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Who’s setting your company’s tone?


I’ve just been to a workshop on brand tone of voice based on a recent document that has been produced for one our clients. Now I know you’re probably thinking what marketing horseshit is this, do we need another brand ‘tool’ to add to the already burgeoning brand armoury? Well, yes, I think we do. I found the session really useful and it got me thinking about how clients talk and write about their brands, and the importance of consistency of communication across all channels. It’s not just about the way a company represents itself on television or in the media, it’s about all communication, from emails, internal messaging and staff noticeboards, through to correspondence with customers and suppliers, whatever the channel. What your company says and how it says it should be considered and consistent across the board.

Say what?

Anyone involved in the industry will know that over the years, clients and agencies have worked together to develop brand guidelines. These tomes (they are frequently 40+ pages) have made for useful, informative reading for designers and printers. Meanwhile, the writers amongst us are lucky to get a page on what font to use for an internal memo. So imagine my delight at having a huge document solely focused on how to write on behalf of a client.

Since joining Badger, I’ve been lucky to have received copy guidelines for a few of our clients. Larger companies and brands understand the benefits of ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ when it comes to unifying communications. This makes perfect sense if you think about it; the larger the company, the more employees, the more personalities and the many different ways that people communicate. This leaves the door wide open when it comes to potential PR nightmares. In my experience, the tone and direction of smaller companies is often set by the person managing the business. This can be good or bad dependent on the personality type of your MD. Larger businesses know that it’s better to create a tone of voice for all employees and agencies to adopt, rather than relying on individuals saying what they like.

Move with the times

Communication has never been so prevalent and important in all aspects of life as it is in today’s digital society. I was writing a DM letter on behalf of a client last week and I got stuck. This is a little embarrassing, but I found myself looking up letter templates on the internet. In my day there were a number of rules that you followed when writing a letter to anyone. These included:

  • Your name and address
  • The recipient’s name and address
  • The date – in full
  • Dear Sir/Madam (followed by a comma)
  • Signing off Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully depending on if you knew the addressee’s name

I learnt how to write a letter at school and the format remained the same for many years. How things have changed. Nowadays, your own address is often pre-printed on the header of footer, dates don’t require th, rd or st added after the number, you never write to a Sir, Madam or To whom it may concern, commas after the salutation are considered old-fashioned and there are multiple ways to finish the missive, from Kind regards to Best wishes.

Confusing? Hell yes. And then of course there’s the multitude of communication channels that need to be carefully negotiated. Facebook posts, Instagram responses, Tweets and all the other social media platforms have their own language which today’s businesses feel obliged to reproduce. To emoji or not emoji? Is it okay to text people and say things like ‘R u ok?’ It’s an etiquette minefield in a world where I’m not sure etiquette even exists anymore.

Spreading the word

My advice is that if you work in a business with more than 50 employees, it’s time to invest in a brand tone of voice guide (we can help). If you haven’t got one, then try and follow these rules:

  • Keep it simple – no customer wants to be bamboozled with long words, jargon or tech speak.
  • Don’t be over-familiar, you’re talking to someone who has probably paid for your company’s product or service. There’s a fine line between being endearing and being annoying.
  • While humour can be a great leveller and ice breaker, you need to know your audience before attempting a joke.
  • Likewise, know who you’re talking to before you insert a smiley face emoji. If the customer sends one first, then this can be a good indication for setting the tone.
  • Lose the formality and speak to customers as you would speak to an acquaintance (not your best mate).
  • While many people today have either adopted American spellings, and have given up on grammar, I still believe it’s important to use correct punctuation and spelling. It makes you look sloppy if you don’t and suggests you don’t care – not a good reflection on your business.

Once you have established your company’s voice, invest in spreading the word to all your employees and colleagues to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them. Here’s a great example of a recent customer-business interaction which earnt The Warehouse plenty of praise and column inches. I can only assume the employee responding to the customer query was following an excellent set of brand tone of voice guidelines.