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Tone of voice is for showing up, not just showing off

Discover the power of internal brand voice with Jack Wells.

Jack Wells from Writing Club talks all things brand tone of voice

Everybody knows about tone of voice when it comes to advertising. We can all recognize the motivational rhythm of a Nike TV spot, or the techy minimalism of an Apple product launch. And when we talk about tone of voice, we tend to think of the big external stuff: adverts, billboards, headlines, packaging. 

And at the Writing Club, we love writing all that. But we’re here to tell you that the power of ownable, authentic writing goes way deeper than catchy headlines for adverts and packaging. Writing can help you see your business totally differently – it can shape your workplace, motivate your team and take you to brave new places. 

In a branding world that is full of unread, overcomplicated tone of voice documents, we want to help your voice escape the desk drawer and change everything. Your words don’t just describe stuff. They create it. 

It just takes a little bit of focus. 

Take aim. Write. 

Your voice is at its most powerful when it’s trying to do something specific. A rebrand should never happen for its own sake. It’s got to have a business problem to solve, or an opportunity to capture. 

Maybe you’re moving into new markets. Or there’s a perception of your brand that doesn’t fit where you’re at anymore. That’s where Eurostar were when we started helping them with their writing, as part of their big rebrand in 2022. 

Tone of voice work for the UK travel brand, Eurostar

The train network had grown from being a single train line between France and the UK to a Europe-wide travel network. They had a history of brilliant writing – all in a voice that poked fun at British and French cultures, playfully mixing languages and drawing on stereotypes the two nations held about each other. 

But it didn’t fit them anymore – they were speaking to more audiences, in more languages, which meant the jokes didn’t always translate. The world had changed, too: in a post-Brexit world, jokes about the UK’s relationship with other European countries felt a little… charged

So we designed a voice that was born from Eurostar’s new aim: make train travel around Europe seamless and fun. The writing always had the purpose of making your train journey easier, with a super clear style that you could read in a rush. And then we added a touch of wanderlust, infusing the writing with a sense of the joy of travel, giving it a bright and positive focus that would make journeys fun and just a little bit magical. 

Personality is all well and good – but without a clear problem to solve, tone of voice writing can become self-indulgent and flabby. What do you want your writing to do? Choose. And stay focused on it. 

Stay simple

Once you know what your voice is trying to do, you need to find a simple way of expressing it. All your writers will need to hold it in their heads while they’re writing for you. So it helps to have a hook.  

For example, Monzo tell their writers to make life easier – a simple instruction that everyone can remember. Nike writes to inspire every athlete. Honda’s tone is expressed as a mantra, the power of dreams. The tones you recognize are the ones that kept it simple. 

Tone of voice example for Monzo Bank, showing that simplicity is key
Image credit: Monzo

At some point in every tone project, someone important is going to say the brand tone of voice needs a couple of extra adjectives in it, to reflect the full nuance of your big clever complicated business. It will sound like a sensible idea. But it’s a recipe for a boring set of guidelines that get ignored. A voice is a simple thing. So be brave and stay simple. 

Let your tone out 

Your tone is useful in all the obvious places. But it’s more powerful when you let it out of the marketing department and into everything else: the small print, the terms and conditions, the notices on the broken toilet door. We mean everything. It’s not just for external audiences. It’s for everyone in your team, too. 

As part of a tone refresh for the UK phone network EE, we helped change the names of their customer service teams. The brand wanted to stop being seen as a utility provider and start inspiring their customers to explore the magic of technology.  

Tone of voice brand work for telecommunications brand EE in the UK

We helped them  find a new name for their customer service team: and the result was EE Guides. Rather than an old-fashioned, passive service job, it created a new perspective for looking at the role. EE Guides turn up every day to guide people to the possibilities and the magic of technology. 

EE found it worked so well they changed the job titles of everyone across service in their business to some sort of guide. Technology Guides, In-Store Guides – it put the story of what they are doing at the centre of the real, day-to-day stuff. It changed how everyone showed up. 

Change the words. Change the work. 

A change of wording can change a job, a relationship and a mindset. The artist and bookmaker Irma Boom calls the people she makes work for ‘commissioners’ rather than clients. It gives them a more concrete role in a collaborative process, and shapes what they can contribute, rather than forcing them into a traditional buyer and seller relationship. 

Jack and Aimee from Writing Club talking to the team at MOO
Jack and Aimée from Writing Club

It can also shape how you turn up to meetings. We helped the tech retailer Currys rename their HQ meeting rooms – in the UK, Currys competes with the likes of Amazon by giving their customers the personal expertise they need. Currys shops are full of super knowledgeable staff who can answer all your questions. The company runs on the passion for tech. So we named their meeting rooms after geniuses who had done big things in technology. And on the wall of each room, we printed a small bio of the person the room was named after.  

It’s a small change. But it means that people who make decisions for Currys are thinking about tech innovation every time they walk into a meeting room. 

Actions speak louder (but words make it happen)

Tone of voice can change the way you work. We’ve helped video gaming companies challenge toxic cultures in their industry by adopting a fiercely positive, inclusive writing style. We’ve helped football academies change their approach to education with writing that celebrates all kinds of excellence, on and off the pitch. 

And we’ve written books for restaurant servers that initiated them into a rich history of their company, making them part of something that’s bigger than a job. This stuff is too powerful to be left in a desk drawer. 

A MOO Notebook being used to plan branded activity

Your voice matters more than ever

Companies have always set the tone for their workplaces through office design. But in the hybrid working era, we don’t primarily experience our workplaces as buildings anymore. 

Many of us are not in the office all the time, if ever – so the way we talk to each other has become more important. The words we use create the way we experience the work we do. 

So it matters more than ever that your voice is clear, consistent and imbued with a sense of identity. Your writing is not just for out there, it’s for in here too. 

Because your words are not just selling the work. They’re doing it.

Jack Wells is the Creative Director of the UK writing agency, Writing Club. Get fresh inspiration from Writing Club every month in The Clubhouse.

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