Has Woolies found its voice?

MAtt RobinsonIn this guest post Matt Robinson argues the success and reach of Woolworths’ social interaction yesterday proves more big brands need to align their social and marketing tones.

The story of the gradual erosion of Australia’s biggest supermarket chain is not a new one. From the once mighty Fresh Food People, to now seeing rapidly declining favourability scores and tales that show some cultural challenges as well, Woolworths are having a tough time of it.

While communications can’t solve every problem, having a distinctive and differentiated brand and embedding it deep into your organisation has been proven to drive significant value.

One of the core tools in the brand shed, is the idea of brand voice. Creating a distinctive and differentiated voice has helped brands from Old Spice to Aldi cut through the clutter.

Something that has been on my mind for a long time now is how this idea of brand voice plays out in interactive channels like social.

On the one hand you’ve got brands such as Telstra and Qantas. For the most part, you can see their brand voice reflected in their interactions with people… professional, courteous, a dash of warmth where required. Their voice is consistent across the board, but they’re able to adapt their tone to the context of the conversation.

Then you’ve got more youth focused brands. Skittles, Lynx, Sportsgirl. They do a great job of mirroring the language of their audience and creating the entertainment value that they crave.

Where it gets interesting, is when you’ve got brands with a clear, safe corporate image – whose social media team are in tune with the communities they serve, but are slightly  removed from their core brand voice.

A case in point came on Tuesday when a Woolworths customer posted this:

To which the Woolworths social team responded (brilliantly) with this:

By 3pm on Tuesday it had received 62,000+ likes and 12,000 shares. When I last checked it has now shot up to more than 124,500 likes and 37,000 shares. Back-of-a-napkin maths says that the reach of this little dialogue (on Facebook alone) would be upwards of two million people, or the equivalent of a full page in a couple of the Sunday papers, or a particularly strong episode of Masterchef.

This raises a couple of important questions.

First, when does a brand’s social voice, become its brand voice (whether it likes it or not)?  As the often quoted Marty Neumeier says: “A brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”

Clearly riffing off pop culture for Woolies has created a huge level of engagement, possibly more than the regular Woolworths comms. And there is absolutely no doubt, that this rapping, witty, highly responsive conversation is far more distinctive and interesting from them, than a green bird cheap cheaping.

Second, for these brands who have made a habit of referencing pop culture and tried jumping into a world of memes, LOLs and social media burns… is this creating differentiation (and true brand value) for them, or is the ‘engagement’ far more disposable?

So, should Woolworths take a hint from the success of this post, and build a more modern voice across its comms, as informed by real data? Or should they be bringing their social voice in line with their brand, and sacrifice engagement for consistency?

Either way, I think brands are missing a trick by not better aligning their voice all the way from advertising to social.

I’d hazard a guess that at at some point soon, the definition of a brand’s voice will be shaped by the hundreds of thousands of real interactions it’s having with people – and  not just what’s sitting in the strategy document.

  • Matt Robinson is managing director and partner at AnalogFolk Sydney

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