Is Audio A Part of Your Branding Toolbox?

(Includes Excerpts From Wikipedia)

Branding encompasses many tactics intended to convey organizational or product identity (who an organization is and what it stands for); enhance consumers’ experience of a product or service; or extend an organization’s relationship with its audience.

Creating a brand experience using sound is within the area of sound branding. Brands now look to engage with their customers on a much deeper level. The opportunities for creating a sound branding experience that conveys a brand essence and soul is possible. Intel’s musical logo is as recognizable as the Intel logo itself. When the Yellow Pages were still commonly used, James Earl Jones’ tone of authority was the “audio logo” for that product; Morgan Freeman is arguably the audio logo for VISA. The automotive industry’s use of both Keifer and Donald Sutherland, among many other celebrities, combines an existing voice brand that matches the customer’s perceived value of and “feel” for the car being sold.

Sound design for mobile phones, ATMs, laptop computers, PDAs, and countless other devices can improve the user experience by making tasks easier and more enjoyable. These sounds can also reveal something about the company that created the experience (and, in the case of personalized ringtones, something about the user him/herself). Manufacturers, software designers, and marketers who create these sonic experiences purposefully and with a view toward expressing something of themselves are practicing sound branding.

When choosing a voice (or sound designer) for your product or service, think about how important sound becomes in representing what you are selling. Find an expertly trained voice or sound designer who not only sounds good to your ear, but will subliminally prove your product or service noteworthy.

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Anatomy of a Successful Cold Call – For Voice Talent

I admit to having cold feet about cold-calling.  This article was written by voice actor Maxine Dunn, and recommended to me by voice coach Nancy Wolfson and it makes some great suggestions that I’ve not seen elsewhere on this topic. Thought it might be good for you v/o folks out there pounding the pavement, as it were.

Anatomy of a Successful Cold Call
by Maxine Dunn

Maxine Dunn

First, let’s just get clear: What is a “cold call?” A cold call is a telephone call that you make to someone you do not know to ask for information, make a request, or offer a product or service.

For some reason the term “cold call” has received a bum rap as of late. While it’s true that your website should be pre-qualifying leads (customers and clients) for you, I firmly believe that reaching out to people by phone should be an integral part of any entrepreneur’s marketing strategy.

Some of my biggest-grossing client relationships – clients for whom I’ve been working steadily for years – started off with a cold call from me.

Even if you’re not interested in creating a branch of your marketing strategy that includes calling prospective clients on the phone, there will still be times in your life where you have to pick up the phone and call someone you don’t know to ask for information or help. Knowing how to handle yourself in that situation will be an asset to your business and subsequently to your bottom line.

First, I want you to let go of the idea that the purpose of a cold call is to get an appointment. Forget the “sales objective” training modules that lead you through a step-by-step trajectory to “get the sale.” People do business with people they know, like, and trust, and your cold call is opening the door and initiating that relationship. My techniques will make your cold-calling experience easy and fun. You’ll be amazed at how much better your prospective clients respond as a result of following these guidelines.

1. Adjust your expectations

Make your cold-calling expectations easy-to-meet. If your expectations are to “make a sale” or actually even reach the person you’re calling, you may well be disappointed.

Decide that your #1 goal for the call is simply to have a pleasant conversation with whoever you get on the phone. That’s it! Even if you just speak to the receptionist for thirty seconds, your sole objective is to make the conversation pleasant and enjoyable. See how much easier the call is already?

2. Be prepared – part A

Know a lot about who you’re calling. Research their website. Watch every demo reel. Read every bio. Read reviews. Know their company’s history. What products they make. If they use your type of products or services. Their business hours. Their location. Everything.

Being knowledgeable about the person and company you’re calling is not only respectful and professional, you’ll be able to ask intelligent, spontaneous questions and give informed responses in your conversation.

3. Be prepared – part B

Write out an outline or a brief “script” of what information you’d like to share and what information you’re calling to discover. This is not a “pitch” that you read. Having an outline of the important points you’d like to convey will help keep you succinct, on track, and prevent too many of those fumbling-for-words moments you might experience if nerves take over.

