Five minutes with David Ciccarelli
From humble beginnings in a studio-cum-flat to presiding over an $18 million growth investment by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital in July 2017, the founder and CEO of voiceover marketplace Voices.com, David Ciccarelli, has made a career in providing a voice for the world’s biggest brands. David talks to Transform about brand management, growing a business from the ground up, and how audio provides an element sometimes missing from brand strategies – humanity.
What’s the back story to Voices.com?
When I graduated, I was intent on opening my own recording studio and I found a loft apartment, it could accommodate the studio in the front and my flat in the back. But I got my name in the local newspaper, with my photo up top, just to introduce me to the local business community. So we fell into it more than some kind of grand strategic vision and very quickly realised that it was most time-efficient and paid better to be working with corporate clients and ad agencies and so forth, than recording garage bands. We realised this was much better business opportunity, so we really promoted this fact and offered voice over services. So we’d refer the work and that was kind of the aha moment, was like hold on a second we’re making these connections happen between the freelance talent and either the brand managers or the ad agencies. So why don’t we get out of the production businesses ourselves and operate more of a marketplace – and that’s really been the idea ever since. To help facilitate the connection between the client and the talent. Now there’s 250,000 people on the website, a quarter of a million clients who are from small businesses right to the Fortune 500 companies, and ad agencies too, or video production companies.
At what point did you realise Voices.com could work? What was the turning point?
There’s a Biblical proverb which says, “A good name is better than great riches,” and we started as voicesinteractive.com – it was long, it was wordy, people didn’t know if it was singular or plural and it kind of pigeon holed us. So we brainstormed further and thought, what if we cut off the ‘interactive’ part and just be ‘voices.com?’ And we could get this name, Voices.com, and really validated the main site, the industry-leading site – it sounds like it’s been there forever. And at the time all our customers were really excited, they had profiles on voices.com which sounded a lot better. We redirected and rebuilt the name and the traffic we were receiving went up two or three times overnight. That was the moment we can look back and go, that’s when we created a bit of a name for ourselves.
Do you have to craft it and try to find the right tone of voice for the brand?
For brands, in terms of a visual identity, brand managers know what it should look like and they have brand standards that way. And similarly, they know how their brand should sound, there’s almost a brand persona or essence of how this looks and feels. You know a good voice that fits your voice when you hear it, but you have to hear it first. So we developed this taxonomy where a brand can select the gender, the age, the language, the accent and then the role. Is our brand a teacher? Or is our brand friendly? Or is it more parental? Does this person sound funny or sarcastic? And those tags, and that taxonomy, it really guides a brand manager or a creative to go through that process so what we do is take all those inputs and our software, what we call VoiceMatch, it matches it up against the 200,000 + profiles and invites the best people to reply. If you don’t speak the language, you’re not invited. If you don’t have the accent, you’re not invited. You don’t have to be the age, but if you can’t sound the age then it’s not right and that eliminates a bunch of people.
What can audio offer a brand that visual cannot?
Voice is distinctly human, it is something that actually personifies the brands whereas in some ways visual elements are representative of the brand. Companies need to consider that what might be a good practice for a a brand manager is running almost like a brand audit. Think of all those places where people hear your brand voice, and that could be your phone system, to the call centre, YouTube videos, a podcast, maybe at a trade show – anything customer facing is what people don’t think about. That is a good place for a brand manager to start to consider all those touch points, where people might be listening at and then is it consistent with the attributes you use to describe your company? If you’re an extreme sports company, it has to be high energy – all your scripts have exclamation marks and if it sounds down, it’s a mismatch and people will pick up on that. However, when you get that right, it really becomes quite seamless.
Is there ever more than one person for the same brand? Do you use different voices for different contexts?
I think the style should be consistent. This year we made a research report, a trends report where we asked our customers basically what are you looking for, what is important to you and one of the answers on the top of the list was cultural diversity. Brands cannot be thinking one specific voice for national spot, think in the UK how many different accents we have or different people groups living in one city. I think one good marketing practice is to think about customer personas, if you have two major customer personas, the take away is find the brand voice that people want to hear from someone like him, they can relate to. Last year we completed what we call the ‘approachable expert,’ which is a friend, or girlfriend/boyfriend that you know and trust but they have that ability to pick up new technology. They were the first ones that told you about Snapchat, they were the ones who show you how to use different Instagram features or somewhere either navigating the city or life hacks. This kind of approachable expert willing to teach you those things, you feel is a small way somebody added value to life. It’s about knowing how your target audience want to be spoken to and find someone that is like them.
What does the future hold for Voices.com, and audio branding generally?
Our offices are in Canada but we do this in 134 countries. We’re able to be global, with half a million users. And in any country where there is a radio or TV station that has access to the internet, there are companies and brands and publishers that need to get that content out. Therefore, there is going to be global demand and we did a total addressable market. While we are predominantly in North America, we have a team focused on the European market, which line up the time zones and that is a fastest growing market for us. Europe for us is tremendously fragmented still, there is not just a single place where we go. There is the need for multilingual talent, where brands are going to launch campaigns in separate countries. We need French, Spanish and German.
I want to encourage brands who may have not considered the audio aspect of it. They should do so, there are four factors of digital media: audio, video, images and text. There is no other way people communicate or consume. Most people are creating videos, the images, everyone has a visual identity, from pictures to logos and so forth, text are the written form, the copy, but what they are missing is what people are hearing, if it is part of that, of those elements, it should be considered on an equal basis.