08 Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice

The problem really begins back in the manse in Kirkcaldy. As the molar-crunching wind of the grim North Sea cripples trees and blasts the granite walls, inside a sparkly-eyed boy asks his dog-collared father what’s for tea. “A bowl of fire and brimstone, laddie! For the Lord Himself will assuage your hunger.” Mis-hearing, young Gordon becomes excited – sausages for supper, hooray!… Fade to black.

The good men of Fife don’t naturally view life through a very cheery lens. And therein the Prime Minister’s current problems. All that inherited John Knox grit and the distrust of style over substance means no votes for presentational pizzazz. What’s a wee boy to do? Two years ago the media lynched Blair for the opposite crime.

Ok, thank you, Jeremy Paxman. What’s your point?
The point is that presentational style isn’t a luxury. Indeed, while it’s daft to say that substance doesn’t matter, it’s the packaging that makes people buy. It’s not the intricacies of Gordon’s policy on tapering tax relief that will lose Labour the next election, it’s his furrowed brow and fake rictus grin.

And how this relates to business is…?
Business success depends entirely on how you are perceived. Not on what you do, not on how you do it, but on how you are perceived by your customers. Brand projection isn’t some game of hoopla the marketing dept play, it’s a method of controlling how customers respond when they hear your name or see your logo.

Whichever marketplace you operate in, it’s a place of information overload and confusing choices. Maybe you do read the RDA% in 4pt print comparing one box of soapflakes with another, in which case congratulations on being a Swiss person. Elsewhere the stats say consumers pick the package that, somehow or other, projects the message of greater trust. This doesn’t happen only in supermarkets.

It happens mostly on the page. Not just in your brand literature, website and other carefully planned marketing exercises. Every piece of writing your company sends out sends a message that defines your brand.

Trustable, likeable, full of integrity… whatever words you’d like your customers to associate with your company, that message is created or killed upon the written page. And sent out every day of the week in vast numbers of emails, letters, reports, bid documents – by people who don’t realise they’re brand ambassadors and for whom writing is usually not a major strength.

So here’s one tip you might want to give them. Most of the time when people are writing they focus on content and information. Would it help to know that when people are reading, they’re focused mostly not on content but on the voice that comes off the page? It’s tone of voice that gets your brand across. It’s tone of voice that controls how you’re perceived.

Good idea to make this message part of your business thinking? Seems poor Gordon can’t hear it for the North Sea howling in his head.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember



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