4. Be respectful

If you hear phones ringing in the background or get put on hold immediately by a hurried-sounding receptionist, pay attention! If you can tell it’s not a good time to call then get off the phone. You can simply say, “I was calling for Bill Russell but it sounds like you’re super busy right now. Would it be better if I call back later?”

You will amazed at how showing empathy for the person on the other end of the phone will immediately soften their tone of voice, allow them to relax momentarily, and will very probably get you transferred right away.

5. Be sincere

I want you to talk into the phone as if your best friend is sitting in front of you. I want you to be totally engaged and present. Do not multi-task when you are on the phone. Listen. Care. People can sense when you’re just politely listening and waiting for them to finish so you can speak. They can tell when you’re reading from a script and not being sincere. Really, really, listen and respond as if you’re responding to a friend you care deeply about.

6. Ask for what you want

After following the previous steps, simply ask for what you want. Simple. Clear. No hidden agenda. Direct, short sentences are best. “Would you prefer to receive my CD in the mail or would you like me to email you the link to my site?” “What do you suggest is the best way to submit my article to your office?” People (even big, C-level corporate types) like short, honest, direct questions with no “salesy” agenda.

7. Get off the phone first

This is self-explanatory. Do not be rambling on so long that your prospective client finally has to say, “…well, I really have to get back to work here…” Make certain you end the call first. That way they’ll be more likely to take your calls in the future when they know you won’t be taking up too much of their time.

8. Stay organized

During or after your conversation, take detailed notes: The name of the person who answered the phone. The date and time of your call. Details that were mentioned in the call. Did they just get back from vacation? Is the office being remodeled? Did they mention they had a project coming up in six weeks that could use your services? Keep extremely detailed records of your call so you can refer back to talking points if you need to. When you get your prospective client on the phone the second time and you remember to ask how his son’s soccer game went, they’ll practically faint. Rarely do people remember important information. Stand out. Be organized. And pay attention to the smallest details.

9. Follow up

The fortune is in the follow-up. Remember, you are developing a relationship. And be very patient. Sometimes it can take a couple of weeks or five or more phone calls to reach the person you want to talk to. Make sure you factor in marketing time in your business day for your follow-ups. Keep in touch with your prospective clients by mail, e-mail, fax or phone. If you say you’re going to call back next Tuesday at 10:00 am, then call back next Tuesday at 10:00 am. Touch base to see if they have received what you sent, have any questions, or would like any additional information. Send a thank-you note with a Starbuck’s gift-card to the receptionist who was so helpful on those five different occasions. Keep in touch!

Making phone calls to prospective clients can be fun, exciting, and rewarding – it’s all in how you approach it. So remember to:

· change your expectations – make it about having great conversations, not making a sale
· be prepared, Part A – know a lot about who you’re calling
· be prepared, Part B – write out an outline or brief script so you can stay on track and not ramble
· soften your approach – be sincere and respectful
· be patient and gently persistent – know that relationship building takes time and be okay with that
· keep highly detailed records – your conversations are gold-mines of information
· follow up, follow up, and then follow up again

I guarantee that if you follow my guidelines you’ll discover that not only can cold calls be a wonderful way to introduce yourself to new clients and customers, they are a great way to get you out of your comfort zone while developing a very important entrepreneurial skill-set.

* * * * *
© 2010 Maxine Dunn

While Maxine is best known for her voice-over and on-camera spokesperson expertise, she’s also an avid writer who enjoys bringing stimulating and motivating material to her readers. Sign up for her free 7-step audio mini-course on success strategies at her website, www.maxinedunn.com

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Recording the Spoken Word

Best Practices for Recording the Spoken Word:

(Written by Perry Norton for Electronic Musician Magazine)

Opportunities for voice-over (v/o) production have increased dramatically for project studios, mimicking the DIY paradigm shift that continues to rock the music industry. Increasingly, clients needing v/o talent and related audio services are bypassing bigger studios to hire more cost-efficient producers for everything from commercials to interactive voice response (IVR) systems.

There are basic but critical differences between music production and voice-over production. If you learn and implement elements that are unique to v/o clients and talent, however, v/o production can be a good way to augment your existing studio offerings and bring home a bigger piece of the audio-production pie.

