Thursday, 4 August 2016

Let advertising direct your tone of voice

Any tone of voice guidelines should look to the brand’s advertising for direction. Most don’t and their TOV suffers for it.

Let me state two true observations. Then see if you can spot the glaring inconsistency they reveal.

  • One: any brand’s advertising campaign is the highest profile communications a brand has. It therefore sets the tone of the brand’s voice as it’s the thing most consumers think of when they think of the brand.
  • Two: most tone of voice guidelines are not written by the advertising agency and do not significantly influence the creative direction of the brand’s advertising.

The disconnect between these two statements struck me last week when I was asked to create a tone of voice guide that stipulated the advertising headline style and structure – very precisely. Wow, I thought, the ad agency isn’t going to like this! We’re telling them what their next campaign will look like. More than that: we are telling them what all their future campaigns will look like.

Not everything in black and white makes sense

Most TOV guides aren’t so brazen. They suggest you write in a certain way that’s appropriate for the brand. They cite the brand’s values and shoehorn a lot of sensible advice on writing plain, approachable English under those value headings. So, if one of them is ‘Human’, which it often is these days, there might be advice about writing like you speak, not using complex sentences and not being afraid to start a sentence with a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘but’.

The problem with this approach is, it doesn’t result in a differentiated tone of voice. (This past post explains why.) Whereas following the advertising’s lead probably would.
The brand I was working on didn’t advertise much and, if it did, the ads would be created by the brand consultancy. So stepping on the ad agency’s shoes wasn’t an issue. But it would be on a bigger brand that did advertise. How could the ad agency’s creative teams do their job – of making brands stand out and get noticed – if their conceptual hands were tied by strict TOV guidelines governing headlines?

Then it occurred to me that if the ad agency wrote tone of voice guidelines each time they created a new campaign concept, we wouldn’t have a problem. The full potential of their concept could be seen as they could explain how it could be applied across other media. They’d be creating a distinctive tone of voice for the brand. And they wouldn’t be constrained by the tone of voice guidelines as they would have developed them following the conceptual stage.

Tone of voice then, far from being a threat to ad agencies’ freedom, appears to be a golden opportunity to extend their creative influence. But will agencies seize it?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The delicate art of writing LinkedIn copy

This month's blog discusses the dos and don'ts of LinkedIn language. Whether it's news, networking or negotiation - it's not just about what you say, it's about how you say it.

Though the social media credentials of LinkedIn were much maligned by the Twitterati when they heard how much Microsoft had paid for it, Linkedin is a useful medium.

It’s great for unabashed professional networking. And it’s perfect for setting out what your company does and what makes it different. However, it is a strange beast which requires a certain style of writing.

So, who’s getting it right on LinkedIn?
According to LinkedIn, who’ve released their own top 20 list of the best company sites, Coca Cola and IBM are examples of best practice - they’ve become go-to sites for industry news, staff incentives, employee opinions and job vacancies. And all using clear, concise copy.

However, The Four Seasons Hotel made it into the top five by publishing a weekly caption competition. While we’re sure this draws more consumer visits than a typical company profile, it isn’t very businesslike. And that reveals one of the dilemmas of business communications: how much should a company let its hair down and have a bit of fun when going social?
Don't let your hair down too much

The problem with most social media is that it calls for companies to be as informal as everybody else is online – and as garrulous. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter rate the frequency with which users post, rather than their actual content. But most businesses are fairly serious activities – with shareholders to serve, employees to support and customers to satisfy. Do these groups really want to see you messing about? 

How to speak LinkedInian
LinkedIn’s tip is to treat your company profile like any piece of marketing material and ‘make

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Five great websites that use copy to stand out

Our previous blog post – How to stop long-scrolling websites looking too samey – gave you the key to differentiating your brand: copy. But getting it right takes more than just a cheeky colloquialism. We’ve picked out five brands whose web copy puts them a cut above.

Evernote is a great little app that functions as a kind of collaborative to-do list. Its copy is razor sharp. As soon as you land on the page, you’re hit with the key benefit – Remember Everything. Instead of bombarding you with features and bells and whistles, it simply paints a picture of a world with Evernote. And in just 15 words, the subheader establishes the need for the product, the solution to that need and how the product will provide that solution. All in all: concise and compelling.

Friday, 29 January 2016

How to stop long-scrolling websites looking too samey

Long scrolling websites are great for browsing on mobiles and tablets – but not so handy for differentiation. Now that every website looks the same, brands must rely on their web copy to really set them apart. 

Remember the bad old days: inching your way towards a tiny link, hidden away in the corner of your phone’s screen?

