Branding and the art of good copy.
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Tone of voice: So what makes good copy?
We all need words, of course we do. I need them now, man I need a few now. But seriously, this isn’t about my weekly blog and the constant search for a few loosely strung sentences I hope will be of some interest, somewhere on the vast plains of the internet. This is about brands, branding, positioning and the value we put (or not) on what many call tone of voice (TOV).
Let’s be honest when it comes to branding, most marketing depts are happy to stick in a few key words and phrases that ‘reflect our character’, some do’s and don’t mind if I don’ts on grammar and a few example boilerplates and sign offs, but basically no, not really. Most give up there, get the visual designers in and start shouting ‘hey, aren’t we pretty!’.
Which is a shame of course. Not least for us copywriters .. we need our crust too you know, but seriously, considered and thoughtful editorial can enhance and often lead the core positioning of any brand.
I think the biggest problem with ‘tone of voice’ is the term tone of voice . Its just another example of industry speak which gets punted out because that’s what you do. From the word ‘brand’ down there’s plenty of other examples of processes and disciplines that get pushed and extolled but in our experience are often misunderstood at best, and generally ignored. Please, don’t just don’t get me started on values, positioning and purpose. But I digress, its TOV we are here to talk about and damn it Janet so we shall.
So what is it? TOV is the expression of you, your organisation or product (fit in the word brand there if you want) in the form of words; expressed verbally or in a written format. And those expressions can take many forms, from brand and positioning statements to ‘key messages’, boilerplates, marketing collateral copy, advertising all the way through to internal newsletters, job descriptions, KPI’s, signage and livery. And this is important because the this TOV of ours can actually influence and effect a far wider spectrum of any brand identity than a well-kerned logo or zingy colour palette.
They just always seem to get left behind said the grumpy copy writer. Always playing catch up to their more glamorous glitzy-pretty neighbors in the identity toolkit, the visuals.
The clearest manifestation of TOV is the way in which we write and speak, what we say and how we say it. And like a person, what we say is dictated by our principles and values, experiences and aspirations, by our personality and particular colour that it brings. How we say depends on other factors. Corporate through marcoms strategy, nature of the business, commercial imperatives and budgets; are we a digital brand living primarily on social using Insta shorts and Twitter feeds, a more traditional set up that still relies on display advertising or a service brand that’s pay point is much more face to face… Each has its own demands, each has a discipline, and all have real value when done well.
And like every aspect of your brand strategy, the best expression of TOV, your verbal identity, will always come from a strong central idea about what makes us, us, you, you. Know thyself and you have your start, allocate the appropriate thinking and effort to all the key manifestations of your brand – how it supports corporate strategy, reflects the business and offer, is positioning relative to market, competition and customer and of course, how it looks and how it sounds. And then, to get full value take the time to understand how your identity manifests itself and where you will need to consider its influence and effect. Only than can you put in place the implementation strategy necessary to be able to inform and engage staff to apply it clearly, consistently and positively.
There are many different types of copy in the world, that each require different disciplines. Your may use the clever-clever approach, you maybe a challenger brand with controversial, thought-provoking messages or you maybe that familiar consumer presence that adopts a more friendly conversational style. But just because it looks simple, they are just words after all, the danger is that everyone has a go – well, from the nib and mouse of a writing professional I say this, resist! Get a professional to do it because if it’s done well the opportunities and benefits are manifest.
At time of writing Adrian is still a copywriter, battling on to sell the sizzle in the steak, still passionate, pleasingly adequate and available for work.