‘Inconsistent tone of voice will damage brands’

Brands need to put the same effort into creating a unique “tone of voice” for the language used in call centres and on bills as they do for advertising campaigns or risk creating a disconnect that could hit sales, according to brand language experts.


Taking part in a panel discussion hosted by The Writer on the role of language in business strategy, executives from Innocent (pictured), BT and PwC said that establishing a consistent way a brand “sounds” and “interacts” with its consumers was key to stimulating long-term engagement.

This means extending the language used in an advertising campaign to other parts of a business such as call centre scripts, customer letters and bills, they added.

It is hoped that by providing a consistent tone of voice, the perceptions consumers get from an advertising campaign will match their day-to-day dealings with brands.

For Innocent Drinks, the company’s tone of voice has been a key aspect of the brand’s success over the last 12 years, according to Dan Germain, head of creative at the soft drinks company.

He added: “Our tone of voice is unique because it’s not consistent. Sometimes people have off days or they find out really random facts and the language reflects that. It has its ups and its downs and I think people identify with it and it makes our product stand out.”

Germain’s fellow panel members, Jon Hawkins, head of brand language at BT and Adam Kaveney, global brand language leader at PwC shared the view that language needs to be a more integral part of corporate strategy rather than confined to corporate copy guidelines.

BT has spent the last five years looking at how it makes tone of voice as a more integral part of the brand. A process the company’s head of brand language, Jon Hawkins, says stemmed from a business need to address the “stuffy” and “cold” impression customers have on the business.

He adds: “When there’s a consistent tone of voice throughout a company – from the marketing, to the call centres, to the letters – consumers feel more at ease with your product. I’m able to go to meetings now and ream off stats about how our language is having a positive impact on the commercial part of the business.”

One thing that is clearly claiming time for both telecoms provider and agency is “winning over the skeptics” who are used to writing in a particular way.

Kaveney adds: “When I’m talking to people [in the company] about language you have to be able to say there’s a real business case for it and for us it’s about the positive way our clients have responded to how we put proposals together.

The two key challenges for Kaveney are now getting support from the company’s senior members and putting in place a plan to train all new joiners.

For the company to make language shape the culture of business, he said there needs to be some “strengthening at the top but you also need to set it up from the beginning”.