More…

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Voice Detective at Work

Whether you use audio to sell cheese, catheters, or to warn the world about epidemics, there’s an effective process for creating the right sound for your audience. I start with some detective work.

I’m a high-tech “messenger”: I do voiceovers for a wide range of clients who want their message delivered with impact. Let’s say my client needs a voice for an animated presentation showing how a new-fangled system does lickety-split medical transcriptions. Not the sexiest assignment — but that’s why it’s a good example. Since I’ve been chosen to be the client’s “audio messenger” I discuss goals of the copy, the target audience, how and where the piece will be used, tech considerations, etc. In this case the client knows that he wants a lot of “enthusiasm” but beyond that doesn’t give much information about his expectations.

Digging deeper, I glean that the piece is for a kiosk at a trade show booth. I’ll be given a storyboard. Good. Now I know some key things: It’s a sales piece, and the people seeing it are likely unfamiliar with the product, but probably know something about medical devices and systems if they’re attending the trade show. With the storyboard I can also “see” what I’m selling.

These clues tell me:

  • The tone should be more upbeat with a bigger “smile” and lots of energy to compensate for somewhat dry material that has to be interesting (hence, “enthusiastic”);
  • Clear enunciation is critically important for brand name and technical terms;
  • Pacing needs to keep the piece moving for people who will be overloaded with info but need to remain engaged for the length of the piece (about 5 minutes);
  • Pauses between sections are critical so that the animator can more easily time the animation to the voice (in this case).

With this in mind, here’s the audition sample I submit:

Perry_Anne_Norton_ACUSIS_Take2.mp3

Oops. I pronounced the company name incorrectly. (Writers:Make sure you provide phonetic information.) With the understanding the name will be corrected, the sample is approved, with the caveat that it be “much more enthusiastic.” Uh-oh. To me this means 1) he’s not really hearing what he wants though he’s approving the sample; and 2) he wants a “hard sell” though my gut tells me this is not the best approach to serve the piece. But, the customer is always right. However, to save a lot of second-guessing what he actually wants to hear, I offer to have the client direct while I record so that he can give immediate feedback. This provides a “what you hear is what you get” approach rather than doing retake after retake in a vaccuum. While the vast majority of my clients approve my samples and let me run with copy to final output, there will always be those who don’t quite know what they want until they hear it.

The client likes the “directing” option and before the session sends me final copy with words in bold that he wants emphasized. Fair enough – the client is clearer about what he hears in his head.

We do the session in no time – I record while he listens via muted speakerphone (a great alternative to fancier phone patch if your client is willing) and we make only minor copy changes (for “ear-friendliness”). I edit out the takes he doesn’t want, and presto. I send a finished, clean audio file to the animator. Easy, right? Umm…

When the client hears the approved v/o in the context of the animation, he doesn’t like the added emphasis he’d provided in bold. It’s too over-the-top; so my initial instinct was right – but now he can clearly hear it. So I re-record a few offending sections ‘to time’ (now that the animation is complete) and all is right with the world. Here is the “before” take with emphasis and the final one that was approved, Notice the emphasis in the first clip on the words unique, fast, accurate, etc.

SessionRead_with_Emphasis.mp3

In the second clip, these words have been “smoothed out” into the overall read, and the read is also softer, with less of a “smile.” This is the approach that was approved – fairly different from the original “approved” take.

Retakes_Less_Emphasis.mp3

One challenge in doing retakes is to maintain consistent audio levels, room sound and vocal tone quality. Sometimes re-writes or new copy comes weeks after a job is “complete.” If Barnes and Noble.com adds some new voice prompts they’d better match the ones I initially created!

I accomplish this by using the same mic as I did for the original job, keeping a reference file for matching, making sure my CPU is quiet so that no noise is added to new takes, and by giving a good listen before sending off a new file. I also make sure I do retakes after being warmed up vocally so there’s no difference in pitch.

It’s all very subjective, this business of hearing – so save yourself unnecessary work and client frustration by trusting your instincts, getting as much info up front as possible and then “acting” accordingly.

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