Kevin Roberts, CEO of communications company Saatchi & Saatchi, says that purchasing decisions are 80% emotional and 20% rational. So, it could be argued, and regularly is, that a company’s tone of voice has as much influence over its long-term success as the quality of the product or service it offers.
Whether they’re selling insurance, bags of cement or little bottles of fruit juice with hats on, businesses need to be conscious of how their customers relate to them emotionally. Moving beyond the traditional buyer-seller relationship can be achieved by creating a tone of voice that captures the essence of the business as well as the interest of the customers.
But first, what are your company values?
Zero in on these. It pays to know exactly what your business stands for, what qualities you want to emit, and how you want others to perceive the organisation. Being wishy-washy will do nothing for creating a tone of voice that rings in the right ears.
If you’re not clear on your values, you can run a workshop with as many of your staff as you can get in one room. If that runs to thousands of people, it might be worth narrowing this down. Ask your staff what your company means to them, what they think your USP is, and why they’re proud to work for you. Your employees are the people living your values, so they should play a role in forming them.
Then you’ll need to go away and decide how to communicate these values. Make them concrete tangible things that people understand and can interpret. With these in the bag, you’re ready to head on to the next step.
Speak the language
Here we are at the crux of this blog: language. This is the most emotionally charged part of your brand, perhaps even more so than the typeface, pallet or logo, which are the first things many people think of when anyone mentions branding.
Businesses spend big money on carefully designing logos, colour schemes and sometimes mascots that convey exactly the right message. These things are important because they’re the face of the business, but equally as important are the words coming out of that face – so don’t skimp on them either.
Although it’s certainly true that you can judge a book by its cover, it’s the content that makes up the meat in the sandwich. In your communications, it’s the message you’re sending out that will resonate with your audience.
If you’re looking for that emotional connection, you’ll need to get that message across more than once. This is where tone of voice plays a big part in guaranteeing consistency.
Here’s another classic adage for you: slow and steady wins the race. Not that we’re advocating tardiness, rather reliable, steady performance. A brand is that much stronger when all communications broadcast the same message in the same way.
Create a tone bible
Coke’s value of the moment is ‘happiness’, and you can see it in everything they do. Yes, they’re actually using the word ‘happiness’, but it helps that the language supplementing it is vibrant and optimistic. You need to decide on what this language is for your business and how to use it, not just expect it to appear out of thin air.
Develop a guideline document that outlines the words and tone you want to use. Will you favour short sentences, or more complex, difficult ones? Do you want to use jargon? – and yes, in some cases it’s okay. How do you refer to people, clients, staff, yourself? These are what you need to decide on and communicate to whoever is creating your content, whether it’s your staff or an agency.
In many cases it’s best to have these people help out with the formation of your overall tone. Working with a third party can be helpful at this stage in terms of providing an objective view and an outside perspective.
Once a tone of voice is established, ensure it’s consistently used throughout all your communications, both internally and externally. If possible, assign this responsibility to a reliable individual, or alternatively hire an agency to take on the responsibility for you.