Edgy or Offensive: How To Find the Right Tone for Your Market

You have the passion and drive. You have a new product that fills a market need. And you cannot wait to share it with the world.

And share you do. Except you find yourself drowned out by the sea of chatter online. So you talk louder, share more. Frustrated, you cannot figure out why no one is listening.

[caption id="attachment_70155" align="alignleft" width="300"]Photo Credit: nickwheeleroz Photo Credit: nickwheeleroz[/caption]

New brands must find their voice. Its the main distinction start-ups can draw between themselves and their already established competitors.

Problem is, in the quest to stand out from the crowd, many start-ups try to be edgy and different in their messaging…only to leave their target audience scratching their heads or turned off by the message altogether.

It’s a careful balancing act between the professionalism that accurately describes your products and services and a social, relatable tone that invites prospects to engage with your brand.

With over 80% of American consumers saying online reviews influence their purchases and 93% looking at online reviews before shopping or dining, your brand must stand out, engage, and your message must ultimately help convert prospects to customers. (Source: Ipsos poll) 

If your brand is ready to leave its comfort zone and embrace humor, relevancy, and even a bit of an edge in its online voice, here are some tips to make sure your target audience isn’t left in the dark.

Shock value is overrated.

I’m a big proponent of brands operating on the edge, pushing the envelope with messaging, and really putting the company personality and values out there.

There’s a difference between bold, edgy brand messaging and campaigns that are intended to shock in order to gain attention.

While shocking ads, statements, videos, etc., might manage to get us to look, oftentimes we won’t remember what we were supposed to take away from the shocking message.

Let’s take a look at the Lung Cancer Alliance’s “No One Deserves to Die” campaign from 2012.

In an example ad, we see a picture of a cardigan-clad, blond-haired girl with cat fur clinging to her sweater. Innocuous enough.

Then we see the bold letters: Cat Lovers Deserve to Die.

We know the ad comes from the Lung Cancer Alliance, so our wheels start turning: The message is cat lovers deserve to die…if they have lung cancer?

Nope, even that is more misdirection to really warm you up for what they actually want to say.

The point of the Lung Cancer Alliance’s message is that many people believe that if you have lung cancer, you did something to deserve it. And the campaign, which carries the theme “No one deserves to die,” is supposed to shed light on how absurd this line of thinking is.

However, most viewers or readers will not muddle through all those layers of shock value and misdirection to come to this realization. And, as a brand, shouldn’t ask them to. After all, it’s task enough to convince most readers to accept your position and then act on it.

Don’t make prospects work too hard to figure out what you are trying to communicate.

There is a line between edgy and offensive.

When finding your start-up’s voice, take note of some recent controversial content from high-profile brands, such as Reebok’s “Cheat on Your Girlfriend, Not on Your Workout” campaign. Sometimes edgy and provocative backfires if it crosses the line into offensive.

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Even though the company released a similar ad—“Cheat on Your Boyfriend, Not on Your Workout”—for the ladies in its market, the campaign still sparked a lot of negative attention and was quickly pulled.

There’s a new campaign out now from shoe giant Nine West that is causing outrage. The ad has leopard-print shoes with a bulls eye target an the tagline “Starter Husband Hunting.”  The call to action in this ad reads: Shoe on the prowl? Start Hunting.” 

The campaign has upset the customer base, who are not shy about vocalizing their distaste on social media, calling the campaign sexist and outdated. Even if the ad is meant to mock modern dating life and be shocking to gain attention, the campaign is ticking off the same women who actually purchase and wear these shoes.

We live in an overly sensitive society where it’s hard not to offend someone. The key to toeing the line (pardon the pun) between edgy and offensive is to know your audience.

When crafting your brand message, focus on what will engage and convert your target market. And, of course, make sure if you’re going to play on the edge, that your marketing message doesn’t deter them from purchasing from you or sharing your brand with their networks.

Remember the goal is to win the audience you want—and leave the door open for unexpected markets, too.

Be authentic.

Your brand is not just some marketing concoction—it represents you and what you stand for. Whether your brand message shows you’re fun and lighthearted or that you’re edgy and techy depends completely on who you are.

Your brand is your opportunity to show the world what makes you, well, you.

Don’t be shy to share your distinct point of view. If you are a fun, lighthearted, and innovative company, show it through word choice, videos, or images.

If you work with a certain type of client or customer, be clear about this upfront. Let prospects know you aren’t right for everyone.

And have your own take on things, partly to distinguish yourself from your competition, and partly to illustrate to potential clients how you go about doing things.

Think of Subway, which uses the slogan “Eat fresh.” The sandwich chain’s point of view is that fast food doesn’t have to be highly processed food, and that this particular restaurant will serve you fresher, healthier products than its competitors. They didn’t just stop there. In order to back up their claim to promote a healthier lifestyle, they brought in Jared and made him the face of its weight-loss campaign to highlight the chain’s health-oriented menu items.

Let your brand represent something that’s always evolving, growing, and adapting to the changing times without losing sight of its fundamental values.

You’re not going to win everyone over with an edgy brand, but if you’re sincere and authentic, then the people that you do connect with will remain loyal to your brand and its distinctive personality.

Improve your marketing message so you can generate quality leads, engage visitors, and CONVERT more prospects, and register for this FREE upcoming web training.

About the author: Michelle Salater is the CEO of Sumer, LLC, a full-service copywriting and content marketing firm and an award-winning writer and content expert featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, MyBusiness Magazine, Entreprenista, among others. Sumer, LLC is also a proud sponsor of Startup Grind Chicago