Why a flexible tone of voice is a waste of your time and money

There are a few questions tone of voice agencies get asked a lot. But there’s one that comes up way more than the rest: how do we build flex into our tone of voice?

My answer’s always the same: don’t.

Here’s why:

1. If you have a flexible tone of voice, you don’t have a tone of voice

If you decide you want to sound different with certain audiences or in certain contexts, you’re not flexing your voice. You’re ignoring it.

And don’t get me wrong: that might be absolutely the right thing to do. It just means what you’ve got is a set of writing guidelines, not a tone of voice.

2. You’re giving people a get-out clause

Getting everyone in your organisation to use your tone of voice is hard. People will always gravitate back to the status quo.

If you tell them they can dial the tone up and down, they’ll take that as permission to ignore it entirely.

3. Flexi-guidelines are impossible to follow

I’ve seen guidelines with matrices in them. Matrices! Comms channels along the top, audiences along the left, and an array of boxes each suggesting a slightly different voice for a slightly different context.

Who’s got time for that? Seriously?

4. It’s bad for your brand

When I say all these things, people always come back with the same thing: But I flex my own voice. I speak differently to my friends and my parents.

That’s fine. We all do. But imagine how much more confident you’d seem if you didn’t. The strongest brands, and I’d argue the strongest people too, are the ones who are unashamedly themselves, always. Nike, Oprah, First Direct, Greta Thunberg.

5. Your people aren’t stupid

If you happen to work for a quirky drinks brand and you’re writing to someone who’s nearly choked to death on a lid, it’s probably a good idea to hold back on the jokes. But that’s just common sense. It doesn’t need to go in your guidelines.

There. I’ve said it. Did I miss something? Tweet us @SchwaUK if so.

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