When I started as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed business writer, my tone of voice projects felt different from how they feel today. Back then, it was often about proving that almost everyone prefers natural writing to formality, or explaining there wasn’t really that much of a distinction between ‘B2B’ and ‘B2C’.
Fast forward to 2019, and we’re all dealing with brands in a mind-boggling variety of wordy ways: from banking chatbots with a penchant for pop culture to speakers so smart they let you dictate how an audiobook should end.
Brands don’t just need clear communication right now; they need to think about structure, about character, about audience. As the demands on your writing grow more complex, can your guidelines keep up?
It’s probably time to revisit your tone of voice if:
1: It’s Good Writing 101
Let’s use the finance industry as an example here. Back in 2015 when the FCA issued their communications guidelines, you’d be doing well as a bank if you could do Good Writing 101: use natural language; start with your main point; speak in the active voice, and so on.
But neobanks and fintechs have shaken up the conversation in the past couple of years - like Monzo with their liberal attitude to emoji and ANNA, ‘a business account that miaows’. There’s as much voice and vibrancy in banking today as shampoo bottles on shelves. ‘More normal, less formal’ won’t quite cut it any more.
Are you more witty or funny? Are you bold - or actively risky? These are the types of questions you need to get to your real brand voice - not just ‘how do we show we’re human?’
2: It’s one page in 257 pages of brand guidelines
Most of us don’t deal with logo spacing or font kerning - but we all put fingers to keys; we all write emails; we all give presentations. For most of us, writing is the way we ‘live’ the brand we’re part of every day. It deserves to be front and centre of your guidelines.
After all, the real thought behind your brand - like your mission and purpose - is all conveyed in words. There’s a lot of hype around purpose-driven organisations at the moment. If you can’t articulate yours clearly and help your employees articulate it clearly, there’s one obvious question: is it clear at all?
3: It comes with levers, dials and equalisers
Our clients often ask how their tone of voice should flex for different audiences and situations. And our answer is always the same: it shouldn’t. Most brands develop a brand voice because they want to fix bad habits, stand out from the competition and sound consistent.
When you start to talk about letting your voice flex, you’re giving your organisation an excuse not to hit those objectives. As blanding spreads like wildfire, it’s more important than ever to stay true to your personality - ‘dialling down’ is watering down.
The bottom line is this: your tone shouldn’t always be set in stone. On average, most brands revisit theirs every four years - when the market shifts, or you go for a new look and feel.
So if you’re ready for round two, you know where we are.
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