We’ve been working with a number of clients over recent months on their tone of voice; how they use language and messaging to capture the character and personality of their business and engage their customers, members, prospects, colleagues and partners.
While messaging is always a fundamental aspect of our work, the recent projects have focussed on establishing a detailed structure and guidelines for tone of voice. It has been particularly interesting and insightful to go in to such detail.
Having had the chance to reflect on our approach and the needs of some of the client partners we’ve worked with recently I thought it would be useful to share some of our learning’s and take a look at how businesses could and should approach defining and capturing their personality.
You may have already gone through a branding exercise to refresh the visual identity of your business or you may be more than happy with how your brand ‘looks’. As I’m sure you’re aware, the visual identity is actually only a small part of what branding actually is.
Of course your brand is a visual representation of your business but even if it is the best looking brand, if your messaging doesn’t reflect that identity and reinforce how your brand is positioned, your value and how customers can utilise your business, it will struggle to fulfil its potential.
What tone of voice should really be used for is to capture your businesses unique personality, it is your verbal identity and should be used to guide all forms of communication. From marketing to sales and from internal communication to face-to-face customer interactions it should ensure your stakeholders have a consistent experience of your business.
A good starting point is to look at the brands you associate with and see how they use language to engage you. Some of the most interesting and ranging examples tone of voice include Virgin, PlusNet, First Direct and Money Supermarket.
All of these businesses have captured a unique personality through their language and use their tone of voice to challenge the norm and reinforce their difference and position within their respective markets.
Not all the examples above will resonate with you but therein lies the point – it is likely you are not their target audience. They have identified their target audience and worked hard to understand their customers. From this understanding they have defined how they like to be communicated to and shaped their language and tone accordingly.
So, how do you approach your tone of voice?
Well, every business is different and has different needs from its tone of voice but a key focus of our work recently was to identify words and sentiments that are behavioural.
By identifying behavioural sentiments that reflect how you want your brand to act, you can start to define how those behaviours are brought to life across the various communication needs of your business. From here you can build a structure for how they should be used in day-to-day context.
You should consider behaviours that reflect all aspects your business and the numerous communication scenarios, this way you can use your tone of voice as a graphic equaliser, turning some behaviours up for some communication while turning others down. This ensures the tone of your messaging remains flexible yet consistent around the core of your brand positioning.
A fundamental success factor for tone of voice is to ensure it is written down and explained in a practical way. If internal colleagues cannot understand or put in to practice the ideas and tactics you have identified they will not deliver it in the way you intended. This will compromise the value of your tone of voice and potentially have a detrimental impact.
Here’s a good structure to help you create a functional guide that employees will be able to understand and action:
Type – consider what type of content you are writing
Audience – consider the readership, who are you talking to in this scenario
Reader feelings – what is the reader feeling when they are in this tone scenario? What do you want them to feel?
Tone – what adjectives should you use to describe how you should sound in this scenario?
Write like this – give a brief example of how the writing should sound
Tips – explain best practices of writing in this scenario
Do’s and Don’ts – give examples of how communication should and should not be used
If you think your tone of voice could do with a little attention and are still a little unsure about how and where to start, we’d be delighted to help you.
01925 226 139