Agile, Simple, Effective: Finding Your Voice & Cutting Through the Clutter

Have you ever flown Spirit Airlines? Well, I did for the first time a few weeks ago. If you haven’t heard of it, Spirit is sort of like the Uber of airlines. It provides a cheap alternative to long distance traveling for those of us who are more interested in convenience and a good price than outstanding service. In my experience with Spirit, I couldn’t help but notice their exceptional branding. Everything from the ‘loading’ page on their site to their distinctive yellow planes to the subtly branded barriers at the check-in line at the airport screams Spirit. Their slogan is compact and effective, “Less money. More go.”

The moral of the story is that Spirit Airlines knows who they are. As a result of that, so does everyone else. They have found what it is about them that really sticks out—a business model that attracts the ‘get up and go’ kind of travelers—and they rode that singular theme to success by hammering it home at every single customer touchpoint with a strong, unambiguous voice. When you walk through a crowded airport, you can spot Spirit Airlines from a mile away while so many of the other airlines blend together.

As I talked about last week, knowing yourself is important for effective messaging, but tying that together with a strong voice is essential to cutting through the clutter of content overload. The single most powerful way to identify and implement your voice is the three-word approach, something I first learned about at Content Marketing World two years ago.

Identifying your brand’s three critical descriptors

Why you need to establish the three most important qualities of your brand

Content overload is real. This one statistic sums up the weight of the situation: In 2015, the output of content per brand increased 35% per channel, but content engagement decreased by 17%. (Track Maven) While there is a constant proliferation of new methods to create and distribute content, people still only have so much time and energy to consume it.

The number of content creators out there—both brands and individuals—is practically infinite. And they are all competing for your audience’s attention. It’s nearly impossible to have a unique idea anymore. As Fathom’s own Jeff Herrmann expressed in the latest Mingled Marketing episode, the only thing that is unique anymore is your voice. While crafting a unique voice may sound like a daunting, involved task, it can be boiled down to three simple words.

What is the three-word approach?

The approach consists of using three separate and descriptive adjectives to define your brand voice. It should be concise and uncomplicated, hence the use of just three words. It will result in a consistent, unified, and distinctive voice, which is necessary for long-term impact on any marketing efforts.

It’s commonly suggested to use three words because this number is simple and easy to remember, but it also provides enough room for flexibility that the voice will still be versatile. Also, full disclosure, it doesn’t have to be only three words—the point is more that you keep it simple than it is that you have exactly three words. You should be able fit your brand essence into these three (or four or so) words. If you can’t, you have a larger problem with brand fragmentation and dilution.

The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. While it ensures consistency, it also gives individuals the ability to take these values and translate them to their own individual voices. Telling content contributors and other individuals at your organization what they must or must not write about is dangerous and can potentially squelch your marketing efforts. Using the three-word approach keeps this from happening while also maintaining a unified voice.

What does the three-word approach do for my marketing?

I’ve said this already, but it’s worth saying again: it creates consistency–across content, across marketing, across everything. You want every single brand touch point to echo these three words, whether that be via your web page, your product packaging, or your client presentations.

This method is transformative in its simplicity, as it (should) inspire you to totally rethink many elements of your communication strategy and it (should) also empower individuals across your organization to easily align around your voice without sounding identical or repetitive.

How do I find my brand’s three words?

  • Try out trial and error. Repeatedly engage with your audience and find what resonates with them. Like your messaging strategy, these three words should describe your brand but they should ultimately show your audience what they stand to gain from interacting with you.
  • Bring it to your employees. Who knows your brand better than your own people? Probably no one. Send out a simple survey asking how to best describe your organization. For example, at Fathom, when we were trying to better define our own core values (a different concept than voice, but related nonetheless), the first thing we did was send out a survey asking our team members about our current core values and what each of those core values meant to that person.
  • Examine your own internal brand documentation and look for repeating themes. As I said above, no one knows your brand better than your own people. It’s likely that your three words are already being tossed around internally, it’s just a matter of identifying and owning them.
  • Think of your brand as a person. One example of this that I love comes from a Content Marketing Institute blog on this subject. This blog cites the project management tool Asana’s process for creating their voice, which involved asking “If Asana were a person, what would they be like?” Thinking of your brand as a person allows you to reimagine it as one cohesive entity rather than a complicated organization made up of lots of different people and facets.
  • Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Stay very far away from terms like ‘Innovative’, ‘Transparent’, ‘Synergistic’, and other buzzwords that don’t have any substance. This lack of substance will ultimately translate into a voice without substance as well. Concentrate on words with significance and impact.
  • Think about what your brand isn’t. It can be difficult to define an entire brand in a few words. By thinking about what you aren’t, you’ll shed light on what you are. If you can say for sure that your brand is not outdated, you can pretty easily say it’s up-to-date. Use this method to come up with a list of things that you brand is, and then narrow down by the relevance of each word.

Bringing Your Voice to Life

Your final 3-word product should be abstract enough to encompass your entire brand, but should still be specific enough to provide direct impact to your marketing efforts and paint a descriptive picture of your organization.

There are a variety of more complicated elements, such as syntax, diction, punctuation use, vernacular use, etc., that you include in defining your voice. This three-word approach is the simplest way to enforce consistency across an organization, though.

Think about the most prominent brands out there today, the ones you can identify with a mere glance or the first note of a jingle. While you may not be able to guess the exact three words they use to define their voice, you could probably get pretty close. That is because the most powerful brands have a simple and unified voice that underpins every single thing they do.


Did you like this post? Let us know why (or why not) in the comments. In the meantime, check out our blog Is There a Lack of Creative Talent in Marketing to find out why your marketing efforts will never achieve creative excellence without excellent creative talent.

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