• Scott McInnes

#28 | Lost your voice?

Do you work in a company where the communications feel one-way and shouty? Or perhaps you ARE that company - you're just not getting the message across and you can't quite fathom out why?

Perhaps it's time to consider your tone of voice and starting to think about not just WHAT you say but HOW you say it. I had a couple of meetings this week and tone of voice came up. I was also reading Monzo's new TOV guidelines - they've done a great job.

If you do a quick bit of reading on TOV, much of it will point to John Simmons. John worked in advertising for years and it was during his time in Interbrand in the '80s that he had an epiphany. He realised that where the idea of a 'brand' covered strapline, fonts, logos, colours, photographic styles and more, there was no equivalent for words. We knew what brands looked like but not how they sounded.

So, to sit alongside 'visual identity', he created 'verbal identity' and the idea of tone of voice was born.

Two minutes of Googling will throw up tons of advice on what should be in your TOV. A lot of it will probably sum it up with these five rules (or variations thereof):

1. Use short sentences.

2. Avoid jargon.

3. Write in the active voice.

4. Use personal pronouns.

5. Don’t patronise your reader

As rules go they aren't bad - if you applied them in your business tomorrow would things be a little better?


However, to simply take these, stick your logo on them and start rolling them out across your business could be dangerous. Because, like a brand, every organisation's tone of voice is different - sometimes tremendously and sometimes only very slightly. The context that your new TOV is landing into dictates both how your people will react to it and how they will apply it.

As is often the case when you are asking people to change, they best way to do that is to involve them in the solution. And that's part of the TOV process:

  1. Identify your tone today? - Ask your staff what they think of your tone today and review a range of your internally generated documents to see how people are writing.

  2. Ask yourself what GREAT looks like - Ask your people what they'd like the tone to be. What would work in the context of your organisation?

  3. Corner stones for success - What are the key four or five principles that will help you and you people to get to that new place?

  4. Documenting it - It needs to be communicated in an engaging and easy to understand way, preferably with 'before' and 'after' examples of your documents to show what good looks like.

  5. Training and communicating - 'Build it and they will come' won't work - you'll have to take some time training people in how to use the new tone of voice - perhaps pick the laggards or those most resistant to changing to create a "well if they can change, so can we" attitude.

  6. Getting buy-in - Senior level support is key to success for a TOV project - ensure that your execs and senior managers change the way they communicate in line with your tone of voice.

This is only scratching the surface but, if you're thinking about your own TOV, it's certainly a good place to start.

A bit more about John Simmons

Read about John, his books and his projects at https://urbanepublications.com/authors/john-simmons/ or have a look at this site https://www.dark-angels.org.uk/about-us/ - for more on Dark Angels, the creative business writing courses that John co-founded.


Like and Share

If you enjoyed this blog I'd be really grateful if you would please give it a 'Like' below and then share it on your preferred social network. Thank you :-)

Subscribe for more To receive these blog posts and podcast notifications directly to your inbox, simply register by entering your email top right. You’ll be able to unsubscribe at any time.

©2020 Inspiring Change Ltd, The Tara Building, Tara Street, Dublin 2, Ireland

e: hello@inspiringchange.ie