Comment: Mind your tone
Why brand voice must be adapted to more audiences than ever
Recently, I’ve been supporting a company outside of the hospitality industry to develop their marketing and communications following the firm’s restructure and rebranding. This business had been given a basic brand pack from an agency — which included a brief narrative, basic values, logo, fonts, stationery and some collateral — and told that this was their ‘brand’. As they started to try and use this ‘brand’, it became apparent that it was sorely lacking. While the visuals were in place, albeit at a rudimentary level, absolutely no thought had been given to how that brand ‘speaks’ to its audience. Without that, both internal and external communications were proving futile. Visuals need a voice, too.
It might seem to be a dramatic example of ‘branding gone wrong’, but it’s unfortunately not uncommon. One might assume that this doesn’t happen in the case of most of the hospitality brands we are all familiar with, but this isn’t true either. While I painstakingly created what is known as ‘tone of voice’ for my client, I recounted their story to a friend, telling him that I couldn’t believe the situation this particular business had been left in. He laughed, reporting that his new company — an international hospitality firm — didn’t have brand guidelines or tone of voice. He had requested this from both regional and head office, but told that it didn’t exist.
Even if we do assume most hoteliers have these policies in place, brands are regularly evolving, adapting and even merging. Are these all-important brand and communication documents and guidelines being updated in tandem? And are they relevant in the modern world of communications? As I developed my client’s tone of voice, I realised how much this process has changed in recent years.
Creating a tone of voice involves following a straightforward process and developing guidelines that are fairly formulaic in their structure — it’s the dos and don’ts of how your brand will use language to communicate with its customers. Ideally, it’s presented with examples of how to write and how not to write, with each example supporting a certain brand trait or characteristic.
This is because tone of voice isn’t what we say, it’s how we say it. Multiple studies claim that when we speak to someone, our words account for only 7% of the meaning. The rest comes through our pitch, our gestures and our body language. Imagine the various ways a parent can ‘tell’ a child basic instructions such as ‘sit down’ or ‘come here’.
When we write, most commonly today in emails or on social media, the recipient or audience can only read our words. We lose all the power of our non-verbal communication. For brands, this makes the tone of voice very important to the way words are understood and interpreted by our audiences.
Nowadays, there’s a multitude of ‘tones’ to be considered. We used to develop language in simple categories —internal vs eternal, formal vs informal. Now, the vast array of channels being used by hotels to communicate dictates that several tones are needed.
For these tones to be successful, they must all stem from one very distinct voice, which must be based on clearly defined and lived brand values.
Think of a typical customer journey. Before arriving at your hotel, they most likely interact with your brand on a variety of channels — through your advertising, your brochures, on your website, via Facebook and Instagram, through email and later, via your in-room marketing collateral and face to face, with various hotel employees during their stay. Each one of these channels will ‘talk’ to your guest in a different way, but their personality should remain the same.
‘Tone of voice’ may sound like one of those tedious brand communications policies, but getting it right is a complex process that relies on education of the entire hotel team.
If you’re a head of department, make sure you’re familiar with your hotel brand’s ‘voice’ and check you and your team are using it in the right tone, at the right time. The impact may be far more wide reaching than you realise.
About the Author: Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org