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Is building a distinctive brand more trouble than it’s worth?

We’ve always said that having a distinctive tone of voice is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

But can it backfire?

We had a hypothesis that a distinctive tone is only worth it for brands people already like. 

Trendy young things like Bulb, for instance. Whereas for stuffy old pariahs like British Gas, doing something a bit different, linguistically, would just get people’s backs up.

So we put it to the test.

We wrote two versions of a ‘thanks for your meter reading’ email: one neutral, one distinctive. We then set up a survey with four groups. One survey group got the neutral email with the British Gas logo, one got the distinctive email with the British Gas logo, one got the neutral Bulb email, one got the distinctive Bulb email.

Then we asked people: ‘After reading the email, how do you feel about this company on a scale of 1-5?’ (Where 1 meant ‘I can’t stand them’ and 5 meant ‘I really like them’).

What we found

Well, we were about as wrong as wrong can be. Based on this little study*, it seems a distinctive tone of voice is a good idea whoever you are. 

  • For British Gas, the distinctive version boosted broadly positive responses (4s and 5s) by 315%.
  • It also brought the 1s down by 64% and the broadly negative responses down by 46%.
  • For Bulb, the distinctive version led to 168% more 5s and 115% more broadly positive responses.
  • It got 8% fewer 1s, and 4% fewer broadly negative responses – strangely small changes, given the rest of the results.

So what does that mean?

If you’re a loved brand, a distinctive tone of voice, done well, can boost the love. But weirdly it probably won’t help you turn the minority of haters into fans.

If you’re a loathed brand, a distinctive tone of voice can make people like you a whole lot more. And it can have a pretty big hate-softening impact too.

No brainer, right? 

*A couple of drawbacks worth mentioning:

  1. There were 200 people involved in the survey, with 50 in each group. So it wasn’t a massive sample.
  2. We were relying on people to tell us their opinion, which isn’t a great way to get accurate results (people don’t usually know how they feel about this sort of thing, so they often just make up an answer).

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