At the dawn of the 21st century, Innocent smoothies took supermarket shelves by storm and helped us overcome our aversion to healthy eating.
Quite suddenly we all found shelf space in our fridges for weird-coloured smoothies made from fruits we’d hardly heard of.
Distinctive branding played a massive part in this success – but it was tone of voice that really broke the mould.
The words on the back of Innocent’s cartons were friendly, direct and slightly quirky, and as refreshing as the contents. They put tone of voice on the marketing map as a distinct art and discipline.
Of course, we’d been banging on about it for years and now, suddenly, customers seemed to get it. Brand is personality, and how a personality speaks (or writes) and projects their character is very important.
Find your own voice
The problem, however, was that now everyone wanted to be Innocent. Every brand wanted to connect with consumers in the same irreverent, informal, best-buddy way.
Maybe it’s true that imitation is flattery. But going bottle blonde in 1955 was no automatic passport to becoming a Marilyn Monroe-style Hollywood legend. Likewise, there’s a bit more to developing a brand or organisational tone of voice than slavishly copying what has been spectacularly successful for some other product.
Nothing is less authentic than parroting a borrowed tone of voice. How could it be that any organisation, with all its unique history, culture and original thinking, would speak exactly the same language as any other?
We can certainly acknowledge the influence of the ground-breakers, like those Innocent copywriters who proved beyond doubt that customers can learn to trust the informal voice just as much as they might trust a po-faced expert.
But we each need to find our own distinctive ways of injecting that learning into our own unique communications with our own unique audiences.
By all means be inspired by your smoothie to rethink your organisation’s tone of voice, to reconsider how you come across and to ask how you might refresh the language you use.
But whatever you do, don’t go all Innocent on us.