Because, no matter how brilliant your organisation’s tone, it can’t have the impact it was designed to unless people hear it and feel it every single time they come into contact with your brand. And for that to happen, the tone will need to be understood and embraced by every person who ever writes or says anything on behalf of the company.
Now there’s no denying that can be a tough journey. And there are lots of pieces to it. It’s most likely to have been the marketing team, plus a few senior managers, who’ve done the work developing the tone – so the other teams across the business probably don’t know much about it. Even if they’ve been kept up to date with the process, at some point they’ll need to be introduced to the refreshed tone itself. You’ll need to talk people through where you’ve got to and how you got there. You’ll need to run various training sessions. You’ll need to create some kind of guide or playbook to help people put the tone into practice.
But there’s something important that you need to do long before you get to any of that. And it’s quite simple. Yet it’s often overlooked. And it’s this:
Before you talk, you need to listen.
That’s right. This shit is ground-breaking.
But it’s remarkable how much smoother the whole process goes if you take the time to hear what people need from you before you tell them what you want from them.
Part of it is about getting a sense of how people approach the writing that they’re currently doing and seeing where the challenges are. You want to know if they enjoy the writing they do – and if not, why not? What kinds of writing do they find the hardest, and why? What’s their process when they need to create a piece of communication – who do they ask for input, who checks or approves it, what guidelines (if any) do they currently look to? Do they feel empowered and trusted as they communicate, or worried about getting things wrong?
Then, looking ahead, you can ask them about what kind of guidance they would find the most helpful. What sort of examples do they need? Are dos and don’ts useful or restrictive? How much detail do they want? Will they prefer to learn by reading or listening/watching? Do they need a go-to person to ask for tone advice or general writing support as well as written guidance?
Depending on the size of the company, you may want to run several sessions like this so you can talk to whole teams at a time (HR, Sales, Fundraising, Ops, etc). Or it might be possible to hold a single session with key content creators and representatives from each team.
However you do it, those conversations will give you vital intel about the tools and structures people will need to achieve the goal you want to set them. What you learn at this stage will be the key to making sure your tone of voice gains the saturation it needs to be effective.
And it’s not just practically useful. It’s an important psychological step. The act of listening in and of itself will help to win you people’s interest in and ownership of the process, making them much more likely to engage further down the line.
So yes, all the big, obvious things like training sessions and toolkits have their place. Certainly you won’t be able to truly embed a new tone without them.
But don’t rush straight to those pieces. Listen to your people first and you’ll find they hear you much better when it’s your turn to talk.
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