Everyone writes as part of their profession now. Articles, blogs, social media commentaries, white papers… at every level, we are expected to be able to represent our company in writing. This is risky. A hundred people have a hundred opinions and a hundred writing styles, which is great for a library, but counter-productive when it comes to representing a single company. That means we should agree about the tone of voice. What will we be saying and how will we be saying it?
In this article, I will list a few simple examples that show how these agreements can inspire you.
Why do you write about your brand anyway? To express how good you are? Wrong. You write to let the reader express how good you are.
Stimulus > response, that’s the principle behind every form of communication. Feed your audience with information that lets them reach the conclusion you want them to reach.
‘Information’ is open to interpretation here. Your content and commercials, your promotional deals, social media and complaints handling, your warranty provisions and the charities you support. In short, everything you do on behalf of a brand. Too much to list, let alone cover it here. So I’ll just limit myself to one means of communication: the written word.
After considerable thought and research, we have defined the qualities of our brand. Needless to say, these qualities are very positive and distinctive. But is that how the target audience sees us? That’s not a given. We have to work on that. Our identity as a brand person also calls for a verbal identity. That’s what we would call the tone of voice: an internal agreement to ensure all external texts fit our brand.
Tone of voice guidelines can be far-reaching. I used to work for a large bank. They delighted me with a 31-page document at the very first interview, which meticulously described how company employees were to handle ‘a uniform communication with the client as regards the written communication during non-live contact moments.’
To a professional copywriter, this is pretty interesting and to a certain extent, manageable. But to those who don’t earn their living by writing, it’s a paralyzing kind of catechism.
Here are some simple principles that will serve you much better. Let’s begin with defining our fictitious brand identity and then see how this affects the tone of voice of our texts.
That will do nicely. But how do we use our identity when writing texts? There are two ways: as an inspiration and as a check-list. Let’s review this for each quality. You will see that even the most modest of texts can be lifted by a touch of personality.
To get some inspiration, look for associations and synonyms: welcoming, sympathetic, supportive, warm, down-to-earth.
Look for synonyms: visionary, creative, experimental, open to new ideas, at the cutting edge.
Describe this word: competent, an authority, proud of our performances.
There are plenty of rules that govern our work already, and while we can’t do without them, they do limit us. The tone of voice must be protected, and that requires a framework. But above all it must be applied with enthusiasm, and that calls for freedom and inspiration. By using the personality traits of the brand person as a source of inspiration and as a control mechanism, every employee can write texts that help build a brand.
Do you want to read more about this topic? One nice article – one that inspired me when writing this story – is WRITE, an internal document of the University of Leeds. You can download it as a pdf and it also contains one of the better top-10 tips lists about writing for the internet.