You may not have the budget to shell out millions for talent the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Garner, but there are key takeaways you can learn from a company with a blockbuster budget when it comes to selecting voice-over talent to represent your brand.
Both aforementioned actors are spokespeople for Capital One credit cards, with the now easily recalled “What’s in your wallet?” tagline. Samuel L. Jackson promotes the Quicksilver Card and Jennifer Garner promotes the Venture Card.
Two very different personas, one brand
We’ll dive more into some of what we learn from this below, but note - Sam and Jen (I think I can call her that since she is the embodiment of the girl next door) represent two very different personas for the same brand.
Notably, Samuel L. Jackson has played everything from a hitman in Pulp Fiction to Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe to a Jedi Master in Star Wars. Capital One advertises the Quicksilver Card as trouble-free and dependable, so it makes sense that if Sam tells you it is trouble-free and dependable, with his straightforward, direct and iconic delivery - you will believe him (or else!).
Now, with Jennifer Garner - she’s a mom and she’s no pushover (she’s a kick-butt spy in Alias but also the laughable gal in 13 going on 30). Jen embodies strength and approachableness. She’s believable and family friendly. Why would Jen steer us wrong? She’s encouraging you to go have adventures and she’s at the perfect phase of life to promote this.
Same company - very different approaches to the VO talent they’ve selected to represent them, with two different audiences to reach - but when it comes down to it, both voices of the same brand are promoting a credit card in a very crowded field.
Here are five important guidelines to consider when it comes to selecting voice-over talent (which can also apply to working with a spokesperson). These are budget-friendly tips for the everyday advertiser that will help you gain more traction with your brand messaging.
1) Hire a professional voice-over artist
Refrain from voicing the ad yourself, or letting Chris the Sales Guy do it inhouse. Hire professional voice-over talent. There are many, many online resources with voice-over actor demos available to listen to (we've provided a list at the bottom of this post).
You can always ask the voice artist to do a test read of part of your spot so that you can hear if they’re a good fit for the copy and the brand.
Going the cheap/fast/easy route and having your local radio station announcer read your copy is a mistake if you want your brand to stand out and have an audible identity of its own.
When a radio station announcer reads your copy, it is highly likely your ad will run up against another ad that the same person voiced, which can diminish brand distinction and recall.
Don’t miss out on the goal of building your brand by skimping when selecting your voice-over talent. Instead choose a professional that best represents and distinguishes your message in your target market.
Keep in mind developing a relationship with your voice-over actors will help them partner with you even better. As they get to know you and your brand that affinity will come through in their vocal performance.
2) Select voice-over talent that represents your brand
Since audio production is so much more affordable than video don’t be afraid to invest in a voice-over actor who's timbre and tone uniquely embodies your brand.
When you find that special voice actor who captures the essence of your brand, use them consistently within your audio and video creatives. A memorable voice artist is well worth their price tag.
When listeners hear that voice, it should lay the groundwork for your brand. The more frequency of play your VO has, the easier your brand will be recalled.
6 Key Brand Voice Considerations:
Think about what emotion your brand conveys (or the emotions you WANT your brand to convey) and make a list. Most voice-over artists can provide several different reads of the same copy, portraying different emotions.
PERSONA & TONE
What is your brand's persona? This will help you guide tone. Your brand's tone and persona should be part of your brand guidelines. As marketers, you’re (hopefully) developing personas for your target market. Don’t forget to develop one for your brand!
Think of your voice-over talent as being literally the voice of your brand. Is your brand personality warm and welcoming? Or is your brand fun and edgy?
Making a list in advance of listening to any voice-over demos will help you narrow down your options and direct your talent.
Your voice-over talent will define your brand for your listeners. Make sure they fit your brand's culture and image (persona!).
MALE OR FEMALE
Will your brand benefit from a more authoritative read (eh-hem, Sam?) or a nurturing read (a-la-Jen?)? Consider if a male or female voice will better deliver the tone you are going for.
Research has shown authority is associated with male voices while nurturing is associated with female voices. This is not to say one quality can’t be found in the other, but mainly to remind you to think about how well the actor’s voice will fit the desired tone of your messaging.
You should assume that you’ll direct your voiceover talent, providing sample reads (you can even record your own voice on most smartphones).
Some artists have ways for you to call into the recording so that you can hear them read it as it’s happening and give feedback in real time.
Don’t expect your VO talent to get it right the first time or assume because they are a professional that they will be instantly successful at portraying your brand (or reading your mind). Remember…they read copy, not minds.
Will you ever use the talent as a spokesperson in a video ad? If not, don’t worry about appearances, just listen. How does the voice make you feel? It’s best to ignore any visuals associated with the voice-over talent and just listen, unless you plan to use this person as a spokesperson.
You found your favorite voice! Only to find out they work a full-time job and only do voice work on the weekends - or they live in Australia and are only available when you are in REM sleep.
Identifying the availability of your preferred voice-over talent in advance will help you with setting expectations and know that your voice actor will work for your organization logistically. Audio and video production are hard enough to schedule as it is. Make sure you're selecting voice-over talent that will be there when you need them.
It may take a few tries to get it right
We’re not saying always reject the first offer, but you’ll likely need to try a few voices on before you really lock in the one that really makes your brand sing.
