Thursday, December 13, 2012

Does your written communication have the right choice of voice?

Does the average B2B company pay the same attention to 'tone of voice' in written communication as to visual communication compliance in line with corporate identity guidelines?

To gain an insight into how tone of voice impinges on brand values take a look at this article by Ted Albrighton.  When working with clients we strongly advocate that three key documents are at the core of the marketing mission - a marketing plan, a marketing budget and a corporate identity (CI) guide. The CI guide is there to provide a reference for visual communication so that the brand is consistently presented  and advertising material produced in Hong Kong will have the same look and feel of work commissioned in Los Angeles or London.

But what about the words? The way the message is communicated demands consistency too, otherwise your target audience will receive confusing messages about what your brand represents. For example for a B2B claiming market leadership in its chosen sector the tone of voice could be authoritative, building consistently a position that the company knows what it is talking about with the inference that its products can therefore be trusted. The main reason we did not have a written document providing such guidance is that we typically created the words and effectively set the style. This was mainly in the form of press communications and company documentation such as sales brochures, web site copy, data sheets and white papers. The audiences being editors for PR and customers and specifiers for company literature. Press releases  invariably open with the who/what/where/why of the story that unfolds in the following paragraphs and the equivalent of the advertising tag line qualifying the brand is used consistently.

Style is another matter. It should be pitched at a level to suit the target audience. Generally this means stripping out jargon and complex technical terminology while not under valuing the knowledge or intelligence of the reader. The trade press offers a useful guide to the style their readers are comfortable with. Cut and pasting copy from several in-house authors to produce a document needs to be carefully reviewed to eliminate a mixture  of styles which will appear at best disjointed and at worst confusing. Where PR is generated by multiple agencies, then a style guide becomes essential to maintain quality and consistency of output.

Finally companies need to think carefully about tone of voice and style when it comes to social media and not least of course who has authority to write and say what. With target audiences less understood than for traditional B2B communication media, the opportunities to damage the brand through ill chosen tweets or Facebook news feeds is high.

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