Richard Owsley Managing director, Writers
Companies ignore the importance of words and consistent phrasing at their
peril. It pays to get in a good writer to set the right tone from the start when
creating or changing a brand’s marketing image
Virgin has been held up for many years as a shining example of effective branding. It certainly has a very familiar look, and applies it in a wide variety of industry sectors. But imagine if Virgin wrote to you like an old-fashioned bank manager or talked at you like a party bore? Would it be the same brand? Of course not.
Personality is very much a part of what makes successful brands distinctive. And arguably the most effective way to express personality is through language – ‘tone of voice’ in today’s speak.
Set the Right Tone
Done well, tone of voice can really differentiate. The likes of Orange, Innocent, Ronseal, Apple and The Economist have made such a success of this aspect of branding that the brands are now almost marketing clichés (in the nicest possible sense, of course).
Poorly managed tone of voice, on the other hand, can be a liability. People recognise good visual identities, but if they then associate them with the woodenly worded letter, the advertisement full of management jargon, or the grumpy, unhelpful call centre agent, the brand image suffers.
The same applies if your website, ads and brochures look similar, but read as if they’ve come from different people – where is your look? Consistency is just as important with the words as it is with the brand image as a whole.
There’s every reason, then, to spend time and money on getting the tone of voice just right when conducting an expensive branding exercise and in its subsequent application.
A successful tone of voice brings to life a brand’s personality and values. So if the branding process has defined these properly, a good writer should be able to capture them in words. Ideally, the writer should be involved with the branding process from the start to ensure that the personality and values can translate into a plausible and effective tone of voice for the brand.
Employ A Professional
Writers are used to working in various styles for different audiences. They are also good at putting themselves in the readers’ shoes and judging how they will react to the company’s various communications. Applying these skills, they ensure that the words reflect the brand personality which has taken a great deal of hard work to capture visually.
With a writer on the team, a proposed personality and language style can be put into ‘live’ text at the earliest development stages, making it easier for everyone involved to discuss, judge and fine-tune the copy. In addition, experienced writers will be familiar with the different tones of voice that are being used in the marketplace.
This helps to avoid time being wasted on developing something that’s not particularly distinctive. All brands are different, but they have one thing in common, and that is that they all aspire to clear communication – and that is surely the aim of any good writer.
Once the preferred tone of voice is agreed, the guidelines follow – with words as with typography, colour and imagery. But unlike design guidelines, which are generally used by trained designers only, the guidelines for language are for the benefit of those who write or speak on behalf of the company – potentially any employee or contractor.
Therefore, the guidelines need to be an exercise in clear and persuasive communication, explaining how words should be used and providing examples. They must be easy to use and understand, or they will simply sit on a shelf gathering dust. So, again, it is important to have a writer look after this task, too.
In short, tone of voice matters a great deal. And it’s not just the Apples, Oranges, Virgins and Innocents of this world that are cottoning on to that fact.
If you want to bring your brand to life, it pays to talk about tone of voice with a writer.