By Guest Contributor John Simmons
Author of We, Me, Them & It, John Simmons, explains how we can find our voice.
“What happened, did you lose it while you were out? Let’s just retrace your steps…” It’s a strange thing to lose, your voice. A very personal thing. When I first started thinking about ‘tone of voice’ I kept coming back to the memory of my grandmother who, when called to the phone to talk (even to another member of the family), would put on her telephone voice. This posh voice wasn’t hers, but she felt the need to speak as if she were someone else, someone grander than her own perception of herself.
Of course, she struggled with this new technology, the telephone, a machine that came into common use after she was born. Today’s equivalent might be people – hands up! – born before social media became ubiquitous.
What matters is you. It’s your personality that counts, be authentic in your language and don’t adopt a tone that is too formal on the one hand or too matey on the other, too curt or too whimsical. What will your tone of voice say about you? If your real voice comes out, it will be distinctive – to return to the telephone example, think how you can recognise so many voices on the phone without the speakers saying their names.
Let’s think about brands. In We, me, them & it I suggest that we each need to put our own personalities into our writing, including our writing on behalf of brands. If the brand has values – how could it not? -your personal values will relate in some way to the brand’s values. If they don’t, if the brand is so toxic, perhaps you have a hard but necessary decision to make about your relationship with that brand.
I quoted Apple’s director at the time in We, me, them & it: “The new corporate contract is that we’ll offer you an opportunity to express yourself and grow, if you promise to leash yourself to our dream, at least for a while.” That thinking, advanced for its time, has now become mainstream, particularly in these days of working from home.
A brand’s tone of voice needs to start from a clear and compelling articulation of its values. If these are expressed in a way that represents the brand’s reality, and that inspires a creative response by the brand’s own people, you will find your voice. The brand will find a more engaging expression of its voice in words written and spoken to embody that personality.
That’s not easy. Writing isn’t easy, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the effort. But a distinctive tone can be achieved if brands give their own people the permission, space and examples to explore their own voice within the brand’s voice. A little ‘training’ helps too, of the kind that encourages exploration rather than sets down rules. And, of course, the right books help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Simmons is a leading writer in the world of brands, often cited as ‘the inventor of tone-of-voice as a branding discipline’. The book that set out his philosophy is now being republished by LID in a new edition, 21 years after its first publication. It’s become a cult book since first publication, as relevant today as ever. John went on to found two influential organisations for writers – 26 and Dark Angels – that continue to champion more creative writing for business. He’s the author of many books on brands and writing, as well as a novelist and poet.
It’s no good having a good idea if you cannot communicate it to someone else. We, Me, Them & It demonstrates how we can write and use words more creatively and persuasively in business today. From differentiating your company from another, to injecting life and vibrancy into your products and services, to writing everyday emails, this cult business book by the modern-day guru of business writing (now released as a new 21stanniversary edition) shows ways in which we can use words to gain competitive advantage in business life through “tone of voice”.