• Transform magazine
  • April 14, 2021

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Five minutes with Charli Nordone

Charli Headshot B&W

Charli Nordone, group creative director at brand language agency The Writer, speaks to Transform magazine about how having a distinctive tone of voice helps brands resonate with the right people and target a certain audience and how the pandemic has forced brands to reconsider their brand voice, reflecting on whether their narrative and messaging is the right one.

Why is brand language important? What do ‘tone of voice’ projects entail?

Maybe the question is, why is it not? Every brand considers their logo and colour palette to be important, sacrosanct even. But they don’t necessarily think that having a consistent brand voice is as important. Lots of brands do. But not all. So I want to question that logic. Think about all the places that people – customers, employees, stakeholders, the press – come across a brand’s words. There’s website copy, ads, customer emails, service messages, even the small print like terms and conditions, and if you slip in any one of those places, then it’s an opportunity missed.

As for the process of a tone of voice project, it starts with us getting to know a client and their writing, figuring out what they want to stand for, and looking at how they compare to their competition. And we use all of that to build a tone of voice – a set of principles for how they sound, with really clear, practical tips that anyone can follow. 

How does having a distinctive tone of voice improve how companies deal with customers?

It helps you resonate with the right people. If you know you’re trying to appeal to more start-ups, say, or people in their twenties, shifting your language can shift how those groups see you. It makes you memorable. In a sea of emails that sound the same, customers and potential customers will remember the one that made them smile, or had them hooked from the first word. And it builds empathy. Sounding like a human being rather than a faceless corporate helps you make a proper connection with your customers, and that connection will keep them coming back.

Once a brand has a tone of voice, what then? How do they make it stick and make sure everyone is using it consistently?

Getting a set of tone of voice guidelines is just the start. What you don’t want is for people to file it away or chuck it in a drawer and forget about it. It’s all about how you bring it to life for people. Start with training. Virtual sessions that are fast-paced, interactive and fun – not your eyes glazing over as someone reads out Powerpoint slides. 

Proving your tone of voice actually works should be a priority, too. Try rewriting a few pieces that you can measure – like emails, web pages, or anything high profile. If you can show that your tone of voice made people 75% more likely to open an email, or twice as likely to pay a bill on time, that’s a direct link between your words and your bottom line. With one of our clients, we helped them rewrite 150 letters and it saved them £1.4m. Tone of voice can make and save you money. 

What impact has the pandemic had on the way brands communicate, and what would your advice to them be?

Brands are doing some soul searching. We’ve seen a lot of businesses overhauling their messaging, purpose and comms strategy since the start of the pandemic. It’s as if the massive scale of change has left people thinking: is what we stand for, and the way we describe ourselves, fit for purpose going into 2021? So our advice to comms and brand teams would be to take a good look at your narrative and messaging as it stands at the moment, and work out what needs a refresh. We can help.

When it comes to more everyday comms to do with covid: think about your reader, keep it concise, and cut the clichés. We’re so saturated with ‘we’re-here-for-you’ messages from brands, so we’d say to really consider: do I actually have something to say? And what do my readers need, right now? Tell them something new.