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4 Things "The Voice" Does That Every B2B Marketer Must Master


Season 8 of The Voice premiered a couple of weeks ago and once again I am incredibly impressed with the marketing genius of the show.  So what’s a reality voice talent show have to do with business-to-business marketing?  The Voice executes brilliantly on a number of critical marketing dimensions as it has competed with Rising Star, American Idol and The X Factor that I believe serve as models of success for growing your business.

1.  Relentless, multi-dimensional Branding

Establishing a brand is an enormously difficult thing to do today in today’s oversaturated environment.  And yet crafting awareness of your company and what you uniquely offer - rising above the noise - is critical to business success.  Consistent brand communication, from visual elements to content to the customer experience, is essential for your organization to speak with a clear, unambiguous voice that gets heard.  The Voice is an unrelenting brand superstar, expertly linking and amplifying its brand with every opportunity, consistently executing the ABCs of identity (Always Branding Company) masterfully:

·         Soundmark:  We are familiar with soundmarks, small trademarked sound clips that are used to help create a memorable brand.  Probably Intel and Microsoft are two of the most known users of soundmark branding.  With The Voice, at the close of every segment just prior to breaking for a commercial, and when you open the mobile app, you will hear the sung phrase “This is The Voice”.  It serves several purposes:

o   Identification – Soundmarks are used widely in television, often for tech company advertising spots.  Comedy shows and other TV series often have intro songs (think Friends, for instance) to reconnect the viewer with the program. But what’s a reality show to do?  The soundmark is a perfect vehicle to continuously identify who they are and re-immerse you in the show.

o   Recall – Like a hit tune getting a lot of radio air time, repetition builds recall.  After a time you become less consciously aware of the repeating refrain but as you hear it time after time, the brand is getting firmly established in your mind and is a consistent touchstone that ties show segments, episodes and online/offline properties together.

o   Differentiation – Creating differentiation is a matter of both affirming and distancing, clearly communicating what your organization does/doesn’t do (purpose, offering) as well as how those things are pursued or not pursued.  The soundmark is a unique element outside of ad spots, is mimetic (singing soundbite on vocal talent show), and subliminally links to radio (think the Top 40 jingle or a DJ jingle) – all combining to differentiate The Voice from other talent shows.

·         Use of color:  Many companies have successfully used color to define themselves.  A great example of this is UPS (“What can brown do for you?”), circa 2002.  You may have noticed that all the carriers are using color  (DHL is red and yellow while FedEx is blue and red) in an effort to distinguish what is largely viewed as a commodity service.  Color helps with identification, recall and differentiation and The Voice uses the color red masterfully to reinforce the brand.  Show titling, the stars’ (aka Coaches) chairs, the logo, set elements, website and mobile app  – all prominently use the color red.

·         Logo:  Have you noticed the hand holding a microphone with two fingers up making a “V”?  Have you noticed the stars (coaches) making the V sign?  The logo instantly identifies itself as a singing show through the use of the microphone and links to the show’s name with the V symbol.  Great logos visually add definition to an organization’s name that advances your brand.

·         Language:  Strong brands have values and a point of view.  Careful choice of language can be used to reflect those values and points of view.  The Voice is about advancing the best voice talent in the world.  As such, there are no contestants or judges, only Artists and Coaches.  In the first round, an inclusion round, there are Blind Auditions, the Coaches’ chairs turned so the artists are evaluated purely on the quality of their voices.  Coaches build their “team” by “tapping on a red ‘yes’ button” to indicate they are willing to take on and coach an artist.  This language is intentional and by design conveys a very clear, and I think positive, point of view.

2.  Integrated Customer Engagement

There was a time when television thrived simply by transmitting TV programming, when viewers passively watched.  That era, when there were just a few channels, you had to stand up to change the channel, and if you missed the broadcast when it was aired you were out of luck, has longed passed.  That was also the era of outbound marketing, where companies controlled the flow of information to customers and firms depended on interruption-marketing (think all forms of advertising, including print, radio, TV, billboards, etc. and PR) to break into the consciousness of customers.

Fast-forward through cable and independent content suppliers (ex. Netflix), the democratization of information via the internet, millisecond access to an index of the internet via search engines, consumer empowerment via social media, and control of time via universal remotes powering Digital Video Recorders, passive consumption of content - whether it’s TV programming or your corporate messages - is firmly and irrevocably a thing of the past.

