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Most brand owners these days claim their treasured asset has a distinctive tone of voice, expressing a unique personality. But how many have actually achieved this? How many make full use of the variety, subtlety and complexity of language to create a style that really is different, and memorable for being so?

I’d say only a very small number – a highly regarded, often-quoted band of pioneers. And most other brands simply try to imitate them.

So what we now see in almost every sector – from banking to baking, software to menswear – is watered-down Innocents, not very shiny Apples and slightly sullied Virgins. With some brands, it’s not even clear which one they’re trying to copy. A bit of all three perhaps, with an attempt at Economist wit and Ronseal honesty thrown in for good measure?

The end result is becoming all too common: chippy, chirpy copy that wants to be your friend and make you smile – or even laugh – but usually just irritates you. There are only two conclusions to draw: either these brands don’t really want to be distinctive at all, or they do, but don’t know how.

So what’s the secret?
If you think about all the millions of words in our language, and all the trillions of combinations you can put them in, creating a genuinely individual tone of voice can’t be impossible. Countless novelists seem to manage it, and we all do it when we’re speaking.

But when we speak, we’re simply being ourselves. Even if we’re trying to impress or deceive, it’s still our real-life, fully formed personalities that we’re expressing – not a fabricated, fantasy creation, as most brands are. And although a novelist’s voice may be part of a character that exists only in his or her imagination, in the successful cases, it’s been considered and developed far more thoroughly than most brands’ so-called personalities.

So should brand owners be more like novelists? Or maybe even employ novelists or other creative writers to flesh out their personalities? To give them not simply a ‘voice’, but also all the attitudes, emotions, beliefs and experiences that give that voice true depth and identity?

It may sound far-fetched, but if we’re going to keep insisting that our brands have personalities, we should make sure they really do. With each new launch, we may not need to reinvent the wheel, but we should at least be prepared to rewrite the book.

Do you agree with this, or wonder what the Dickens we’re talking about? Let us know.

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