The way they were…

When Norwich Union changed its name to Aviva, the insurance industry was notorious (and none too popular) for refusing to treat people as individuals. So, with ad agency AMV, they developed a new brand positioning built around recognition.

Recognise me

Aviva wanted to behave differently by recognising everyone as individuals, both inside and outside the organisation. They were looking to spread the idea of recognition through their entire international organisation. And they realised that an excellent way to do this was to change the way people write and speak to each other, and to their customers.

300 years of tradition

As Norwich Union, the company had been trading for over 300 years – there was a lot of archaic language still used by people who accepted it as part of the insurance tradition. But most customers didn’t understand it, so it had to change – along with the other tradition of treating customers as just one more number in a bank of figures.

So Aviva called us in on the back of a recommendation, and we started work on getting the ‘recognition’ tone of voice just right.

Bringing the new Aviva tone to life

Once the new tone had been agreed by the board, we created a set of guidelines for everyone to use to change their writing style. Then putting our own pens to work, we rewrote a stack of documents. Some of them sounded as if they’d been written in the 1870s and hadn’t changed a lot since.

Aviva’s language needed to feel more personal and also reassure customers that they were dealing with experts. With our updated documents setting the standard, the new tone of voice began to spread – it was infectious, but in a good way. We started one-day workshops and trained writers, the brand team, actuaries, human resources, lawyers, directors and business coaches. Some were already excellent by the time we met them. Others shed the shackles of a Victorian style and started writing in a more human way.

All in all we trained around 4000 people face to face, in both written and spoken tone of voice, then worked with brand champions who took the message to another 16,000 people. And to take the guidelines out to 28 different countries, we produced a global toolkit for communications people worldwide. And we ran a series of one-hour online tone of voice top-up sessions.

Writing, writing, and more writing

We also wrote communications for departments right across the business. We helped internal communications by loaning an Afia writer to work in-house, three days a week for eight months. We worked on web pages and a tone of voice intranet site where Aviva people can learn about it for themselves. And we wrote the chairman and CEO’s letters for the annual report and trained the internal team to bring the tone of voice to the rest. Then we rested – phew.

Just the start

Aviva grasped that tone of voice is a long-term project. It was a great project for us – and now Aviva themselves are keeping the ball rolling.

And since then Aviva Ireland have asked us in to help improve their written communications through a blend of guidelines, face-to-face training and e-learning.