The Voice is constructed with customer engagement in its bones, not tacked on as an after-thought.  Customers, through their actions, guide the season’s narrative and final conclusion, not the producers of the show.  While The Voice is the gatekeeper of the characters in the storyline as a result of their screening the talent that gets on the show, viewers (a strangely inadequate word all of a sudden) determine in real-time who stays and who ultimately wins.  The Voice has tapped into and leverages the following to accomplish this integrated customer engagement:

·         iTunes:  iTunes is the most ubiquitous online music ecosystem on the planet so linking into something which is familiar and relevant to The Voice’s customers makes all the sense in the world.  Every organization should link into ecosystems which are native to their prospects.  By doing so, you have a greater chance of being seen in a context which will support building a natural relationship as an extension of something which they already trust and are linked to.

By downloading contestant’s singles from the show, viewers are voting (as all customers vote, using their choices, time and funds).  How contestants (always referred to as artists on the show) fare is in part determined by how well their song does on the iTunes download charts - which by the way is a very visible listing to anyone visiting iTunes.

Let’s not forget, however, that iTunes, first and foremost, is a store.  Customers are so motivated to have a say in the outcome of the season plotline, so eager to register their opinion, that they are willing to pay for the privilege.  Amazing!  (It would be fascinating to see what percentage of the time the downloaded songs are never played).  And BTW - This is also an important revenue stream for the artists and program.

·         Twitter:  Twitter is another ubiquitous global ecosystem where people have the opportunity to share their perspective.  Using hashtags, viewers have the opportunity to vote via their mobile device (the “second screen”).  Real-time windows for tweets, with volume statistics, have appeared on the show and determined the fate of contestants.  The Voice reinforces twitter engagement by featuring the coaches’ tweets throughout the show. 

A quick review of hashtag analytics via a tool like for #thevoice not only indicates reach and net impressions (in the tens of millions), but insight into the gender (74% female during this particular day), platforms (desktop (26%), Android (22%), iPhone (28%), etc.) and location (US 24%, France 25%, etc.) - incredibly valuable customer insight available given the plethora of analytical tools available from social media.

Whether your company is active on Twitter or not, your customers are engaged in a conversation…perhaps about your brand, perhaps about frustrations that your offering addresses, or simply about the issues that surround your industry or area of interest.  Understanding that social conversation, and participating in the dialogue, can make your brand what Malcolm Gladwell calls “sticky” in The Tipping Point, something which The Voice has mastered for the moment.

·         Mobile app:  Companies often focus the timing of their investment on mobile based on desktop vs. mobile website traffic as reported by a company’s website Google Analytics data, as well as (for product-based organizations) mobile vs. desktop eCommerce.  If a company’s mobile traffic and commerce numbers are low, they may logically infer that it is prudent to defer mobile investments.

However, mobile apps may, due to their clarity of purpose and streamlined user experience, have a level of appeal that website analytics does not hint at.  Customer engagement may be a viable endpoint in itself for investments in mobile, monetized through customer loyalty (less expensive to retain a customer than it is to recruit a new one) and customer satisfaction (satisfied customers become repeat customers and company promoters).

The Voice clearly uses its mobile app to build interaction and meaningful engagement, as opposed to building passive audiences.  ‘Viewers’ can directly “tweet the coaches” and the artists via The Voice app and during later rounds of the show, cast votes which will determine the fates of favorite contestants and teams.  Real-time interactions allow for viewers to “turn your virtual chair” and see when coaches on the show turn theirs as well.  It’s not just that the app has a common look and feel to the show and website;  the app enlists the active participation in the show narrative, which I believe is partly responsible for the global success of the program.

3.  Appeals to Emotional and is Aspirational:  Many B2B technology, healthcare and scientific companies stick very closely to providing only objective product/technical data to support their customers’ buying process.  After all, the buyer is looking to satisfy stringent specifications.  Objective data is the key, right?

The only issue is that comparative data answers threshold questions about quality, specific attributes, reliability, price, etc. but of course that is not the only basis by which purchase choices are made.  As Simon Sinek, author of The Golden Circle (see his TED talk), articulately explains, when people make purchase decisions, they depend less on what and how and more on why.  Why gets to the core of a company’s purpose, values and culture and customers are more tuned-in than ever to understanding a company’s offering within this why context.

