B2B International
B2B International

August 20, 2010

In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Paul Hague considers the importance of “voice” and how it can be your most important asset…

“Good morning from the flight deck. This is your captain speaking.” I can’t help looking up from my John Grisham novel and admiring the dulcet tones of Capt. Bill Jones. I am on a Continental flight from Newark to Manchester although it could be from anywhere to anywhere. All captains sound different but they all sound the same. They seem to exude the same confidence and assurance that we passengers are looking for on a flight and yet the only thing they manage to tell us is what time we will arrive and that it will be raining in Manchester when we get there.

It got me thinking. Is it genuine confidence that is being communicated by Bill Jones’ voice or am I being influenced by his seniority and his position? He sounds more authoritative than the chief steward but maybe that’s because I know that he is the captain and have conferred status and authority to him.

Now the point of my introduction is not to be obsequious to airline captains but to get us thinking about something that is crucially important in shaping our view of people. In fact, a search on the Internet suggests that the voice, its intonation and its delivery accounts for 40% of the impression that we make on someone we meet for the first time. If this is true, it is massively important. Forget worrying about your height, the size of your nose, your sticking-out ears and your hairdo. What matters is what you say and how you say it.

When you think about it, there must be some truth in this. Obama has a wonderful speaking voice. So had Churchill and, God forbid, so did Mister Hitler. And what does a wonderful voice mean? It means (I think) that it communicates your strength of personality, your enthusiasm and your authority. It gives a clue as to your upbringing through your accent, to your confidence as a person, and to your intelligence. Forget being six feet tall with dark wavy hair and a dimple in your chin (and that’s only the females) – you could be let down immediately you open your mouth if you sound like Kenneth Williams.

All very interesting you might think but what has this got to do with a business blog? I was reading in the Financial Times today about one of Italy’s richest entrepreneurs – Enrico Preziosi. My interest was aroused when I read the story of his transformation from a street hawker of toys bought from China to a €1 billion turnover, fully integrated business, which is now the fifth largest toy company in the world. Apparently his success is all down to his voice.

To be more precise it is down to his company’s voice. A few years ago, when he ran a fledgling company, he learned that Mattel and Hasbro, the two leading toy companies, spent all their advertising money in October and November, just prior to the Christmas buying season. Preziosi used his relatively small advertising budget to run a television campaign in every month outside this period. In other words, he bought “share of voice” and achieved it by choosing months when he would be heard and not swamped by those who could shout louder.

Of course, voice is not just about being loud and being heard; it is also about communicating the right message. Preziosi knows a thing or two about this. “About every five years toys change completely,” he says. “If you want to stay stable in the market you have to be trendy. In 1978, girls still played with dolls when they were aged 14. Now if I gave my daughter, aged 11, a doll, she would throw it out of the window.” You have to be right on message to resonate with your fickle and ever demanding audience.

Working out the importance of voice to a customer or potential customer is not easy. I said earlier that 40% of the impression we make on people when we first meet them is due to our voice rather than our appearance. Let us assume that this figure is roughly right for business introductions. What if the impression we make for our companies is achieved in a similar way, as with Preziosi’s company, by our voice – as measured by the impression left by our sales people, our signage, our logos, our adverts, websites and the like. I leave you with a very important question – are you getting your share?