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Learning to love our own language

Posted by: Mark Griffiths on

What, exactly, are we asking our communications colleagues to do when we present them with Tone of Voice Guidelines? Here’s a point of view that suggests writing ‘on brand’ requires a certain amount of falling in love with our own language.

Back in the 90s and early 00s, when Millennials didn’t know they’d be called Millenials, Tone of Voice Guidelines were a brilliant innovation. At last, some guidance from brand people for communicators on how to write ‘on brand’! ‘We’ve invented some company values. Now, all you have to do is transform those values into everyday English that distinguishes us from all our competitors.’

In more innocent times, this all sounded very plausible. A plucky communications team with a lucky budget might get a workshop with a few inspirational exercises on creative writing techniques. After that, well, your motivation was your own affair.

Times have changed. Yet Tone of Voice Guidelines are still here. They look, feel and sound pretty much the same. Unfortunately, the way we expect communicators to use them also remains pretty much the same. ‘Here’s the manual. Now get on with it! (Although we can no longer afford the workshop.)’

We don’t learn to communicate from books

It’s just so difficult to learn from a manual, even if it’s only written in English, without 26 additional translations from Filipino to Finnish.

Nobody likes to be handed a set of instructions. If it’s the team’s task to communicate brilliantly on behalf of the business, then the team should participate in the creation of Tone of Voice Guidelines.

If the company’s structure contains a variety of communications teams – from Corporate to HR and Internal to CSR – they should all work together to create a tone of voice. Guidelines should never simply be handed down from Marcomms.

Communications is a profession in the business like any other. Like Legal and Finance, it requires a conscious mindset to perform to its best. Unlike Legal and Finance, communications teams tend not to get the respect they deserve as professionals. They get a handed down manual and are expected to get on with it. Very little training or personal development. This just won’t do.

We all need to keep learning

Performing to the high standards any business expects of its communicators calls for a way of thinking and behaving that tone of voice guidelines alone cannot reach.

Yet such guidelines can be very useful where the company sees the value of continuing professional development for people in communications roles – as teams and individuals.

Contrary to the continuing trend for visual-only communications, those of us tasked with company communications need to be more than competent and capable in the use of language. We need to be confident that we are the best users of language in the business.

Falling in love (again) with our own language. For communicators, this is where the journey towards commitment, satisfaction and excellence needs to begin.

Let’s get started!

Author: Mark Griffiths
Mark Griffiths

I blog about better business writing.