Voice Branding: can you “translate” a voice?

Did you ever watch the original versions of “Die Hard” or “Forest Gump” and afterwards the same movies in a foreign language?

Yes, well, then you certainly know that Bruce Willis and Tom Hanks have very different voices in your language compared to the original movie. Assuming that you have seen a few original movies by these actors you will feel awkward about their transition. Our voices carry a heavy load of implicit information. Thus hearing a familiar voice our brain is conditioned to draw from all our previous experiences with the character traditionally belonging to this voice. A known character with an “unfamiliar” voice will be irritating to us.

This has implications for all brands which try to establish a corporate voice. The crucial question is: how can you transfer your brand voice character from one language to another?

Going back to the movies. Just check out how international voices are “transferred” to the german language.  An interesting website called “synchron kartei” shows the “who is who” of German synchronization. The website is only in German, but it’s easy to navigate.

It’s pretty obvious that in most cases a complete different voice character is communicated. So how does your brand sound? A great challenge for all international brands!


5 responses to “Voice Branding: can you “translate” a voice?

  1. I think in part the answer to this challenge comes down to at what point in the overall branding development process does Vocal Branding come in to play?

    If its considered in the brand research and brand strategy development phases, then these kinds of considerations need to be considered if you are internationally represented.

    Our approach to Vocal Branding is that we consider the overall brand personality, and all the brand values, and then we identify the ideal voice talent who is able to naturally express the personality and the values through the equivalent vocal qualities each is associated with. My specific skill is (in my country at least) being able to hear the values and the psychological blueprint as it were, of a speaker. In Vocal Branding, I do the reverse.

    So if you use this approach, it would mean, that you need to map the vocal quality for a specific value for each language – so the sound of the ‘Brand Voice’ may be quite different, but nevertheless true to the vocal representations of these parameters in that linguistic culture.

    Developing International flavours of your brand voice is an interesting issue, and much more involved than most people would imagine it to be.

    You only need to hear the plethora of voices in in-car GPS systems to see how poorly internationalisation for specific localles is usually done :(

  2. I fully agree with Tim. The key is to develop the voice characters within the brand strategy development – we call it brand character phase – and in a next step to define it for foreign languages. Not an easy process but worthwhile! Just think about Tim’s example of in-car GPS systems – how many great voices have you heard so far?

  3. I might be interested in sound branding for an I-Pod based fitness program. Can a repetitive chant, unique and pertinent to the program (used as a pacing technique) be sound branded/trademarked?

    • Sounds like a funny question, but if you create a chant that has melody, rhythm, or lyrics you are at least able to gain the copyright for the chant. I am not sure if you can trademark it, but from my understanding your I-Pod based fitness program is a product like any other product. You should be able to trademark a chant for your “product”.

  4. @ Andre Turan: This is a question that can only be answered completely knowing in which country you want to trademark your chant. In some countries you must either file your trademark in a graphical reprensentation or, electronically in some kind of graphical reprensentation and a sound file like an MP3. For example in Europe check out Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM). To be on the save side, contact a trademark lawyer with this question.

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