Thank heavens for infinite scrolling websites. Responsive and easy to navigate, it’s no wonder pretty much every brand has adopted them. But therein lies the problem. Differentiation through web design used to be massive for brands. Now UX has trumped individuality.

This means a website’s copy has to shoulder more of the burden of differentiation. 
How to stop long-scrolling websites looking too samey
I don't want to fit in

Such a friendly bank! 
This is a challenging task at the best of times. But now it’s particularly tricky. Ever since brands started having perpetual ‘two-way conversations’ with consumers on social media, they’ve all wanted to occupy the same tonal territory: that of the chatty mate just out to do what’s best. 

Done well, this can be great. Done badly, it usually ends up somewhere between ingratiating and infuriating. At the moment, it’s done everywhere. So even if it’s well achieved, it’s frustrating differentiation.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Want a distinctive tone of voice? Introduce some constraints

Think constraints hinder creativity? Think again. The tighter the brief, the more creative the outcome. Especially when it comes to tone of voice.
There is a persistent assumption that in order to be creative, you need as much freedom as possible. In reality, the opposite is often true. The more constraining the brief, the easier it is for creativity to flourish.

The compass and the wilderness
A tight brief removes those nagging doubts about whether you’re on the right track or not. If you’ll forgive me an indulgent analogy: a tight brief is a compass in the Siberian wilderness. It won’t take you to your destination, nor will it prescribe the exact route you should follow. (Those decisions are down to you.) However, it will inform your choices at every turn. Each decision can be justified by the direction the compass points.

The analogy continues
A vague brief is the gesticulation of a passer-by in that same Siberian wilderness. You can still choose which direction to head. And you still might have some idea where you’re going. However, the further you press on, the more likely you are to get lost. At each turn, there’s nothing to support your decision to go left rather than right.

The analogy concludes
With your compass (or tight brief) in hand, once you’re sure you’re heading in the right direction, you can stop worrying and start to enjoy the journey. New possibilities open up, and you’re free to explore them without fretting about veering wildly off course. You can go back and forth until you’re sure that the route you’ve taken is better than all the others.

Monday, 26 October 2015

What does ‘engagement’ actually mean then?

Clichés like ‘engagement’ have lost their meaning. Avoiding them helps you think about what you’re really trying to say.

On the surface, buzzwords are harmless ways of easily describing an idea or its purpose. ‘Storytelling’, ‘Stakeholder’, ‘Engagement’… seemingly, these are words right for every occasion. But that’s exactly why they aren’t. Let me explain.

Vague never ages
It recently occurred to me that some words in the average teenager’s vocabulary are uncannily durable. Take ‘cool’. It’s been around for decades, yet it’s still the go-to choice for indicating anything intangibly positive. What mystical quality gives it such staying power? Perhaps the answer is indeed in its very intangibleness. It’s endured simply because it doesn’t denote anything too strongly.

Engagement is the cool of the corporate world. And not in a good way. A sort of slippery, catch-all, umbrella term, it’s used to denote anything vaguely positive without committing the speaker to any exposition of its form, nature or degree. As a bonus, it provides an easy escape from scrutiny.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Vorsprung durch…Branding [GER]

In London, dem europäischen Zentrum für Branding und kreativem Nabel der Welt, habe ich einige interessante Sachen gelernt. Eine meiner Aufgaben während meines Praktikums bei Barnaby Benson Copywriting war das Durchführen von Marktforschung auf dem deutschen Markt. Als ich nach potentiellen neuen Geschäftspartnern in Deutschland gesucht habe, haben sich mir auffällige Unstimmigkeiten eröffnet.

Mir sind viele englische Versionen deutscher Webseiten mit nur durchschnittlich gutem Englisch begegnet. Um es kurz zu fassen: Hier gibt es eine Menge Verbesserungspotential. Wenn man darüber nachdenkt, ist es logisch, dass jedes Unternehmen eine englische Webseite benötigt, um internationale Kunden anzuziehen. In Deutschland jedoch ist es Gang und Gäbe Übersetzungsagenturen zu beauftragen. Diese fertigen dann eine gute, wörtlich übersetzte englische Version der deutschen Originalwebseite an. ‚Aber selbstverständlich‘, könnten Sie jetzt sagen. ‚Wo liegt das Problem? Wenn die deutschen Werbebotschaften großartig sind, sollte eine Übersetzung doch genügen. Wir haben bereits die komplette Kommunikation dem Tone of Voice entsprechend formuliert und das notwendige Branding auf Deutsch durchgeführt. Jetzt müssen wir die Texte nur noch korrekt übersetzen.'