Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of brand guidelines. Agencies and brand managers love them because they keep everyone toeing a consistent line with how the brand looks and feels – and prevent Mick in sales from going rogue with his PowerPoint design.
But without fail, they have one thing in common. Roughly 96 pages on correct logo placement, font specifications and colour palette. And two glossed-over pages about brand language or tone of voice.
This perplexes me. Actually, it makes me pretty cranky. Because apart from the design agency, not many people really need to know most of the stuff covered in those 96 pages. Brenda in customer service isn’t fiddling with logos or cropping images, and Mick isn’t (hopefully) designing his own flyers.
But every single person in your organisation writes. Every single day.
And every time they write on behalf of your brand, whether it’s to customers, investors, suppliers, or employees, their words trigger an emotional response. They make an impression, good or bad, on what it’s like to deal with your business. Are you credible? Do you really know what you’re talking about?
How you say things matters just as much as what you say.
Why voice matters
When a brand creates a distinctive voice and sticks to it consistently, it becomes an intrinsic part of the customer experience. It builds trust and credibility, and a personality your customers can relate with.
Let’s say you’re looking at two different websites for some cloud software. One has been cobbled together by different people in marketing, HR, IT and operations over the years. It sounds schizophrenic, if not incoherent.
The other feels like it was written by one person, and seems to get exactly what you need to know. You feel like you can trust this company because they clearly know what they are talking about. And you believe it will be easy to get up and running with this platform.
There’s a good chance the second website was written with a consistent tone of voice, bringing order to the complexity. Just like limitations on what you can and can’t do with the logo, a tone of voice is a positive constraint on creativity. It has forced the copywriter not to be lazy. To make every word work that little bit harder.
The positives and pitfalls of brand voice
If you define your voice well, with empathy for your reader and a nod to your brand’s values, it is so easy to get it right. Even if your brand is small or just starting out.
For example, Frank Body’s refreshingly personal voice (aka Frank) talks directly to me in a slightly flirty way. It’s honest, but fun. Just like its coffee scrubs. Now, there aren’t many brands that can get away with calling me ‘babe’… but with Frank, I like it.
However, there is a problem when other brands decide to simply copy this sort of cheeky-conversational persona. When I was in the UK recently, I realised just how many brands were using ‘chatty’ as a default – and not just on their ‘wackaging’, which cheeky-voice-trailblazer smoothie brand Innocent has been blamed for.
If your bank emails to suggest you must be ‘on a tropical island’ because your credit card was declined, that’s presumptuous and overly-familiar. If it takes you five minutes to wade through a one-sided dialogue of waffle to get to the instructions for your new bit of tech, that’s obstructive and unhelpful.
The other problem, more commonly seen with B2B brands, is where every brand’s ‘distinctive’ voice is basically a variation of the principles of effective writing: clear, active and natural.
This may undoubtedly be an improvement on inconsistent, passive or buzzword-heavy comms. But it still means everyone sounds pretty much the same.
So what’s the solution?
I’m glad you asked. Because we have it, all wrapped up in a sophisticated black box.
The Voicebox is a super-handy framework that we now use to guide our clients through the magical process of finding their voice. It includes 11 distinctive voice archetypes and 90 tarot cards to sort through, to really nail what makes your voice sound more like the real you.
We can’t take the credit for this clever kit – Nick Parker of UK consultancy That Explains Things has distilled 10+ years of tone of voice wisdom into this box. But Writers is the only agency in Australia using it – and we’re already taking bookings for Voicebox workshops in 2020.
If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.