March 19, 2014 - Comments Off on Do your company values live in your company language?

Do your company values live in your company language?

Banks and building societies are fairly serious institutions – after all, they’re the ones looking after your precious money. But I’ve noticed that, over the past few years, the tone of the letters they send me is becoming increasingly warm and conversational, like they know me. It’s sort of nice.

It’s not just one bank that’s doing it – they all are. And it’s not just banks either. Letters from the local council are becoming a bit more informal and less stuffy. Even energy companies are getting in on the act. It’s refreshing. It actually helps me to not only understand the content of the letter, but read right until the end.

There’s no big secret behind what they’re doing. Lots of other companies have been doing it for years, it’s just that some of the more ‘traditional’ businesses, shall we say, have finally cottoned on. They’re taking the time to understand their customers and writing to them in a way that is both informative and engaging – without blinding them with jargon, cringeworthy clichés and woolly explanations.

It’s called a tone of voice.

Depending on what they’re trying to sell – whether it’s a product or a service – businesses have for too long left the words until last. They decide the targets and the strategy and then think they can just throw the words on at the end.

The problem with working this way is that, even if you do a good job and write a very friendly letter to your customers, they’ll find a completely different tone of voice on the website because that was written at a different time, possibly by a different person.

It undermines the style of communication elsewhere and ultimately lacks credibility. If you’re hoping to win over your customers, you’re only going to confuse them with various personalities.

The key here is consistency. The way you write in your letters, emails and general communications should be the same across the board – from staff emails to recruitment ads.

The words – or more precisely the language – should be thoughtfully crafted. They should be part of the process, right from the very start.

But with so many ways to communicate – and perhaps more than a couple of people responsible for writing content for your business – you’ll need a central and accessible resource so you can all stick to the same writing principles.

And that brings us to the ‘Tone of Voice’ document.

This document can’t always be thrown together by senior people in the business. Sometimes the people at the top have spent so much of their careers detached from the customers that they struggle to see things from their perspective.

This is a job for a copywriter who can communicate with your customers in the right way, with consistency, across all channels.

Before you begin to establish your brand identity, it’s worth taking the time to research your target audience so you know exactly who you’re writing for, and what language they use. Create audience personas and keep them as real as possible. There are examples of some companies creating life-size cardboard cut-outs of their personas and keeping them in the room at all times so they never forget who they’re writing for. It’s not that extreme if you really want to get to the heart of how they think and behave.

Establishing a language unique to your business needs to come from your values, which should capture the essence of your brand. Think about who you are, how you’d speak to your target audience if you had the chance to do it in person. How would you like to come across?

Working this way is much more effective than crudely sticking a bunch of adjectives under the columns of ‘do use’ and ‘don’t use’.

Ask yourself to describe your brand’s values in three words – do those words live in the language you use to communicate with your customers?

If you’ve been inspired to find your brand’s voice but need a bit of guidance, this article from Marketing Land will provide you with an excellent starting point.