What questions should you ask when you want to hire a tone of voice?
What’s tone of voice, anyway?

After ten years doing this we feel able to answer most questions about verbal branding.
Here are the answers to the most common questions we get asked. Have a read and feel free to ask us some more.

We have a brand identity and a visual identity. Why hire a tone of voice agency?

A great visual identity differentiates your brand, attracts customers and communicates your values. A set of verbal identity guidelines does the same for you.
And now more than ever, with so many brand channels (and many of them being dominated by language), every brand needs a verbal identity that’s as strong as its visual identity.
Having good writers helps, but it’s often not enough.

We have good writers, won't that be enough?

Good writers make a huge difference. But the best writers are often specialists in their field, and usually don’t have a lot of experience in creating guidelines that will work for everyone.
Think of brand language as being like engine oil for your car. Yep, almost anything will do – if all you want, is to do the same as everyone else: go the same speed, the same direction.
But creating language which performs better in multiple channels, and that everyone can use, means your brand performs better, it becomes more responsive, it can be more agile, you reduce ongoing maintenance costs…and it’s more fun.
When you hire a tone of voice agency, they should be able to offer a full range of services.

What services do you offer?
  • Verbal brand tone of voice guidelines – aka verbal identity guidelines
  • Brand narrative and strategic corporate brand narrative
  • Comms audits
  • Tone of voice workshops
  • Copywriter training and training for non-writers
  • ‘Hero copy’ creation
Is verbal branding only for big multi-national companies? Can startups or scale ups benefit from your services? How?

There are different needs for different brand.
At startup and scaleup, the language must work hard to communicate clearly what exactly you do – conceptualizing your product and offer in the right way in the customer’s mind.
As the business grows, the value proposition will be more settled. Then, there’s a greater need for the brand voice and the verbal identity guidelines to engage customers.
When you hire a tone of voice agency, it’s a great idea to ask what you’ll get and what experience your tone of voice agency has in that area.

Can b2b companies benefit from verbal identity?

We’ve created tone of voice guidelines for businesses in b2b, b2c, tech, luxury and everything in between. What’s always driving the interest is a desire to communicate clearly, build engagement and out-think the competition. Language is the most agile tool anyone can have. What you think about today, can be written about tonight, and become a reality in the customer’s mind tomorrow.
If you’d like to hire a tone of voice agency, then you’ll find that there are many different kinds. Finding the right one that will work for you is critical.

How are you different from other brand language agencies? Do you have a specific methodology? If so, why do you recommend that?

We have developed our own, proprietary framework based on more than 10 years’ experience of working with all kinds of clients. It simply and completely defines the brand voice.
20 years ago, all you needed to define your brand tone of voice was 4 adjectives.
But now, with so many different channels and a greater sophistication of marketing, you need to define your brand voice so it works for every customer segment, in every channel.
Our simple framework helps you define the brand voice completely, so that it will stay consistent but your writers can still flex it to the particular needs of the moment.
Our work is deeply embedded in a clear, flexible process.

What's your process?

We have a clear five-step process that makes sure everyone is on the same page before starting, and that everyone sees the value of the project, as well as being able to contribute to the development of the brand voice guidelines if they want to.

Is it disruptive creating a new tone of voice?

A little, but not that much. We’ve worked with different businesses over the years, so we’ve learnt how to adapt to what they need, when they need it. By being careful and listening hard, we make sure that the new tone of voice is created with buy-in from all stakeholders and that it’s introduced at a pace that everyone can follow.

Do you work in my industry/my country?

Seriously, we’ve worked with clients in the UK, the US, Switzerland, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada…
We’ve worked in b2b, b2c, tech, luxury, startups and global businesses…

Can’t I get my design agency to do this, they already know us, they know what we’re like, and they have writing experience?

Yes, you can get your design agency to do your verbal identity guidelines.
Also, we could do your visual identity guidelines for you, but they wouldn’t be any good: they might not work, they’d take longer to develop and
you’d probably have to get a specialist to re-do in 6 months.

We’re super-specialists in just one thing: brand language.
If you want to make your brand language an unfair competitive advantage and have it adopted by the whole company from Day 1, we advise talking to people who specialize in brand language, and only brand language, and have been doing it for 10 years with a dedicated team of people doing just that. 

What do I actually get – as deliverables?

Typically, a set of verbal identity guidelines run from 8 to 40 pages, depending on the complexity of the brand and the business.
In there, you’ll have:

    • a really useful ‘map’ of how the brands in your sector are talking and where you can locate your brand voice so that it cuts through.
    • all three levels of your brand voice defined, simply and clearly.
    • ‘Hero copy’ examples, so that key copy is written ready to be used and for teaching other writers.
    • writers’ tips to help your writing team become even more productive.
    • a writers’ and non-writers’ induction pack, talking about the brand voice, explaining why it’s important and how to use it.

We’ll also make sure your writers are properly trained and ready to start using the brand voice.

How long will it take?

This is one of the most asked questions when people want to hire a tone of voice agency.
When we’re working with growth brands and startups, we normally ask for around 8 weeks.
For national and global brands, creating verbal identity guidelines take longer, but often is faster than developing visual identity guidelines, for some reason.

Who will need to be involved?

We’ve found that the long-term, most sustainable brand voices guidelines are created by a handful of people, often drawn from in-house teams and sometimes agency teams.

What’s the best time to start a new brand tone of voice?

We’ve joked in the past that the best time to create a new brand tone of voice is when:

  • Your competitors have just updated their brand voice
  • When they haven’t

The fact is, brand language is working everywhere, all the time. It’s certainly worth ‘auditing’ annually.
But if there are specific things you’d like to improve, that might be a good time.
We’ve been called on when a retailer had just changed strategy and needed to change how the brand writers talked about the brand; when a startup was developing their visual identity and wanted a verbal identity that was as strong; when things had ‘slowed down’ in the marketing; when a new Department Head arrived…If something isn’t working with a brand, the language is the fastest, smartest, cheapest tool you can use to get it working again. There’s never a bad time to have a conversation with a brand language specialist.

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