Editor’s Note: This is the fifth post in a series about tone of voice. In case you missed it, check out our previous post about how to adopt your tone of voice in your writing style.
Once you’ve identified your brand values and defined a new tone of voice, the final step in the tone of voice development process is making sure that it’s understood and used throughout your organization. That’s easier said than done. Fortunately, creating a guide for people to refer to when they write will go a long way toward helping.
Creating a guide is pretty simple. The basic idea is to outline the key concepts and back them up with relevant examples. That said, we also recommend including the following sections within your guide:
- Positioning statement. Why you’ve decided to start managing your tone of voice, and how this guide can help people in their writing.
- Brand values. A summary of the brand values you’ve identified.
- Tone of voice. How your brand values translate into writing style.
- Key phrases. Forms of words that express something crucial about your brand or your values. These could be public content like ad slogans or corporate taglines, or just frequent sayings within your business.
- Sample texts showing how your tone of voice works in different situations. You may also want to include illustrations of what not to do (for example, how not to respond to complaints).
- Hints and tips. Mnemonic devices to help people remember your tone of voice guidelines, or suggestions to help them integrate your tone of voice into their day-to-day writing.
Your guide doesn’t need to be a 100-page monster. It should have enough detail to be useful, but not so much that it becomes daunting. Around 10-15 pages should be plenty, depending on how many examples you need to cover. Importantly, whatever you do write should be in your tone of voice — ironically, something some brands forget.
10 Tips for Rolling Out Your Tone of Voice
Of course, there’s no point creating a new tone of voice — or a guide to it — if it doesn’t get used. That’s why we’re focusing the majority of this post on offering tips for making sure your tone of voice becomes part of the day-to-day writing throughout your organization.
- Make it memorable
For day-to-day writing, you need your guidelines in a form so you can check them quickly and easily. A carefully crafted one-pager, or a well-designed poster, might be more useful than a book — or, at least, a useful complement to a book. Using mnemonics and acronyms is another simple, snappy way to help people remember tone guidelines.
- Offer some training
The most obvious way to teach people about your new tone of voice is to train them. You can commission a third-party trainer or do it yourself. If you have a very large organization, a “train the trainer” approach might work best, whereby experienced writers or trainers work with managers, who then go back and share what they’ve learned with their teams.
Whatever approach you choose, make sure the training involves a lot of hands-on work, not just sitting and listening. Your tone of voice only has value if people actually use it.
- Schedule regular health checks
To see how your tone of voice is getting along, hold a meeting where you review your writing over the last year or so. You can also look at examples from other brands — competitors, or companies in other sectors — that might fire you up to stretch your tone a little bit. You could even build tone of voice into people’s formal reviews, so their performance rating depends on them using your tone in their work.
- Kill some sacred cows
Every business has its linguistic totems — key documents that everyone sees, and that set the tone for the whole organization. They might be everyday things like login screens, or highly visible publications like annual reports. By finding and changing them, you show everyone that your tone of voice has changed.
- Appoint tone guardians
To make sure tone of voice is being actively managed, consider appointing a “tone guardian” whose job it is to monitor tone of voice day to day. If it’s everybody’s job to monitor tone of voice, it ends up being nobody’s.
Bear in mind that your change leader or tone guardian doesn’t have to be a writer — in fact, it might be better if they’re not. The people who understand the positive effect, and relish the challenge of making it happen, can be more effective because they focus on the business benefits without getting bogged down in whether they like a piece of writing or not.
- Build processes
If you create a lot of text in your company, you’ll need a robust process for commissioning, editing, approving, and publishing your content, or it will be almost impossible to impose your tone of voice. Whoever checks or approves text needs to make sure it’s written in the right tone. If the approval process involves a lot of people commenting or amending, the text may need rechecking to make sure it’s still on tone.
- Win over the doubters
As with any other type of organizational change, there will be some people who resist your new tone of voice. For example, people might find a way to avoid training sessions, or attend without really getting involved. Language is an expression of our own personality, so people can get upset when you ask them to use the brand’s voice instead of their own. You need to be diplomatic and tactful.
- Find and fix your pain points
One effective tactic for building commitment is to find your company’s pain points, wherever they are, and focus your efforts there. Maybe your website badly needs updating, or you’ve been using the same lackluster client presentation for too long.
- Grab some quick wins
Another technique is to identify the documents that have the most measurable effect, and change them. This helps you achieve “quick wins” and make a strong case for the rest of your rollout.
- Share success stories
If someone has written something outstanding in your tone of voice, share it throughout the company. Maybe they found a neat way to express a complicated idea, or they dealt with a sensitive situation, or they developed a great advertising slogan. Whatever it is, it can show people that your new tone of voice is delivering real results, while also giving them another concrete example of how it can work.
To find out more and to learn how to help your company develop its tone of voice, check out Acrolinx’s free eBook, “Watch Your Tone! What Your Company’s Tone of Voice Matters and How to Get it Right.”