When writing for a brand, it’s all too easy to give too much attention to the meaning behind our words and not enough to how words make us sound. Having a company-wide tone of voice (TOV) with an easy-to-use set of guidelines makes sure everyone pays equal attention to both sides of the coin.
After all, it’s never just your marketers who use your words; they’re fully immersed in the brand and will have an intuitive sense of how you sound, anyway. Sales teams, HR, Customer Service – they all play a part in communicating your business. A set of tone of voice guidelines helps everyone write in a way that’s consistent with the brand.
But beyond consistency, a tone of voice can help you achieve much more. Let’s dig a little deeper into the big benefits and see how it can help your brand communicate with impact.
Being a communications agency that specialises in the insurance industry, we see a lot of technical language being used. Sometimes that means coming across text that, for a lay person, is hard to cut through.
Whether your industry is technical or not, anyone should be able to read your website and get a clear sense of what you offer. A good set of tone of voice guidelines makes sure you avoid abstract, corporate jargon and stick to concrete, simple language.
Brands often turn to complex words because they think it makes them sound more intelligent. But take a look at this study (or just the title) by Daniel Oppenheimer at Princeton University – ‘Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly’. It actually proves the opposite.
It’s easy to forget about our audience when we write at work, but most of what you find in a set of TOV guidelines helps you to see your work through the eye of the reader.
Beyond encouraging you to choose words we all recognise, it might give you planning structures, like the ‘inverted pyramid’ to make sure all the important information for the reader sits right at the top of the page. And all the granular detail moves further down.
You might see tips on helping your reader navigate, such as writing effective subheadings. Or guidance on best-practice bullet points – starting with verbs, aiming for no more than seven points, and keeping each point to a line in length.
All good writing needs a good edit, too. So, TOV guidelines often have a section dedicated to reviewing your work, giving you one final chance to check everything sounds on-brand. But just as importantly, makes sure your reader gets everything they need, and in the most efficient way possible.
Don’t you just hate it when the tone in a brand’s apology email doesn’t match up to the tone in their recent marketing campaign? Across a billboard they’re full of personality, but if ever they trip up, their press release reverts back to passive phrases and corporate fluff.
Your tone of voice is appropriate for any eventuality and should show up in all the nooks and crannies, not just your marketing materials. When customers start to hear multiple voices, you can very quickly lose your credibility.
Okay, when it comes to apologies it’s probably best to quieten the distinctive side of your tone down a little. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of your human side.
Ocado did a great job of this earlier in the pandemic. With everyone rushing to stock up on supplies, their online shopping platform was up against it. They had trouble keeping up with demand and had to release an apology on social media.
Even though it’s a tricky matter for them to tackle, they’ve stayed true to the way they sound. They’ve even found moments to add some humour and parodied the overuse of the word ‘unprecedented’ by other brands through Covid (which was actually a tell-tale sign of brands not trusting their own tone of voice, or not having one at all, and following the lead of others).
Your tone of voice gives the people who write for you an objective set of parameters to rely on. You can then maintain an authentic sound wherever your words show up, and keep your clients coming back to you.
* while we’re on the subject, take a look at our top tips for building trust with your messaging.
Finding your distinctive side comes in all different shapes and sizes. It might be that you’d like to explore humour, like networking app Bumble did in this recent Covid-inspired ad…
Or, if you’re like Jack Daniels, it could be more about finding words that reinforce your heritage…
Ever since the ‘Just do it’ campaigns of old, Nike has been expertly choosing words that inspire action…
Sometimes choosing straightforward language is enough to stand out in your industry. Just take a look at the way online banking apps like Monzo and Revolut have simplified banking terminology. Monzo are such advocates for clear comms, they even went as far as publishing their tone of voice on their website.
Whatever route you choose, you need to find a direction that feels relevant to your brand and what you stand for. Otherwise you run the risk of standing out for all the wrong reasons.
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