How do you help people to write clearly, consistently and on-brand?

You’ll make customers happier, more likely to buy and less likely to complain. So it’s got to be worth getting right, hasn’t it?

Strong tone of voice guidelines are a good start. But you also need to make sure they take root throughout your organisation. And that means thinking bigger than guidelines.

Put a few things in place right at the beginning, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting your new tone of voice to stick.

In this whitepaper we’ll cover:

1 Preparing the ground

  • Know your aims
  • Get the players behind it
  • Focus your efforts
  • Measure your success

2 Helping training stick

  • Refresh templates and standard documents
  • Look again at how you check quality
  • Involve team leaders and managers
  • Choose the right sized training

3 Keeping the ball rolling

  • Relax your KPIs
  • Encourage working together
  • Check your tone
  • Don’t let it disappear

1 Preparing the ground

Know your aims

To make sure your new tone of voice has a long and healthy life, be absolutely clear on what it will achieve. At the start.

So agree your business objectives and what you want the tone of voice to do for your business. Do you want it to bring up your NPS scores? Do you have a new visual brand that’s out of sync with the language around it? Do you know that your written communications are bringing enquiries into your contact centre?

Knowing why you’re bringing in tone of voice at the start will help you…

Get the players behind it

The best way to get your new tone to really take hold is by raising awareness of what you’re doing – and why – with important people across the business. Getting managers, and particularly directors, on side and involved early on can give your tone of voice real legs

There are various ways to do this:

  • When you’re creating your new tone of voice, test tone options and explore your brand personality with individuals and small groups, including important influencers.
  • Run the proposed tone past stakeholders – the people who will need to really get behind it to show the business it’s serious. Get their input, and they’re more likely to be behind it.
  • Give managers quick intro workshops so they know what’s coming. Best of all, this will help your managers lead by example and become real ambassadors for the new tone, instead of standing in its way because they’re not up to speed.

Focus your efforts

Once you’re clear on why you’re bringing in a new tone of voice, decide where to apply it first. There are essentially two options here:

1 A broad business-wide launch – spreading it quickly throughout the business by raising general awareness and training in several areas at once

2 A focused ‘pilot’ launch – choosing one or two important areas to start with, and making sure those teams have all the tools and training they need to apply the new tone thoroughly and see real results.

Then wait for the rest of the business to notice and start asking for the same!

You can, of course, also do a combination of the two – and often this double-pronged approach works best. But it does boil down to budget.

When we were at Boots, for example, they didn’t have the budget to train everyone at head office. So we trained and coached everyone who’d write anything a customer would see in the stores at Christmas. Everyone noticed the change, and other marketing teams came asking where they could get the training.

Measure your success

Think right from the start about how you’ll measure the effect of your new tone. The way you do this will vary from team to team: for marketing it might be click-through rates for emails; for customer service, better first-time complaint resolution or NPS scores.

Whatever numbers you decide to look at, keeping a close eye on them before and after teams have had their tone training will help you prove your investment has been worth it.

 

2 Helping training stick

If these things are already in place before you start training, it’ll be much more likely to take root and flourish.

Refresh your templates and standard documents

If your teams use templates or standard documents, they need to be refreshed in line with the new tone. Ideally before the training. You can of course do it after, using your best writers, but make sure you have the resources and skills in place for what’s often a challenging, time-consuming job.

However you go about it, this needs to happen quickly. It’s much harder for people to apply a new tone of voice if they have to wrestle with out-of-date documents. And it’s far too tempting to slip back into old habits under time pressure.

Look again at how you check quality

If people’s writing is being judged or graded by certain criteria, they’ll work to those. It’s human nature. So if you have teams with procedures that assess their writing, review and update these before the training.When they’re in line with the new tone of voice, they’ll play a big part in helping it take hold. (And if they work against the new style of writing, they’ll stop people from using it.

We sometimes develop a good writing checklist for teams which we introduce to people in our tone workshops.Team leaders and managers can start using this once their teams have been trained, and people can use it as a self-help checklist. It’s a great way of encouraging and helping people shift to the new tone.

Involve your team leaders and managers from the start

It’s crucial that team managers and leaders are fully up to speed and behind the new tone of voice. Even if they don’t think of writing as a part of their day job.They need training so they understand what their teams are going to be learning and so they can support and encourage them once the training is over.

Otherwise (and sadly we’ve seen this happen), people may come out of the training eager to use the new tone, only to be knocked back by managers still thinking in the old way. And the whole thing grinds to a halt.

Choose the right sized training

We’ve found that two-day workshops for groups of up to eight is the best way to get people up and running with a new tone of voice. The first training day covers the tone of voice and new approach to writing, eases people through their concerns (and there are always some) and gives practice in all of the techniques. The second day stretches people further and helps them really try out their new skills in the kind of writing they do – with guidance and support from a trainer at their elbow

Not every team is the same, of course, and this isn’t the only way of doing it. People may need shorter or longer workshops; you may want to train carefully chosen writers to be tone ‘champions’ or develop online learning. It’s important to think about the kind of writing people do and what will be expected of them after the training. This will help you decide how best to structure your training and get your new tone working.

 

3 Playing the long game

It’s really when the training ends that the real work begins. When people start trying to apply the new tone of voice to everything they do. For some, it’ll click in after a few days. Others may struggle for a bit. Understanding that it won’t happen overnight and may take some real effort is important. And there are certain things you can do to make it easier for people.

Relax your KPIs

For a short time after the training, it’s important to give teams some time to come up to speed. They’ll have to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. If teams work to KPIs or tight deadlines, those might get in the way of this process. So when possible relaxing the pressure for a time will give people the opportunity to really think about their writing and make sure it’s right.

We’ve found that this helps them get the new tone under their belt more quickly. And once this happens, things often speed up even more.

Encourage working together

Some people will naturally take to the tone and be good at using it. If you can tap into this and use these people to support and coach others, by all means do.

And getting teams together for regular sessions (even just half an hour) will help keep the ball rolling. Sharing experience, practising the techniques together, and just focussing on writing for a part of the week will all pay off.

Check your tone

It’s always useful to see where people are, once they’ve had a little time to get to grips with a new tone of voice. And it’s only by looking at their writing that you can see whether all the hard work has paid off

We like to come back after our training and review people’s writing – either individually or by team. And we use what we find to remind everyone of what they’re doing well, and what they need to keep an eye on.

Don’t let it disappear

When you invest in a new tone of voice, you want it to become a natural way of working for everyone in the business. And as time goes on, more and more of your writing – both internal and external – will be showcasing your new tone. But it’s also important to remind everyone that it’s a priority, and not a fad of yesteryear.

For key communicators, make it a part of their performance measurement

Create a brand tone microsite where people can go for tools, advice and good examples

Build it into your induction training for new employees.

Put up posters with reminders.

Show it where people least expect it – on your lift and toilet notices, your email footers and the like.

 

The last word

Tone of voice isn’t a set of guidelines. It’s a way of behaving that brings your brand to life. It’s something people do. And if they’re not doing it, it’s not working.

So do all you can to encourage and help people to use it, so that everyone around the business gets it, and makes it part of how they work. This takes some planning and resource. But it’s worth it.