Brand language and tone of voice: Can’t the corporate style police read?

Brand tone guidelines

Does your customer communication fit your brand language and tone of voice?

I was having a drink with a mate a couple of days ago. He’s just landed a new job in corporate comms, making sure that no-one infringes his organisation’s brand guidelines. In other words (as I gleefully told him) he’s sold out and joined the Corporate Style Police. Not enough whitespace around the logo? That’s the gulag for you, mate. Use the wrong Pantone for the wordmark? Flogging in the car park at sunset.

After a bit more ribbing, I asked what he did about brand language and tone of voice and making sure all the operational customer communication matched the brand. After all, getting the logo lined up makes sense, but what about getting the brand tone lined up too? Especially in important pieces like statements, invoices, customer complaints and compliance material.

He looked at me blankly (and I suspect four pints of Hooky weren’t wholly to blame). He’d not even thought about it. No remit. There was plenty in his organisation’s brand guidelines about how everything should look, but nothing about how it should sound apart from a few vague phrases about ‘active language’ that everyone ignores. This was especially the case when it came to the thousands of pieces of  communication his business was sending out day after day to customers.

It’s odd that brand language and tone of voice – the way an organisation sounds – should be so far behind corporate visual ID. They’ve got the same aims, after all. And they’re both equally important. In fact, your brand tone is probably more important, simply because your customers see more of it, particularly once they’ve bought. Think of all those customer service letters. When was the last time any of those went to the Corporate Style Police for a check-over? Who’s in charge of making sure all your customer comms have a consistent, brand-aligned tone of voice.

We’ve been doing some work recently for a high street fashion brand with a large mail order arm. The brand is friendly, upbeat, straight-talking. At least, you’d have thought so until you started reading their customer service letters and e-mails. They were full of third-person passive, legalese and jargon – but that’s easily fixed. The real surprise was how far off the tone of the brand the stuff was – it just didn’t sound like our client.

Getting brand language and tone of voice right in material like this isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it’s a key part of your marketing and brand positioning.

People look at your brand writing – on your website, in letters and e-mails and texts – for instruction, but also reassurance. They want to know that the brand they’ve bought into is real. That you’ll live up to the promises you’ve made. Your brand language needs to build authenticity and humanity. That’s what, in turn, builds trust & loyalty in what you say and the things you do.

It gives depth to your brand character which gives people more reasons to love you. It touches them on an emotive and personal level.

That’s why it’s so important to make sure it runs through every piece of written communication you produce.

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Mark McArthur-Christie

I'm managing director at Rubuss. We work in taking operational customer communication and turning it from an overhead into a business asset.