Why it’s OK to abandon your tone of voice

The title of this blog might have thrown you. To be honest, it’s thrown me a little, too — because, as you might expect of a copywriter, I’m usually an advocate of brands setting and then sticking to a specific tone of voice.

A carefully thought out style and tone guideline document puts everyone in your organisation on the same page (literally) and makes it easier to ensure you’re always talking about your business in the right way. Communicating consistently across all channels can help massively when it comes to establishing brand identity — it can create standout, provoke engagement, and establish customer loyalty.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because we’re currently working with a new client on a rebranding project (top secret for now, I’m afraid) where the whole proposition is built upon effectively creating a distinctive tone of voice that appeals directly to their demographic.

But, at the same time, I’ve also felt compelled to consider what happens when you choose to disregard your tone of voice and try something new… And now even I admit that, sometimes, breaking out can by effective — especially when it comes to social media.

The recent twitter response from ‘Argos Helpers’ to a customer is search of a PS4 is a great example of this:

Customer service related content can be pretty dry, but this out-of-the-ordinary attempt to communicate with a customer on their level resulted in tons of priceless national press coverage. Take a look at the Argos Helpers Twitter feed now and you’ll see that they’re making an attempt to keep up the banter too. But, of course, ‘street speak’ and ironic Lion King references have absolutely nothing to do with the family of fuzzy aliens and buoyant tone you’ll see in the Argos ad campaigns.

The Tesco Mobile twitter account has become notorious for its casual interactions, and they’ve even sometimes roped other brands in on the fun. But take a look at the Tesco Mobile website and you’ll see there’s no sign of the same type of conversational tone.

Social media offers a unique opportunity for companies to engage directly with customers, piggyback on topical subjects, show their human side and demonstrate a sense of humour. While some brands (like Innocent) are able to straddle their entire offering with one unified way of speaking, the truth is that the tone of voice you’ve created to govern your website and marketing materials often won’t lend itself as well to the social media stage.

We’ll never know whether brands like Argos and Tesco have simply stumbled into using a social media tone that contradicts their usual style or whether it’s actually all part of a bigger strategy (though I suspect it’s the latter…). But, whatever the answer, it doesn’t at all mean that tone of voice guidelines are dispensable. In fact, they’re more vital than ever.

Because in order to throw away the rule book, you need to have one in the first place.