Ten and-a-half things brands should know about tone of voice
If you’re a brand, tone of voice has the potential to do so much. It can help your internal teams communicate more clearly, get people warming up to your products, inject your letters with personality, even drop the number of complaints made to your helplines.
It’s why we offer it as one of our specialist consultancy services (along with writing, training and naming). Day-to-day, we define, write and roll out tone of voice for clients big and small. We’ve even commissioned independent research into tone of voice in the UK, to understand it better.
Here are ten and a half things we’ve learnt about creating a tone of voice that lasts.
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
Before rushing to commission a shiny new tone of voice, ask yourself if your brand is different enough to warrant it. Otherwise, it’s just lipstick on a pig.
3. The effects of tone of voice are measurable
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. Tone of voice needs to be someone’s day job
Otherwise, nobody will take responsibility for rolling it out across the business. Superbrands like BT have a ‘head of brand language’, with the power to sign off (or veto) important comms, even outside brand.
5. It involves chief execs as much as everyone else
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. The best tone of voice guidelines are 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? Make sure your guidelines contain clear tone of voice examples with practical tips and techniques that your teams can apply for themselves.
7. ...And stay sticky well after they’re written
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. Tone workshops and interactive eLearns are both great ways for people to refresh themselves on your rules.
8. It’s an investment, not a cheap fix
So scrimping on your tone of voice now will only cost you later on. To give you an idea, the average spend on a tone of voice programme is £116k.
9. You’ll need an eye on 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, so factor them in when creating your guidelines.
10. Tone shouldn’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. Great guidelines are best left to the experts
We would say that, wouldn’t we? It’s true, though. So if you’re interested in sprucing up your brand’s tone of voice, get in touch.