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Commissioning tone of voice

Thinking about creating a tone of voice (TOV) scheme for your brand? Want to refresh an old one? Here are five things you can’t afford to overlook.

1. Personality

Most TOV agencies these days promise a ‘distinct’ tone of voice for your brand. But how many brands have a truly distinctive brand TOV? There's a reason everyone talks about Innocent drinks when discussing tone of voice. It's the only brand to have really pulled it off.

A big horn representing tone of voice

If it was an instrument, what would your brand be?

The reality is, a unique TOV is hard to achieve. Instead, most guidelines will take your brand values and apply generic good writing practice. These writing tips will be organised under your brand values. So, if one of your values is 'human', you might find tips liked, 'write like you speak', 'use simple words' and 'ellipsis' ('you've' not 'you have'). This is fine if your main problem is poor writing or too much formality and stiffness in your tone. But if you’re after a distinctive TOV that captures your brand personality, you need to be prepared to do something different to stand out. See here for how.

2. Problems

Every organisation has its own particular reliance on language, and its own weaknesses it needs to address. Retailers and charities may be searching for a friendly, informal tone of voice to create a connection with their audience. Business-to-business (B2B) companies may want their writing to bring out benefits better. So be sure to identify your organisation’s specific writing needs. These can then be addressed in the guidelines.

3. Skill of writers

Your audience plays a big role in how you write your TOV guidelines. If you’re writing for copywriters or in-house writers, you can expect them to understand more subtle language advice. That means you can aim for more subtle branding effects. However, if you’re writing for an audience that does not write professionally, you'll have to keep the advice simple and very easy to follow.

4. Media channels

Communications channels all require different writing skills. A sales email needs a different approach to a brochure. If you have certain channels that are particularly important, make advice on these part of the guidelines brief. Tips and templates can guide even inexperienced writers to become more effective in each type of media.

5. Training

Even with simple advice, clearly explained, with lots of examples, the habits of a lifetime can be hard to kick. If you’re serious about getting the new tone of voice adopted, you're going to want to change these habits. So consider asking your agency to design and deliver a training programme for your staff, as well as the tone of voice guidelines.

For more on commissioning tone of voice, step over to our tone of voice section page.

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