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Does Your Brand Have a Voice? (Seriously. An actual, real voice?)

When you see the iconic “golden arches,” what’s your first thought?  It’s the logo for McDonald’s, of course.

But equally recognizable now is the “sonic” logo that closes out every McDonald’s commercial.  That quick, catchy little piece of ear candy is a great example of the kind of familiarity companies would love to capture for their own brands.

I’m sure you can think of others:  if you binge-watch Netflix, you know their bold intro.  If you use Slack at work, you hear that distinctive popping, tactile-feeling alert when you get a message.  Intel’s computer chips evoke this sound while an Alpine horn and that Swiss guy yodeling tells you it’s a Ricola cough drop.

Even Wikipedia has recently launched a global contest, seeking submissions as it tries to find a new sound logo that encompasses what it’s calling “The Sound of All Human Knowledge.”

Lately I’ve noticed increased chatter among marketing professionals and a spike in articles in the trade journals about “sonic branding” or “audio branding.”  This refers to the creation of signature audio elements – music, jingles and sound effects – intended to spark in consumers an emotional connection, reinforcing instant recall and a positive association with a brand.

In a world saturated with smart speakers and appliances, mobile devices, music streaming, podcasts and online banking and workflow apps, this is a very big deal.  Marketers are scrambling to embed sonic branding at every possible touchpoint a consumer might have the opportunity to hear it.

Yet for all the countless think-pieces cropping up about sound and sonic logos, I can’t help but notice something missing:  the brand voice.  I don’t mean that in the way marketing pros usually speak; I mean the actual, audible voice of a brand – the voiceover. The current buzz overlooks the unique role the performer behind the microphone has often played in brands’ auditory framework for decades.

As a teenager, I was a voracious TV viewer and radio listener, so I was constantly bombarded by commercials.  It got so that I could identify certain voice actors by their distinct cadence or vocal quirks.  I can recall figuring out that the guy in the Enterprise Rent-a-Car commercial spots (“We’ll pick you up!”) was the same voice from promos for CBS Television prime time shows, as well as all the station IDs for Turner Classic Movies. He also did the big political commercials for major Democrat candidates:  he voiced presidential campaign ads for Walter Mondale in 1984, then Mike Dukakis in 1988, and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.

Whoever this was, he was all over the airwaves. He possessed a resonant and comforting timbre that stuck in your memory, and imbued anything he narrated with a pleasant, easygoing, non-threatening authority. Anything in which his voice was heard seemed to lend that brand instant credibility and stature.  This cat had mastered the art of brand voicing, and he was in demand.

So imagine my surprise when this same man years later actually moved into the swanky Spanish colonial mansion down the street! I could walk out my front door and be at his front door in three minutes.

His name was Alan Bleviss.  I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions, and even going out to dinner with him and picking his brain on the voiceover business.  He was a fascinating gentleman. Sadly, he has since passed on, but I was glad to know him.

I can’t think of many voice actors then or now who were as well-practiced and prolific and could boast as many high-profile national clients as Alan.  Today there are others who have successfully become the marquee voice of a brand; I’m thinking right now of Ving Rhames in the Arby’s commercials:  WE HAVE THE MEATS!

When the right voice is married to the right brand, it’s magic.  Not every situation calls for a voiceover, but when appropriate, it can pack as much punch as a nifty jingle or those clever two-second sonic logos that are all the rage these days.  There’s an art to infusing the written words on a sheet of paper with emotion and attitude, and if done well, it drives home your brand message and creates something memorable that will resonate with the audience.  Don’t look past this as part of your audio toolbox.

Could your brand use a signature voice?

I’d be happy to explore this with you.  I’m not hard to find.  My contact info is above…or, if you like, I’m just up the street from Alan’s old house.