The human voice can influence consumer behaviour, enthral an audience or send it to sleep, or create a relationship of trust between two people. No wonder it has a central role in a CRM perspective. But why are we so sensitive to voice?
Who said that the 21st century would be purely the age of the visual? Despite the flood of photos, film and video arriving on our computer screens, tablets and smartphones, businesses are starting to develop sensorial marketing for their customers, using the full range of senses to win them over. And hearing is very much at the top of the list. “The human ear matures very early in life – even before birth, to recognise a mother’s voice and the surrounding emotions,” says Nausicaa Meyer, a communication consultant, singing teacher and performing arts coach. Communications specialists have latched onto the importance of sound and the voice in particular in messages they deliver to consumers. They match a voice to the product sold and the audience targeted, even if this process can lead to predictable and stereotypical outcomes. For example, the deep, warm voice of an American actor selling a chic, upmarket coffee, or an even manlier voice-over used for the trailer of an upcoming blockbuster thriller. Fresh, young, enticing or reassuring female voices accompany the pack shot of a ready-made meal, a piece of jewellery or a women’s magazine. And in the middle of the night, unseen voices on the radio listen to the pain and suffering of listeners and try to assuage them with a soft, smooth tone, inducing serenity and calm.
Glossary: getting the message across
Definition of three notions that are most frequently studied in vocal circles.
- Vocal timbre: this is the singular identity of the voice which gives it its unmistakable and recognisable traits.
- Tessitura: from the Italian for “texture”. This is the full range of sounds that the voice is capable of producing. A voice is “weaved” from a mix of upper, middle and lower sounds.
- Musicality: the ability to modulate one’s voice between low and high tones. It de nes how the speech “sings”.
“The enemy is boredom”
3 questions to Nausicaa Meyer, communication consultant, singing teacher and performing arts coach
Why are some voices more pleasant to listen to than others?
High sounds hit the eardrum with more energy because of their shorter wavelength with sharp peaks. If they are used too much, continually or without alternating with low notes, high notes are perceived as aggressive. Whereas low sounds with their sinusoidal wave will calm the listener and convey a warm, paternal, comforting or even alluring feeling. However, if they are not interspersed with higher sounds during a speech, they risk driving the audience into a state of lethargy.
How can one captivate an audience with one’s voice?
By switching between low and high sounds, articulating and adapting the rhythm, the pauses and the volume to one’s audience. The enemy of speech is boredom, which is quickly brought on by a droning, linear and unvaried voice. A good speaker “sets the tone”, “breathes”, “brings to life” their words and finds a subtle compromise between the four elements that make up the perception of a voice. These are the Rhythm, fast or slow; the Volume, high or low, and emphasising certain words will give them greater importance; Articulation, and Modulation between low and high sounds.
It is useful to talk with actions too?
Physical movements do have an influence on the voice. Opening one’s arms and the rib cage is an easy way of increasing the volume of one’s speech. But actions are most of all a way of supporting or contradicting whit is said. Bringing one’s body into play using one’s arms and legs during a speech, moving or stepping forward in one’s space gives the speaker energy and intensity. The speaker will have more impact if the three channels of communication: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (movement), are used together harmoniously.
Sounds influence our behaviour
Sound stimuli, the first of which is the voice, have three types of influence on human beings: affective, behavioural and cognitive. Affective, because they set off emotions which produce, according to their nature, calming endorphins or an increased concentration of stress-inducing cognitive brain hormones in the blood. Behavioural influence because these stimuli are processed by the same zones in the brain as the memory. The nature of the voice used during a brand – customer contact has an influence on how the message is committed to memory. And most importantly they have a cognitive impact because a sound is loaded with information that a human absorbs both consciously and unconsciously. A soft, calm, slow voice will convey a feeling of tranquillity and security in the insurance sector for example; or delicacy and refinement in the luxury business. A stronger, faster, higher voice will give a more commercial feel or encourage an impulse purchase. The company’s customer or employee will associate the voice with ideas, concepts and connotations which will have an impact on the perception of the quality of the product and can also shape part of an attitude or purchasing behaviour.
All you need is voice
Originating in Canada, DOMPLUS has been accompanying social security organisations in France for the past thirteen years. “We receive calls from vulnerable people who are going through a divorce, a redundancy, a death or the invalidity of a close one. Our advisors only have one voice to reassure the person on the other end of the line and implement the right solution for them,” says Serge Bizouerne, the founder of the company, before adding “Our society is in a state of considerable social and economic tension, and relations between consumer and company are more akin to mistrust than trust. In response to this the company must look to obtain both results and value. They can only do this by employing marketing and management techniques focussed on the individual. And the voice is the most obvious manifestation of human contact.” Consequently, phone advisors at DOMPLUS spend 20% of their time in training. Another example is that of Orange, where phone advisors benefit once a year from a day in a radio station. The aim is to introduce them to the speaking techniques mastered by radio presenters and journalists, such as timing, holding the listener’s attention, staying sharp and to the point, and even smiling. Because people can hear the smile in your voice: an efficient way of communicating more than just words.
Spreading the company word on the air
A company radio station is an original and affordable communications channel with the capabilities of sharing information, building engagement and being close to employees. And it is a constantly evolving digital channel that relies 100% on the voice.
Drawing inspiration from levers that have brought success to FM radio stations, an increasing number of companies are turning to this very personal media to offer a blend of corporate information and music, fun and interaction.
As a result, corporate radio stations are as much a rallying tool as a support for good manager-employee relations.
A French blog examines in depth the world of corporate radio and its changes: www.cultureradio.fr.
Service and luxury: from product marketing to emotion marketing
The French national rail operator SNCF pays particular attention to the type of voice it uses in its customer addresses.
For example, since 1981, the voice of former radio presenter Simone Hérault has been continuously used for station announcements. With the advent of digital technology, words are recorded separately then assembled to make the sentences sound as natural as possible.
And on TGV high speed trains, Laurent Mazé, a coach at Paris Impro, trains pursers in how to make passenger announcements in the event of an incident during the journey. “These announcements were seen as too mechanical and impersonal, using jargon that most passengers couldn’t understand. We worked on a more spontaneous and natural form of expression, closer to that used by ticket inspectors.
Since 2011, Paris Impro has been in charge of announcement training for all TGV pursers across France.” Laurent Mazé also underlines the need to develop the substance just as much as the form.
“Unforeseen incidents can quickly become worrying for the passengers if no information is given on the estimated delay, the reason for the train stopping, or connection times at the destination stations.” The passenger will only truly feel reassured if they notice that the solution to the problem is… on the right track.