Tone of voice, brand voice, verbal identity, brand language – they’re all things for the marketing department to worry about, aren’t they? Yes… and no.
For external communications, using a tone of voice (or brand voice or whatever else you want to call it), is about conveying your brand or organisation’s personality consistently. So people can get to know you, and hopefully like and trust you.
When it comes to internal communications, tone of voice still has a really important part to play. Why? Because when you want to influence how people feel, think or behave, the way you say something is just as important as the information you get across.
Language is also key in building a strong culture. If everyone’s communicating in a similar way – a way that reflects your organisation’s personality and the values it stands for – it creates a sense of unity and belonging. People are more likely to feel connected to both their colleagues and your organisation as a whole.
The magical powers of language
When you use the right tone consistently for internal communications, it can have genuinely transformative effects. It can galvanise support, boost morale, strengthen loyalty, skyrocket productivity, encourage collaboration and more. While striking the wrong tone can dampen enthusiasm, stifle ingenuity, arouse conflict and worse.
Let’s look at an example. If you have something difficult to communicate, it can feel easier to hide behind formality and say something like this:
All employees are expected to work non-contractual overtime to ensure client obligations are fulfilled. Any issues should be raised with your line manager.
This approach could make people a bit prickly and so less likely to comply. How about this instead:
When we have big orders, we might all need to work a few extra hours to keep our clients happy. Let your line manager know if this is ever a problem for you.
Now, that’s better. It’s still saying you might have to work extra hours, but it gives the sense you’ll all be in it together. And, if you need to leave early, your line manager will be open to talking about it.
What tone of voice should you use?
So we’ve established that tone of voice is important for internal communications, but what voice exactly should you use? If your organisation already has a clear voice for external communications, it’s straightforward – you should use that for internal communications too.
‘But I can’t write an IT briefing in the cheeky chappy voice we use on product packaging,’ we hear you say. No, maybe not. But you can use the essence of the cheeky chappy voice and dial it down. Just because you’re writing about IT, you don’t need to use long, convoluted sentences, complicated vocabulary and lots of acronyms. You really don’t!
You can dial it up…or down
Think about people. You might be an actual cheeky chappy, and when you’re talking to your friends your cheeky chappiness is dialled up to the max. When you’re meeting your partner’s parents for the first time or having a job interview, you’re still the same person but you rein the cheeky chappiness in a bit… or a lot. You’re fundamentally you and you communicate like you; you’ve just toned it down.
With internal communications, it’s the same. A video celebrating your team smashing its targets would have your organisation’s personality shining out in full colour. An email about redundancies would still be the same personality, and share many of the same language mechanics, but would be completely toned down.
Need a different voice?
All of that said, there is a case for your internal communications having a different tone of voice from your external communications. And that’s when your organisation owns several brands. Perhaps you’re an FMCG manufacturer, for example, and each of your products has a different brand voice of its own. If that’s the case, you’ll need a corporate brand voice for external communications that aren’t related to one specific brand – and, of course, for internal communications.