some examples of brands in this group include Tesla, Uber and Nespresso.
We also looked at highly successful brands which do not place any emphasis on differentiation either in their offering, or in their communication. This is because their main goal is to achieve the widest appeal possible and not reject anybody by being too specific and/or too different. Samsung, Visa and Ford are a few examples.
The third group, placed somewhere between the two mentioned above, includes brands which, to the average customer, may be indistinguishable from their competitors. However, they have managed to find a way to talk about themselves that comes across as (somewhat) different. We explained how Ben & Jerry’s and Diesel manage to achieve this.
Both Ben & Jerry’s and Diesel use their messaging as the main differentiating vehicle: Ben & Jerry’s focuses on social activism and Diesel – on provocative observations of the world.
Today, we want to look at the brands representing the same group (“somewhat different”) which differentiate themselves not only through their messaging (“the what”), but also (or primarily) through their tone of voice (“the how”).
Oatly is a pro-health and pro-environment lifestyle brand (“We exist to make it easy for people to eat better and live healthier lives without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources in the process.“) that communicates in a way that is untypical of brands with strong sustainability credentials. It doesn’t place too much emphasis on explaining the benefits of its products, nor does it build associations with nature, purity and wellbeing. Oatly focuses primarily on challenging the entire category of animal diary and does so in a quirky and provocative manner.
Some examples of Oatly’s “eccentric” tone of voice include the inclusion of a quote from a dissatisfied consumer on the brand’s packaging: “This tastes like shit! Blah!” and the brand’s tweet: “Look! It’s 60 seconds of stupidness featuring an EU proposal that contradicts climate goals and basic common sense, brought to you by friends of the European milk lobby. Or skip the show and just sign the petition (…)”.
Even though Slack’s main functionality is a group chat, it is positioned as “the collaboration hub that brings the right people, information and tools together to get work done”. In comparison with other B2B brands primarily targeting business decision-makers, Slack’s tone of voice is much less corporate, more human, warmer and friendlier. The company does not use jargon, and its language is concise and easy to understand. In its brand guidelines, Slack describes its tone of voice as “humans speaking to humans”, and it uses the following descriptors: “confident (never cocky), witty (but never silly), conversational (but always appropriate and respectful), intelligent (and we always treat our users as intelligent too), friendly (but not ingratiating), helpful (but not overbearing), clear, concise and human”
Two examples of Slack’s application of a consistent tone of voice include its description of Slack Connect on slack.com (“Slack Connect lets two companies move as quickly as one. Hatch a partnership. Close the deal. Build something new.”) and the way it defines itself on App Store (“Scientifically proven (or at least rumoured) to make your working life simpler, more pleasant and more productive. We hop you’ll give Slack a try”).
Hendrick’s Gin is positioned as a premium, small-batch craft product but in reality it is one of the world’s bestselling gins.
Hendrick’s has created a highly unusual and distinctive brand world. Its branding is inspired by the Victorian era and the company’s executives describe it as eccentric, nonsensical, surreal, fanciful and peculiar. The brand’s tone of voice, simultaneously elevated and witty, is also highly nuanced. Hendrick’s uses communication vocabulary uncommon in marketing language, for instance: marvellous, wondrous, alluring, whimsical, delectably and delightfully.
Some examples of Hendrick’s unique tone of voice include the way the brand describes itself on Twitter: “Hendrick’s is a gin distilled in Scotland with curious, yet marvellous, infusions of cucumber and rose” or how it announced the launch of its new variant, Hendrick’s Lunar Gin: “Cosmic news of celestial importance: Hendrick’s Lunar Gin, like the moon itself, is now to be enjoyed all around the world. Coming into your orbit soon.”
Innocent started as a smoothie brand but has since evolved into a line of healthy beverages including products such as juices, juice shots, coconut water, fruit products for kids, dairy-free milks and others. When the brand was launched, its offering was unique, particularly at the product level as the Innocent smoothies are and have always been made only from fresh fruit without any added sugar, cheaper juice concentrates or preservatives.
However, today there are many similar brands on the market and Innocent manages to stand out from the crowd through a truly distinctive communication style. It uses a famously cheeky and light-hearted tone of voice helping the brand to cut through the communication clutter.
Some examples include text on the product labels, e.g., “separation occurs, but mummy still loves daddy” and how the brand talks about its history: “2000. We start sending eleven people our weekly webnews. It’s a great success – some of them stay subscribed for week two” or “2009. Coca-Cola invests in innocent. A nation rejoices/sends an angry letter/doesn’t really notice”.
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Magda Adamska is the founder of BrandStruck.
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