Insights

From brand positioning, right down to tone of voice, why both matter

Put simply, a positioning statement defines why someone would purchase from your company, be it a product or a service. It tells us what problem you solve, and for whom, and, if you have competition, why you are better. Put even more simply, ‘this is why you should chose us, and not those guys next door!’

If we were to interrogate that further and align that to your product, or service, how should that message manifest itself, and how should you talk to your audience? More so, if you have more than one audience, should you talk to each one differently? (Psst. I’ll tell you a secret: yes, almost all of the time.)

Uncovering that message doesn’t need hours of interrogation. It just needs a few simple, but good, questions. 

Why was the company set up in the first place?

What was the motivation and driving force behind the founding of your company? Was there a burning passion to do something different, or buck the status quo? What is the belief system in place that shapes all decisions?

This is why we insist on working with founders. They are the North Star of the company: the one that woke up one morning, and said ‘I am doing something different today.’ If they aren’t, we look for someone who is.

What basic human value does your company offer?

Sometimes the motivation behind a company’s work is more abstract. Rather than answering a particular social or material need, it appeals to something more psychological. Understanding your audience’s emotional needs helps frame the way you talk to them.

Take insurance, for example. If it is protection of an asset that has both high financial and sentimental value, this emotion is something the insurer should convey as it will help frame the way you talk to the broker or the end insured.

How is the way you work different?

Each company has its own way of doing things, or how it looks after its staff. Does the company behave the same way internally, as it does externally? Bravo if you do, you have a strong set of guiding principles.

The power of why

See the first word of the previous three sub-titles? (I’ll give you a clue: ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how.’) We can’t dismiss a good idea, even if it isn’t ours. Simon Sinek created a great framework for understanding the power of why. At the heart of all companies there is always a why. The why is the story, and the most compelling reason to buy a product or service from a company. A company’s products or services are often comparable, and therefore it is the instinctive human story—the why—that sets them apart.

What is tone of voice?

As graphic designers, we like to think our layouts and typography make a difference. Strip away that though, and what are you left with? The written word. (Don’t get me wrong, layout and typography are important, but words are the powerhouse of design.)

And, more often that not, it is not what you say but how you say it. Some people call it a brand voice, or a verbal identity, but a tone of voice is a framework for expressing an organisation’s personality through all of its communications, not just its website. When we say all, we mean all. (More on that later.)

Why is tone of voice important?

It’s an expression of the people behind the brand. It’s not just what a company does, but who it is that makes it a brand. A tone of voice both embodies and expresses the brand’s personality and set of values. A company’s foundations lie with people, and this shared vision should be communicated consistently.

It sets you apart from the rest

A brand’s tone of voice should be distinctive, recognisable and memorable. If you stripped away the elements that make up your brand identity, would your audience know the words were yours? This may seem like a tall order until we consider the use of our own language in everyday life. We all employ language – both written and spoken – in our own way. Culture and dialect are the most significant factors dictating our approach to words, but within these, we each have our own idiosyncrasies, expressions and inflections, and pace. “You say tomato, I say tomahto”, springs to mind here.

Expressing personality

Once you have identified your company values, you can start thinking about your personality. Are you playful, cheeky and fun, or intellectual, inspiring and sharp witted?

It’s easy to assume you want a down-to-earth chatty style with the odd bit of humour, but is this really what your customers want? Particularly if you have lost a piece of jewellery, and are phoning the claims line. (Yup, there’s that insurance example again!)

A tone of voice guide

In our humble opinion, Monzo have mastered this with their own tone of voice guide.

We had the pleasure of hearing Harry Ashbridge of Monzo talk at one of YCN’s events last summer, Crafting brand-defining copy. Harry summed up the reason for really nailing your brand proposition and why a verbal identity is so important: “companies tend to write nicely when it’s jazzy brand stuff, but fall over hard when it’s anything behind the scenes or serious.”

This is really important, because, chances are your customer might be really annoyed by something, and if words aren’t chosen carefully at that pain point, then all that hard earned trust can be lost in seconds. (Think an error message, or complaints, here.)

Without those key guiding lights – your positioning and tone of voice – it is so easy to forget the details.

Remember, not everyone comes through the front-door of your brand, namely your homepage, so each touch-point really matters.