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Emma Lawton

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Having a brand tone of voice isn’t by any means a new concept. But in the modern day when your brand is communicating across a multitude of channels, it’s more important than ever that it is consistent and recognisable. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos claims that ‘Customer Service should not be a department, it should be the entire company.’ A sentiment echoed by the majority of millennials with a recent study showing 60% want a brand to feel the same and offer a consistent service across touchpoints and 58% expect to be able to successfully engage with a brand how and when they choose. (Source: Social Media Today)

With the growth of artificial intelligence, bots and digital assistants are more commonplace in the travel industry and bring with them new ways for your content to be served up and sometimes even read aloud. The expectation of a common tone of voice and level of service, whether a customer picks up your brochure, is reading your newest blog post by their Echo or interacts with you on twitter, presents a challenge. But as one of the most tangible and emotional layers of your brand when done right it can build loyalty, engagement and perception on a deep level.

Here are my 5 steps to a clear common voice:

DEFINE IT

Before you can begin writing anything you need to identify your brand personality and the core values that underpin it. There are 2 different ways I’d suggest doing this.

1. THE INSIDE-OUT METHOD

(Best for organisations that currently have no defined tone of voice but have a strong staff culture or good internal communications in place.)

This method uses internal culture and dialogue to shape the tone of external communications. Listen to the way staff speak to customers and identify no more than 5 core values that emanate from their approach to service and support. Now listen to the way staff speak to each other, read team bulletins, notes and emails and you’ll pick up a tone and lexicon that has naturally developed as the internal ‘house style.’ Read existing marketing collateral aloud and think what kind of person would say the words in them and how. Does their personality fit with that of your collective team? Which style feels more appropriate to your business, target audience, core values and visual brand? Develop a persona based on who you think your brand would be if it were a person and use this and the language/tone examples you’ve gathered to guide your writing.

2. THE OUTSIDE-IN METHOD

(Best for organisations that have a good public image and a strong external brand but show inconsistency in their delivery of it.)

This method encourages you to take the brand values you’re already communicating externally and reflect them internally. Create a tone of voice that aligns to these values, using a brand persona (as mentioned in the method above) and roll it out across your entire team so that everyone speaks the same brand language.

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WRITE IT

If you have a clear idea of how your brand will communicate it’s time to start thinking about what it might say. There are 3 main variables that can be adjusted to help you create a tone that feels unique and appropriate to your business.

1. DIALECT
Does your brand voice have an accent? Is it well-spoken? Does it use regional language? Is their sector specific jargon your brand would be expected to use?

2. FORMALITY
How does your brand voice deal with pronouns; does it say ‘the customer’ or ‘you’ when communicating externally? Does it use contractions like ‘you’ve’ and ‘haven’t’ or full words? Would it ever use colloquialisms? Does it want to be seen as approachable? Quirky? Professional?

3. TEMPO
Does it use long sentences/words? Or is it more likely to use short, punchy ones? Is it sophisticated and elegant? Soft or hard? Does it mix rhythms and patterns of speech?

Once you’ve made decisions on your language style you can try some sample sentences to test how it sounds.

  • How would it greet someone?
  • How would it introduce itself?
  • How would it describe its likes and dislikes?

Think of your brand entering a party, a board room and its family home. Would the way it tackled these conversational elements change? You’ll find that like natural human dialog your brand will need to adapt slightly to be appropriate to different situations and audiences. For example a chatty, colloquial tone might infuriate a complainant seeking customer support through your feedback form but could be perfect for your monthly sales mailshot. This flexibility is necessary and helps define its tonal range from business-like to everyday.

When you feel like a clear voice is coming through roll the style out across key messaging and regularly used sentences.

TEST IT

By beginning to use the new tone with customers you’ll be able to gauge quickly if its seen as appropriate to their needs and whether they relate to it. Keep track of any feedback, flag any negative responses and make tweaks where necessary. Look out for customers mirroring the language patterns you’re using as this is a proven behavioural sign that they feel aligned to your brand and that the tone is successful.

DOCUMENT IT

To ensure your entire team is bought into, and has a strong knowledge of, the common language it’s vital to create guidelines they can refer to. These don’t need to be exhaustive but as a minimum should document:

  • Brand values and personality
  • Style
  • Sample text (what it should and shouldn’t say) Tone range (for audience and situation variations)

Make sure everyone within your organisation has access to these guidelines so that any content created, whether for social media, online or offline usage has a common style and is recognisable as being broadcast from your brand.

DEVELOP IT

As technology progresses and your brand matures you’ll need to add to and evolve your tone of voice to ensure that it stays relevant and appropriate. You should view the guidelines as a living document rather than a restriction and allow input from the staff members actually working with it day in day out. Learn what’s connecting successfully with your customers by speaking to them and develop your style to better reach them.

If you would like Emma to help you understanding your consumers better, then get in touch with her at emma@thinkdigital.travel, or give the #DTTT expert team a call (+44 20 7193 1003) to see how we can help.

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