Everyone, of course, has emotions and aspirations, even the most technical, scientifically oriented person cannot help but bring their humanity to their purchase decisions.  If there is alignment between you and your customers aspirations - we’re both trying to make advances in the understanding and treatment of [cancer], we are both trying to make a difference in [patient care], we are both trying to use technology to be more [productive, impactful, successful] - it is powerful to communicate within that shared context.  If you do, then you elevate the choice above the technical, product-to-product details once that threshold has been met. 

This kind of contextual presentation of ‘products as proof points’ of your mission/vision is different than we have this part over here which tells our story and then we have this part over here where we want you to buy our stuff.  If the product and company story are inextricably intertwined - as long as everything you are saying is authentically true - then your message which be more resonant with your customers.

The Voice is a master at conveying the human, aspirational context of the show at every turn:

·         ContestantsThe Voice does a great job presenting contestant’s backstory, with video of their home towns, family, and a spotlight on the reasons and purpose which drive the candidates in their aspiration to be successful singers.  The host interviews the contestant and as they wait for their big moment backstage, you hear their internal monologue and see their emotions and aspirations play out.

·         Family:  In what I have dubbed the Fate Room,  family members, clearly participants in the unfolding drama, are shown interleaved between shots of their loved one as they walk on stage, start singing, and get or don’t get chair turns.  At the end, the contestant comes to the Fate Room, closing the circle in exultation, resolution or disappointment.  If the contestant goes on later stages, family is mentioned and shown when they are in the audience, and there are further on-screen discussions in the Starbucks lounge.

·         Stars:  The dynamics between the Stars is a key theme in the show.  The relationships, humor, competitive remarks, pitches for artists - all serve to humanize the stars and have them be active participants in a very emotional, aspirational journey.

4.  Dealing with DVR (media challenges):  As a marketer one of the things I find most fascinating about The Voice is how they have dealt with a fundamental shift in the market landscape.  As reported by the Leichtman Research Group in January, their annual survey reveals that over 60% of pay-TV subscribers have a DVR (digital video recorder).  TiVo reports that 45% of prime time commercials are “fast-forwarded”.  Advertising is how TV programs make money.  The higher the audience reach, the higher the ad rates.  If DVRs are being used to systematically bypass commercial messages, advertisers will apply discounts to those audience figures.

Before digging further into this, let’s contrast this reaction to how one of the big, remaining office supply chains is dealing with online buying.  When you go into these stores there is no wireless internet in the store.  While they have invested in smartphone app and their website has responsive design (meaning it reconfigures the content based on the viewing screen size), you can’t reach either of these in their stores because they are dead-zones.  If you ask them about matching a web-based price on an item they have in-store, they will tell you their policy prohibits them from price-matching web offers.  Understandably, bricks and mortar companies who bear the expense of facilities, inventory, personnel, etc. are wary of folks who use their stores to view products that they then purchase somewhere else.  But not liking it isn’t going to make the practice stop, and rather than embracing the stickiness of customer’s wanting to see a product before purchasing it (especially for larger purchases) by leveraging this fact and linking online and in-person to their advantage, they are closing hundreds of stores.

While product placement is as old moving pictures, The Voice has been particularly creative in dealing with DVRs.  Yes, the artists have branded Starbucks drinks in their dual-cup swivel chairs, and yes, those same branded drinks show up during the artist practice sessions.  They also appear in the recreated Starbucks on-set store, replete with baristas, coffee bar and comfy chairs.  Artist/family interviews, mentioned above, are filmed in the Starbuck lounge.  Starbucks gets great exposure for their brand during show content that exists between the formal ads.

Nissan is another primary sponsor and beyond featuring a car giveaway to the final contestants during the show at its most climatic (highest viewership) part of the season, they created a linked public safety campaign that features one of the stars in front of The Voice TV location.  Nissan is also featured in The Voice app.

The text-and-drive campaign, which they have dubbed the “red thumb” campaign, is cause marketing which advocates against texting and driving - with Adam Levine as the pitchman and the clever use of the Nissan (and The Voice) brand color red.  The campaign is smart as it gives Nissan another context in which customers can think of their brand.

These advertisers are getting their message across to viewers despite changes in the media landscape and companies should also consciously examine whether they are having DVR moments where customers are eschewing commercial messages and think of ways to reach and support their customers in more organic, integrated ways.

Continuous, multi-dimensional branding, integrated customer engagement, tapping into customer aspirations and emotions, and dealing with the realities of today’s media landscape - The Voice embodies these critical pointers for building your brand and growing your business.