I’m really focused on work for a new client at at the moment. I’m helping them to define and articulate their tone of voice and writing some of their marketing materials. It’s a new area of business for me, but one that I really believe in, so it’s exciting and challenging and I’m deciphering a whole new range of jargon and acronyms.
So how do I go about helping an organisation to find its tone of voice? Surely that’s something that people who have more experience of the business should do?
Well, actually, looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes, or hearing things with a fresh pair of ears can be a real advantage. I’m more likely to pick up on the things that have always been said or written like that, and ask why. And because I’m new, people understand if I ask lots of questions.
So how do I develop a tone of voice for a business that I’m only just starting to get familiar with?
First of all I listen, or more often, read anything and everything I can get my hands on. The website is a good place to start, and social media too. I go and dig around and visit the little visited pages, the nuts and bolts and hidden corners.
I take notice of my environment, the posters, adverts, leaflets, screens all around me. And I get my hands on letters, emails, communications of all sorts.
I talk to people too, find out about what they do, who their audience are and what challenges they face in their communications. I look for common themes, poke out clichés and get an ear for common phrases that have become a little dull through over use.
From there I start to get a feel for what’s authentic, what feels right and what feels a bit old and tired and needs shaking up a bit. And I start to play it back to the people who write and encourage them to hear what’s being said as thought it’s new to them too.
Along the way I’m gathering examples of the good, the ‘could do better’ and the ‘what is this?’ I’m learning about the audiences from research and conversations with some of them too.
I’ve been helped by re-reading We, Me, Them and It (How to Write Powerfully for Business) by John Simmons. This very readable book, recently republished my Urbane publications, demonstrates how words and language can help differentiate one business from another and add life to products and services.
What’s been most helpful to me has been John’s insight into how he put this into practice with real examples from his work with brands like the Royal Mail, Anglia Railways and Cable and Wireless. It’s a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ view that’s the next best thing to having been there at the time and says as much about the approach and challenge as it does about the results.
Last week I ran a workshop with some of the marketing team, combining some of my observations with their thoughts and experiences. It’s reaffirmed that I’m on the right track with my approach and thinking.
Developing a brand tone of voice is a fascinating process and one I love. I can quickly get a feel for how an organisation sounds and adapt my writing style to theirs. Encouraging it to make changes to help it sound more distinctive and to have its own voice will take a little longer but I’m already on the case, devising tips, tricks and examples to bring it to life.