English battle is all about ‘tone’

Your article on plain language in the financial services sector “Jargon busters” (MW October 15) was interesting, but it tended to go over old ground.

Surely it’s now time to advance our understanding of this issue a little. For example, how does plain English work in the contemporary world of “brand voices”? And how exactly should language support specific brands?

In many ways, plain English is a battle that’s already been won. As your article states, most large organisations have long been aware of its benefits, and are already improving their documents with “plain alternatives” lists like Ruth Miller’s.

Tackling these obscure words and phrases is vital, but it’s only the start of effective corporate communications.

We believe the real challenge in today’s market is getting the tone right. This means getting the customer relationship right – tailoring language to reflect brand values consistently and accurately.

A company’s tone of voice is not just about clear language, but rather about personality and, ultimately, relationship. This means mastering some traditional areas – the market sector, the brand values, the products and services. But it also calls for new skills linking an understanding of the brand to linguistic style, tone and consistency.

The “relationship writing” involves rethinking how companies present themselves in the market. Each brand voice reaches its target audience through a tone of voice, which is what customers recognise and what cements the customerm relationship.

At present, companies pour enormous resources into design and visual presentation. We believe that when the plain English debate moves on from its heartland – alternative words, clear phrasing, fluency – it will discover the more complex landscape of relationship writing.

And then language can step back into the spotlight where it belongs.

Steve Morris

The Burton Morris Consultancy

London W5

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