10½ things Superbrands have sussed about tone of voice

If you didn’t catch our Marianne in The Guardian’s Superbrands supplement, we’ve popped it here for you. 

At The Writer, we’ve been working with lots of the brands on this list for 15 years, helping them define and roll out their tones of voice. And we’ve just commissioned independent research into tone of voice in the UK. Here’s what we’ve learnt from the most linguistically savvy brands.

1. You don’t have to sound like Innocent, or Virgin

They were linguistic pioneers, yes. But you can’t nick their tone of voice if you’re an arms dealer. Sound like you.

2. A distinctive tone of voice depends on a distinctive brand

Otherwise it’s just lipstick on a pig.

3. You can measure its effects

Check how many people respond to your letters, or call your call centres. Just changing the tone will make a difference. (That’s why 65% of brands with a tone of voice say it’s as important as, or more important than, their visual identity.)

4. Make it someone’s job

Brands like BT have a ‘head of brand language’, with the power to sign off (or veto) important comms, even outside brand.

5. Chief execs are interested

Most CEOs want to make an impact on the culture of their business, and language is a brilliant way to shape culture: 91% of businesses with a tone of voice say their senior leaders get its value.

6. Make it practical

It’s not enough to tell your people, or your agencies, ‘we want to sound bold’. Or ‘innovative’. How do you really express that in an ad, or a white paper, or a tweet?

7. Make it stick

No one reads guidelines more than once. So you need to find ways to keep your tone of voice in your people’s heads, years after you’ve launched it.

8. Invest in it

£116k is the average spend on a tone of voice programme.

9. Obsess about the details

These days, the millions you spend on an ad campaign can be undone by some dodgy Ts & Cs, because grumpy customers will take to Twitter to berate them. The nooks and crannies matter.

10. Don’t stop at brand and marketing

In most organisations, everyone writes. So getting HR, or legal or customer service to think about tone of voice will get HR, or legal or customer service thinking about your brand.

10½. They use language experts to do it, not any old brand people

We would say that, wouldn’t we? True, though.

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