No ducking out of it: your business needs a consistent tone of voice

 

Three ducks wearing dark glasses - sitting in a row. Who are you?

Do your clients recognise your corporate identity?

Do you sometimes judge people by their looks? A recent article on a BBC website suggests that most of us do.

However, when it comes to making a good impression in business, there are other factors to consider, too. One of these is the corporate identity that your business or organisation creates through its communications, which means you need to choose your words extremely carefully when “speaking” in your corporate guise, e.g. on your website, on Twitter or on Facebook – or indeed in your printed promotional materials.

One aspect to bear in mind when writing about your business – and its products or services – is that it’s important to be consistent in tone and style, which means maintaining a consistent “tone of voice”. You’ve no doubt heard that expression before many times, but what does it really mean in an everyday copywriting situation? It means, quite simply, how you say what you say.

Here are three handy tips to help you establish (and then maintain!) a corporate tone of voice:

1. Decide whether your company is going to “speak” in the:

  • Informal first person plural voice (“We supply first-class widgets…”).
  • Informal first person singular voice (“I am the world’s leading expert in… “).
  • Formal third person plural voice (“Brown Brothers produce….”).
  • Formal third person singular voice (“Our company believes that…” or “Jason Smithers is a master plumber with 30 years’ experience…”).

You should also decide whether you are going to refer to your customer in the third person (e.g. “Our customers know they can rely on us to…”) or whether you prefer to take a more direct, informal approach and address customers directly in the second person (e.g. “When you commission us to design your home, you can count on receiving impeccable customer service from us at every stage of the design process…”).

2. Having decided whether to use the formal third person voice or the less formal first and second person voices, you then have to ensure that all text emanating from your organisation reflects this same “tone”.  For example, if you have opted for the formal register, here are three things to avoid:

  • Contractions (e.g. can’t, won’t, doesn’t) – instead use the full version (e.g. cannot, will not, does not).
  • Starting sentences with “but” or “and”. This used to be tantamount to sacrilege in written English and is still frowned upon in formal English texts. However, these days you’ll often see “and” or “but” at the start of sentences in informal texts, as this reflects more accurately the way we actually speak.
  • Colloquialisms and idioms. Let’s look at this in practice… Colloquial version: “Our customers always rave about our fab work.” Formal version: “Our customers are always extremely impressed by our exemplary workmanship.”

If you’ve decided you’re more comfortable with an informal tone of voice then feel free to use abbreviated words. And to start sentences with conjunctions (as we just did) or to use expressions such as “OK” and “Our company is the cat’s pyjamas” (unless you happen to manufacture feline nightwear, in which case you’d say “Our company supplies cats’ pyjamas…).

3. Ensure that everything you or your colleagues say (on Twitter, on Facebook, on your website, in your printed promotional materials and documents) reflects your brand values. To get you started, it can be helpful to spend some time choosing three or four words or phrases that encapsulate what your organisation is all about. Here are some well-known examples to get you started:

  • Apple: inspiration, dream, innovation.
  • Innocent: humorous, unpretentious, upbeat.
  • Red Bull: daring, adventurous, energetic.
  • Euroword: creative, professional, word gurus (admittedly, this brand isn’t quite as well known as the others… yet!)

Then remind anyone in your organisation who is writing text on behalf of the company to reflect these “distilled down” tenets in everything they write – or, indeed, say (e.g. in public presentations or press interviews). That way, your communications will remain consistent and on message, making the right impression on anyone who encounters your company online or in person for the first time.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the BBC article referred to above, have a look for yourself – it makes fascinating reading. In a subsequent Euroword blog post, we’ll look at why having a style guide for your company or organisation is helpful, and how to go about compiling one. Meanwhile, enjoy developing your company’s individual tone of voice, and once you’ve decided on the three words that characterise your organisation, feel free to post them on our EurowordUK Facebook page.

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