Monzo Bank brand tone of voice guidelines

I moved my business’ banking to Monzo because of their brand tone of voice guidelines.

Not just for that reason, but when it was time to move, their voice (like the rest of their UI) was simple, colourful, and approachable.
And when you look at their brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank, you realise they’re pretty good.
(My score for them is at the end if you want to see how I rated them.)

Even their brand tone of voice guidelines have a strapline!

I’m a sucker for good, bright layout. And Monzo makes their brand tone of voice guidelines enjoyable to read with bright colours, a few friendly emojis (but avoids emoji soup) and good use of white space.
Plus, they have a strong strapline for their brand tone of voice guidelines:Monzo bank brand tone of voice guidelines header page

A solid list of contents, without overwhelm.

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - contents

It’s tricky when you’re a Head of Verbal Identity – you want to make sure everyone is given every possible guidance. But the danger then is that the guidelines become so heavy, metaphorically speaking, that no one ever picks them up.

Is this list of contents everything you’d need for the brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank?
Almost, but not quite.

The list of contents fits on one scroll. Congrats to the team for their restraint.

Writers’ tips first or the tonal values first?

When you’re writing brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank (well, for any brand really), you want to keep in mind who you’re writing for.
Good writers know that every word matters. And that we have to write like humans, not machines.
So, should there be some pre-amble before you get into the brand-specific advice?

I think it depends not just on your audience, but the impression you want to create.
Monzo’s head of brand voice has done something clever here – a lot of their writers will have come from working with other financial services’ brand voices.
They’re used to being told what to do. Being hemmed in.
Here, by creating some (very easily readable) pre-amble, they’ve positioned the brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank as being nearer to everyday consumer brands than to other financial services.
Smart move.
And more restraint by avoiding indulging themselves with too much chat about the power of brand voice.

Removing the hierarchy encourages uptake.

Sorry, that sub-head’s a bit of a mouthful.
And ironically, it conflicts with the advice they give later in “A brief history of ‘professional’ English” (see below).
What I was trying to say, is that too often, brand tone of voice guidelines talk down to their readers.
They act as though they know everything.
They seem blind to what writing is like in real life for brand writers.
Here, the authors have been smart again, by signalling that they don’t know everything:

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - the nice bit

Keep your eyes on the prize.

If you accept that diving straight into the tonal values is too much of a blunt approach, when do you introduce the tonal values?
Monzo’s authors have been smart again. Mid-way through the pre-amble, they’ve got to the main point -but without overegging it:

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - the tonal values of Monzo

And what do we think of this brief summary?
A solid 7/10.
Some of the stuff is the same as everywhere else.
That first point, write like our audience talks – does anyone ever try to do anything different?
And that last point, do they need to say it to the writers, who generally have an ear for making things inclusive? Or is it a note for product managers who want to make their products sound technical (and will probably reject this advice)?

In between are two solid points. About being ambitious and positive.
And being transparent on why they’re doing things.
A good, accessible summary.

Want to talk about your own brand tone of voice guidelines?
Email me. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.
And strangely, I’m still happy to talk about it.

A beautiful bit of writing.

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - a bit about professional english

I love that the authors of what could be just ‘brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank’ decided to make it a more human document.
I’m pretty familiar with the development of the English language, and I know most of what they’re writing about, but I’ve rarely heard it expressed so well.
Great job.

Something for everyone to remember.

The week I’m writing this, the DJ Steve Wright died. His name might not mean much to you. But I was surprisingly affected by his death.
He’s been there on the radio, in the background of my life, and always with the same energy, since the late 70s.
But more than that, I first heard him when I was about 18 and there was something different about him.
It was the first time I really understood that an adult could be silly, but still be serious.
Too often, we grow up thinking serious has to be straight-faced, all controlled and rational.
So, hat’s off to the authors for this very important prick to pomposity:

Brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - a note on seriousness

Monzo’s brand tone of voice – tone 1: Ambitious positivity.

I quoted Monzo’s brand tone of voice guidelines in my (ahem, #1 best-selling) book on brand tone of voice, Strong Language.
They’re such a good example of how the brand tone of voice can open up the brand positioning.
Here’s their first tonal value:

brand tone of voice for a neobank - tonal value 1 for Monzo2

What happened?
I thought it was all going to be about ambition, but it’s about keeping the reader in your mind.
Not bad advice.
But nothing that I know of that has to do with ambition.
What’s next?

brand tone of voice for a neobank - Monzo positive
Ok, back on track.
There’s a lot of good stuff in here.
It talks about why the brand voice serves a greater purpose, rather than just the writing.
It’s friendly.
Sentences are short.
And for a description of positive, it’s mostly positive.
Good work.

Next value, please!

Transparently the active voice

Here’s the description of the tonal value of ‘transparency’ that was mentioned earlier:
brand tone of voice for a neobank. Transparency of MonzoThis isn’t truly about making the brand writing amplify the notion of ‘transparency’.
It kind of is.
But it’s more about using the active voice instead of the passive voice.
If you’re unfamiliar with that, here’s how they explain it brilliantly…

The best-ever explanation of the active voice vs the passive voice

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank passive voice

So, no – not about transparency. But a great way of explaining how to spot the passive voice.
Do they get back on track with transparency after this?

If you already have good tone of voice guidelines, what’s holding your brand back?
If you’d like to get some training for your writers in tone of voice, all you have to do is ask.
(Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s pretty simple to try out some copywriter training courses.)

A messy tail.

Oh, what happened here?

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank - messy tail

All good advice.
But not a logical way to progress the idea of transparency or why it’s important to create it in the brand voice.
What else?

Good advice. But is it in the right place?

brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank some genreal advice

You can read more of what Monzo Bank thinks should go into the brand tone of voice guidelines for a neobank here.
There’s a lot more general advice.
They’re good and far, far better than most brand tone of voice guidelines in the financial services sector.

What did the brand voice guidelines miss, IMO?

I don’t want to criticise these brand voice guidelines too harshly.
For two reasons.
First, they clearly work. As I mentioned, I moved my business’ banking to Monzo partially because their tone of voice makes them convincing as a customer-first business.
But also, because they’re so much better than most tone of voice guidelines in the financial sector.

What would I have added?

If you want to read what I think (and it is based on 20 years of experience) should go into a complete set of brand tone of voice guidelines, take a quick flick through my book, Strong Language.
Brand tone of voice book
Or email me and I’d be happy to hear what you’re trying to do and give you some pointers.
But for me, here’s what else could have gone into Monzo’s brand voice guidelines.
1. Go into more detail on the tonal values – there’s a start with ‘Ambition’ and ‘Transparency’, but not enough detail. And too few examples.
2. Link to a style guide. While I hate it when brand owners confuse a style guide with a real set of brand voice guidelines, they are important – they avoid wasting a lot of time.
3. Show how to flex the voice. When are you more or less ‘Ambitious’? As I mention in my book, you don’t want to overwhelm a customer with your high-flying ambition if you’re sending them a letter apologising for a mistake you’ve made.
4. Show how the brand voice fits into the overall brand identity. Something up the front would help with that. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just explain how the voice serves the brand (and the brand serves the corporate goals).

Overall rating?

This is a good piece of work. And it supports the overall tone of voice that’s being created everywhere on Monzo.
It avoids overkill that would make the guidelines unreadable.
But it does also miss out some critical things.

Overall, 8/10.
Well done, Monzo.

About Verbal Identity

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