Tuesday 18 November 2014

Eight tone of voice myths debunked

A distinctive tone of voice can evoke a brand’s personality in language. It can create emotional appeal and differentiate. So why is the language for so many brands failing to live up to this promise? We think it’s got something to do with the following pesky misconceptions.

1. “TOV is window dressing.”
Like your logo and your design scheme, your tone of voice is a large part of your brand – not a tacked-on procedure. So, when defining your company’s values, one of the things you might consider is, ‘Could anything here stimulate a distinctive tone of voice?’ 

Everyone's heard rumours their brand has a tone of voice: they just haven't seen it for a while.

2. “TOV means picking three adjectives and saying write like that.”
Human! Passionate! Inventive! Most tone of voice schemes are based on the brand’s values. But saying, ‘Make your writing more human’, won’t differentiate your brand, even if you do provide lots of examples. Why? Well, interpreting that instruction will inevitably be highly subjective. Instead, the best tone of voice guidelines
centre on practical writing techniques which can be reliably employed, by anyone, to bring the values to life.

3. “Our TOV only matters in ads, on packaging and the homepage.”
Well at least your customers will enjoy a good first impression. But what happens when they dig a little deeper? Your brand could look a bit hollow and inauthentic, that’s what. Your tone of voice must reach into the roots of the organisation. It should be universal and consistent: from subject lines to sublines, from T&C’s to tweets. 

4. “Let’s just talk how the founder talks.”
We’ve devised tone of voice guidelines which lean heavily on the personalities of the brand’s leaders and management. However, this shouldn’t be taken as standard. Instead, you need to consider the way your customers think about you and maybe let that drive the way your write.

5. “Tone of voice is just about tone.”
Tone – the way your writing sounds – is, of course, important. This usually comes down to the level of formality you adopt in your writing and how you flex that across different writing formats and communication situations. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many opportunities for differentiation here, especially if you’re a mainstream brand with diverse audiences. (See this thought piece for why.) So, as well as tone, you’ve got to also look at what you write and say. Messaging structures – what type of messages, in what order. These can still leave plenty of freedom for writers while still giving a distinctive quality to a brand’s writing.

6. “TOV just means, ‘sounding friendlier.’”
Society is getting less formal. So it usually makes sense for your written communications to sound a tad more relaxed. However, by blindly adopting a friendly tone of voice, there’s a danger you’ll just end up sounding like everyone else. That’s far from ideal given that the goal of branding is to find authentic, appropriate differentiation. So a tone of voice needs to go beyond friendly. It should be led by a guiding principle and anchored to something ‘real’. That could be your brand’s history, the way you go about your business or your unique offering.    

7. “It’s about writing like you talk.”
Using colloquial phrases can make brands sound more human. But which particular human being will they sound like? For a while, First Direct’s web copy was so damn quirky, you could imagine it was BBC Radio 2’s Liza Tarbuck talking. Find a character your brand should sound like and you’ve got a powerful means of achieving a distinctive tone of voice.

8. “Tone of voice guidelines are a low priority.”
Good guidelines that are motivating and easy-to-follow, will improve the writing for your brand. The words will give pleasure at each touchpoint. As your brand uses writing in many places, consumers and clients will notice and appreciate the extra effort you’ve made. They’ll value your brand more. Indeed, as most brands’ tone of voice is so samey, language is one of the few areas left where brands can steal a march on their me-too competitors. Internally, the advice on writing clearly and messaging you find in a well-written tone of voice guide will improve thinking and communication. It’s an opportunity to be seized.

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