• Scott McInnes

64 | Mind your tone!

children sitting in desks at school

This week a cheeky republish of a post I wrote ages ago - it was the second ever post on this blog.

Why the republish? Largely because I was just interviewing John Simmons - the grandfather of Tone of Voice - for next week's podcast. He was a really interesting guest so keep an eye out for that one. We touched on the work we had done on AIB's Tone of Voice and I thought it might be interesting to revisit some of that work before I put the podcast out.



It's weird when you know someone and they they write words like henceforth, further to and heretofore.

And all you're thinking is 'I've never heard them (or anyone else for that matter) say those words'. It creates a disconnect and, as a result, makes them a bit less believable and less authentic.

It's a bit Jekyll and Hyde!

Though in their defence, much of what's considered by people to be 'proper' writing was hammered into them (with an iron fist often) through years of schooling by Nuns and Christian Brothers. God forbid that you EVER start a sentence with the word 'and!.

In AIB we took the corporate tone by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good shake. We interviewed execs and staff, ran focus groups and reviewed a wide range of internal documents - our tone was formal, defensive, complicated, parent-child and disconnected.

And in those same interviews we asked staff what kind of tone they'd like for AIB. They said honest, engaging, real, storytelling, clear and positive.

So we set about bridging that gap.

We created a new tone of voice framework underpinned by four key principles.

Be engaging - tell a story

Be forward thinking - Naturally positive

Be clear - strive for simplicity

Be adult to adult - bring a human touch

Then we trained staff in how to apply it to their communications - starting with the most sceptical staff and repeat offenders (in areas like Finance, Legal Compliance and IT). In fact we eventually trained over 1,000 people and, over time, we turned a corner, as they started to see the benefit that writing engaging communications could bring.


Where before we'd receive shouty, finger-pointing emails to 'SWITCH OFF ROAMING ON YOUR WORK PHONE WHEN YOU GO ON HOLIDAYS BECAUSE IT'S REALLY EXPENSIVE' afterwards we got emails with 'hook-me-in' headlines like 'Packed your sun cream?'.

And people read them, and turned off their roaming.

Then the Mobile Banking team REALLY took it to heart and starting tweeting product updates like the one here. It could've been really dull but they chose to make it more interesting. And customers responded in their droves about how human AIB's communications were.

Eventually as the AIB brand turned a corner following the crisis, the marketing team decided that we should have a single tone of voice for internal and external communications, based on our brand values. So the guidelines were republished to reflect this new context.

And to remain authentic and relevant it will have to continue to change, as the bank and its relationship with staff and customers changes.

Watch this space.

PS - if you're still wondering about starting a sentence with and have a read of this.