Brand voice: What does the actual voice of your brand sound like?

October 6, 2014

There’s a growing vocal phenomena affecting the actual voices of company spokespeople and even employees. And it doesn’t sound pretty.

When people talk about brand voice in the branding world, they’re usually referring to the written word. A company’s brand voice communicates their organizational personality through their tone of language, word choices, writing style, and linguistic “color.” But there have been growing vocal phenomena over the past four years that’s affecting the actual voices of company spokespeople and even employees. And it doesn’t sound pretty.

Let’s start with what speech experts call “Vocal Fry.” You know the sound: It’s that creaky, gravelly, back of the throat, low voice that’s produced by slowly fluttering the vocal cords at the bottom of the vocal register. Pop stars Britney Spears and Ke$ha, actress Zooey Deschanel, the Kardasians—all fry away. I’ve heard some men who do it as well. But when it comes to the general population, a 2011 study found that two-thirds of a small sample of college women were doing it. Yet another researcher suggested that young women who vocal fry see a female’s “creaky voice as hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile.”1  It’s so blasé and intimate! Another controversial university study suggested that “young women who accentuate their vocal fry more frequently, rather than a sometimes common use, might be in danger of not being hired or seen as trustworthy.”

However, when it comes to business, do female executives really want to reflect this adolescent vocal practice? Listen to CEO Marissa Mayer of Yahoo. Or Sabrina Farhi of NPR, whose new job will be the “voice of NPR” familiar announcement, “This is NPR.” Or the choice of a vocally frying young female voice over in a recent Volvo commercial. Do these and thousands of other professional women really want to sound like former politician Henry Kissinger, the godfather of vocal fry? And what kind of impact does it reflect on their corporate brand voice?

The other vocal trend that’s not music to my ears is called Juvenile Resonance or Immature Voice by speech pathologists. This is when “post-pubescent women…speak in a higher pitched voice than one would expect for an adult female.” The result is nasally, quacky and constricted in the throat. Unfortunately, it can undermine people’s impression of women. A recent professional article concluded that  “women, who already struggle to be taken seriously in many businesses, can be additionally negatively affected” by having a child-like high-pitched voice. The good news is that people can change their personal voice through vocal training with speech language pathologists and vocal coaching. That way, as a spokesperson for their company—or themselves—they will be projecting a voice that fits.

Have you heard a company’s brand voice that doesn’t fit their corporate personality? Let us know.

1Yuasa, I. P. (2010). "Creaky Voice: A New Feminine Voice Quality for Young Urban-Oriented Upwardly Mobile American Women?". American Speech 85 (3): 315–37

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