So it’s good to know that most voice-over talent will typically read a few lines of your copy at no charge and supply a few different takes so you can get an good feel for their style and range before committing.
Don’t be afraid to move on if it’s not working. Not all voice-over talent live up to their demos.
They may have been highly produced by another person and not replicable. Demos can sometimes be like a dating site - with a potential match portrayed one way online, and then when you meet that person in real life, you realize how many filters they were using!
Once you find “The Voice”, be consistent with your investment. Every time your audio ad plays with that voice, you’re training your audience. The more they hear it and identify your brand with that voice, the more impactful your messaging will be.
For Capital One, they have a clear advantage with budget, but people do actually google “Jennifer Garner credit card” to find them online now.
So, now that you’ve…
- Identified your brand persona and tone
- Figured out what emotion your brand should convey
- Decided who you're talking to with your brand voice
- Selected your voice-over talent
…it’s time to dive into more of the logistics of working with a voice-over artist in our final two tips.
4) Pronunciation and Regional Accents: MOZZ-dah vs MAZZ-dah
Make sure your voice-over talent can pronounce your brand name accurately. Believe it or not, there have been times when the actor just can’t say the name of the company correctly, which will come across as confusing to the audience, damaging trust with the listener.
Additionally, make sure that your VO actor doesn’t have a distinct accent that could conflict with your brand.
For example, if you are a Pacific Northwest-based company and your voice-over talent has a midwestern accent it could hurt your brand’s local appeal as well as your authenticity and credibility.
There are of course exceptions to be made…
For example, if you want to show inclusiveness in your marketing messaging and demonstrate how your brand values diversity, consider hiring a voice actor who is obviously not an English-first speaker.
This will likely still capture your English as a first language audience very effectively, while also achieving the goal of having a memorable voice actor. Plus, anyone who speaks the same language as your voice actor will pick up on the effort to show inclusiveness in your marketing messaging immediately.
We did this recently at Edge for a multilingual campaign we produced and ran in the Portland DMA for a local credit union client.
Don’t underestimate the power of the right voice
There are times where it might make sense to use someone with an accent that is outside of your region. For example, a spa might use a female with a british accent to portray luxury.
Take a listen (or watch) this ad So, God Made a Farmer Dodge Truck commercial made for the SuperBowl in 2013.
It is considered by some to be the best SuperBowl commercial of all time and it’s become an iconic example of the power of a voiceover, a well written script and simple visuals. Note, there is no moving video in this spot - it’s all about the voice.
The voiceover makes you think of a prairie preacher from the dust bowl. He’s Paul Harvey, the most iconic radio broadcaster of all time, known as the “Apostle of Main Street” and the “Voice of Middle America”.
Review the comments on YouTube and you’ll see that tough farmers cried when this commercial aired and entire bars became silent once they heard Paul Harvey’s voice. Do not underestimate the power of the right voice with the right message targeted to the right audience.
5) Expediting the creative process
Spell out exactly what you need said
It can help to mimic out loud what you want it to sound like and then describe the sounds in your copy direction.
For example, in your copywriting:
- Use “dot” instead of a period: best buy dot com, not bestbuy.com
- Use “dash” instead of a dash: kingston dash charcoal dot com, not kingston-charcoal.com
- Spell words if necessary: that’s R-E-V-I-V-E spa dot com, not revivespa.com
Give your voiceover talent specific direction
- Spoken softly and with mystery
- Spoken confidently, with authority
- End this sentence with your voice inflecting up like it’s a question
- Talk like a valley girl
- Mimic a monster truck announcer
Many professional voiceover actors have in-home studios and use a system (phone patch) where you can call in and listen to them do their reads and ensure that the tracks you are sent will fit what you are looking for.
You can provide direction and feedback during the session to help expedite the creative process and minimize frustration on all sides.
Communicate how you want the audio delivered
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Do you expect your voice-over talent to deliver more than one read? If so, let them know. For example, please provide at least three reads and a few variations of how you say our website tag at the end.
- Share your expectations regarding if you need their breaths removed and the read edited down to fit your format length.
- Share the format you need the file delivered in, as well as any technical specs.
Don’t assume the voice talent is as good at recording as they are at reading copy
We’ve been delivered everything from tightly edited reads that fit our time allowance perfectly, with breaths removed - to reads that have to be heavily edited and have multiple reads of the same sentence perhaps right in the middle of the read so that the editor can select the version they like best and edit the final deliverable together.
Ask good questions up front, like: what format do you typically deliver your voiceover in? Do you edit it to fit the length? Can you remove any breaths? If there are alternate reads of any sentences or tags, can you add them at the end after an appropriate amount of space?
Ask about their recording space. What equipment are they using? Do they travel to a studio to record or do they have a home setup? Most professional VOs have a home setup, just make sure they can deliver the professionalism and quality you require for your brand.
Summary and Resources
Remember that when it comes to selecting voice-over talent to represent your brand, you have an opportunity to leverage that talent into helping you meet your brand’s goals.
And, you aren’t just selecting a voice to read a script. You're aligning your brand with an idea, an image, a feeling, an emotion, a lifestyle, a value system…to convey important messaging around your organization.
You can always work with your ad agency or a local talent agency to help you select the perfect voice for your brand.
If that is out of reach, here are some websites for sourcing voice-over talent, as well as a few for selecting music.