In Greek mythology, the loquacious wood nymph Echo upsets the goddess Hera with her constant chatter. As a punishment, Hera deprives Echo of speech, leaving her with only the ability to repeat the last words spoken by another. Without a voice, Echo fails to attract the attention of Narcissus, the beautiful youth whom she desperately loves.
Modern branding, according to a recent New Yorker essay, began after World War II when “the explosion of similar products from competing companies made imaginative naming an increasing necessity.” We were so overwhelmed with choice that we left the decision of what we buy to the brands.
A similar shift is happening with regard to love. According to a survey by Match.com, one in six couples married in the last few years met online. The Internet has, for better or worse, blown our social networks wide open. We’ve finally found a way to engineer serendipity.
Online daters face the same challenges as brands. That is, how does the brand (the suitor) make itself heard when the customer (or bachelor/ette) has so many options?
A distinct voice may be the answer.
Voice is how you say what you say. For brands, it’s what separates you from your competition and allows customers to make a direct, personal connection to your brand. For humans, voice is the noise your soul makes. It starts out crude (a baby’s gurgling) and is simultaneously refined, through years of education and interaction, and informed by personal experience.
Unlike the business marketplace, dating websites inherently create a quasi-captive audience. With an account, you can send a message to anyone else with an account. When one reaches out to that pretty stranger via e-mail or direct message, one must be able to convey his or her essence through funny little hieroglyphs we call words.
We become brands.
On a dating site, your brand consists of the following:
- Your profile picture (brand visual identity)
- Your personal details (brand promise)
- Your questionnaire (brand differentiation)
- Your supplemental photos (advertising campaign)
Voice ties these elements together. Voice is your brand as a verb.
Facing stiff competition from suitors that are more photogenic, better bodied or higher paid than we are, the initial message has to function like an asset—an extension of our core offerings. In many ways, the Internet turns voice into an adaptive trait. Less attractive individuals who learn how to express themselves in unique ways may have better luck finding mates, or dates, than those who don’t.
Likewise, brands that don’t speak to consumers may be crawling toward irrelevance.
Take the story of Echo, for example.
One day Echo follows Narcissus through the woods. Narcissus hears footsteps around him and shouts, “Who’s there?” Echo, because of her curse, can only parrot him.
“Who’s there?” she repeats.
Frustrated, Echo emerges from the woods and grabs hold of him. The vain Narcissus breaks free, tells her that she’ll never have him (after all, he’s in love with his own reflection) and runs off. Heartbroken, Echo flees to the mountain glens. For years she languishes over Narcissus, until she dies. Only her voice remains.
Andrew Eisenman is a writer for the Siegel+Gale New York office.