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The Rise of the Approachable Expert
By David Ciccarelli, co-founder and CEO of Voices.com
With the exponential growth of video, voice over and audio have become increasingly important aspects of production. Formerly limited to radio and TV spots, today voice is an integral part of productions of all kinds and formats - from a 15 second YouTube ad, to the audio instructions for e-learning platforms, to the characters behind video games and even the voices behind new AI assistants.
For years, voice over in marketing and advertising skewed male, was largely location agnostic, and used an authoritative sound similar to formal instruction from a parent, professor or employer (depending on the audience). But as voice has become more integrated into daily life, there has been a movement toward a more customized, personable tone - more closely resembling a knowledgeable friend than that of a professor.
To understand why this is taking place, the team here at Voices.com, the world's largest online voice over marketplace, conducted our annual trends report, surveying more than 1,000 creative professionals internationally, revealing the key trends driving the move, and outlining the rise of this new style of voice, known as the "Approachable Expert."
Made up of five key factors - target audience, aspiration, personality, brand voice and, most importantly, emotional connection - the Approachable Expert relates to consumers by appealing to their desire to hear voice that sounds just like them, a trend that has led to a rise in voice over that is geographically and demographically specific (for example, using a voice actor with a southern accent for a company's ad selling to the southern U.S.).
But in order for brands to effectively create an Approachable Expert of their own, they must go beyond the idea of "just like me," and consider each of these five factors, or risk missing the mark and not creating meaningful and memorable experiences.
In the age of increased personalization, consumers are looking to hear voices that sounds just like them, so brands need to be hyper-aware of who exactly "they" are. Target audiences and personas have always been important to sales and advertising, but as consumers demand more of a connection with brands, companies need to narrow in on more than just "adult males 25-40" and take things like geographic location, generation and interests into account. According to our report, current voice over trends include an increased interest in the female voice, and a focus on Gen Xers and Millennials, with respondents reporting that 54% of their projects are speaking to a Gen X audience, and another 39% are speaking to Millennials.
Taking this one step further, brands need to consider what types of aspirations their audiences have, and understand how their product or service supports those aspirations. Consumers purchase items because they feel it will help take them to a new place, and voice can convey this - it's why so many brands use celebrities to promote their products, like Michael Jordan elevating the status of the basic Hanes brand.
While it is vitally important to consider the customer in these decisions, organizations cannot forget to stay true to their brand, and specifically their brand personality. Today's era of consumer empowerment, expecting relevant and authentic experiences at every touchpoint, forces organizations to rethink their engagement and communication strategies. And as these expectations rise, the pressure is on for organizations to adjust and provide the most authentic experiences possible. This requires careful brand definition and execution across touch points - voice representation included.
Though most people in creative industries are familiar with the idea of a brand style, or the set of rules that dictate the tone and writing style a brand uses in its marketing and other communications, brand voice takes this concept a step further by asking brands to determine their actual sound. A number of factors go into this decision. For example, there are concrete items like the regions the brand sells in, which will inform language and accent of the voice, and target audience, which will inform the gender and age (78% of creatives indicated that they choose voice actors that sound the same age as their target audience). But there are also softer items to consider, like company culture, which will inform the language and tone of the voice used. Once again, authenticity is key here, so brands must be honest with themselves as they go through this process.
Emotional connection is the culmination of each of these factors. Of the five, it is the most critical to creating an Approachable Expert, with 92% of those we surveyed listing it as the most important consideration when selecting voice talent for a project. This follows the growing "just like me" trend - people like to hear from their peers, and tend to trust their recommendations more than someone that sounds significantly different than them - whether that's related to their age, geographic location, gender, or something else. One of the reasons behind this is that people want to hear someone that sounds like they do, because it helps them feel as if whatever the voice over is for, it was personalized to their needs. With the average person exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day, this personalization is key in order to cut through the clutter, and get target audiences to pay attention.
With voice over a major tech trend for 2018, it is more important than ever for brands to ensure voice over technologies are a key part of their campaigns, and to ensure they are employing the Approachable Expert style in order to speak directly to their consumers and have the greatest impact possible.
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