Who speaks for your organization?

Many voices speak for your organization, through many channels. It’s easy for inconsistency to follow.How many people speak for your organization? There are a lot: the marketing department, yes, and every salesperson. But also every member of the leadership team, and indeed—thanks to social media—every single employee has a voice. These voices show up in every communication directly to customers and those sent to the world at large, amplified through a variety of difficult-to-monitor and hard-to-control channels.

With all these disparate voices, there is a strong tendency towards inconsistency.

Employee’s voices are powerful.
We live in an era when any employee can speak for the organization. And the more employees your organization has, the more difficult it is for the organization to “stay in character,” that is, to guide consistency in tone of voice. It’s one thing if you only have one person responsible for creating all your touchpoints—your emails, your web site copy, your sales decks, your proposals, etc. But the more employees you have, the more you’re in danger of inconsistency, as I indicate in the figure below.

Figure 1. The difficulty of maintaining consistency in your tone of voice rises rapidly with the number of employees who speak for the organization. Social media (such as LinkedIn) has given every employee a public microphone. If you’re trying to create consistency in your tone of voice, how can you help them? 

The more employees you have, the more inconsistent your tone tends to be. We’re looking for consistency in tone of voice, not rigidity.
Being consistent doesn’t mean that your tone of voice must be rigidly the same in every instance. As you start out controlling your tone of voice, your financial statement will have a more serious tone than the announcement of the dates for your company picnic. As you gain more practice, maintaining tone of voice in something like a financial report is a powerful way to cement an archetype. An organization with a black-belt level of control over its messaging would be able to inject the appropriate tone of voice into any document.

We’re looking for consistency, not rigidity.While organizations at the top of their messaging game may be able to make this happen, most organizations aren’t at that level, and need to start by focusing on the basics—like, for instance, thinking about consistency at all.

My point is that most life science marketing organizations ignore tone of voice, and so miss an opportunity to differentiate themselves. But if you’re going to try to harness this tool, you’ve got to go through several steps.

The stages of implementing tone of voice in your marketing toolkit.
Organizations that harness tone of voice effectively have gone through the following process.

Stage 1: Decide.

The five-step process for implementing tone of voice effectively:
Decide. Define. Implement. Share. Monitor & Reinforce.
Clarify the tone of voice to be used. Archetypes are a powerful tool here, but you can’t choose any old archetype or tone of voice at random. Your tone of voice must satisfy several criteria—most important, it must be congruent with and reinforce your positioning. But there’s more: It must be unique. It must be authentic. And it must be relevant to the audience.

Stage 2: Define. Clarify your tone of voice by documenting it. It can be useful to define your tone of voice both positively—the tone you want—and negatively—the tone you don’t. Lists of appropriate vocabulary and writing samples are two of the tools you can use to assist in this effort.

Stage 3: Implement. If you’re in the marketing department, audit all your touchpoints to determine how well they reflect your tone of voice; then fix them. Sounds simple, right? It can be a mammoth task. You won’t be able to correct the tone of voice throughout every touchpoint quickly—it’s just too much work. So follow the algorithm shown in figure 2: address those instances that are both very prominent and very wrong first. Then titrate the others as you can get to them.

Figure 2. Take a systematic approach to bringing your tone of voice into alignment by focusing your attention where it can have the most impact: instances that are both very prominent and very incorrect.

Stage 4: Share. As I pointed out earlier, the marketing department is no longer in control of much of what is said about/by the organization. Your effort won’t succeed unless your tone is consistent across all touchpoints, so it’s important to spread the word among employees, beginning with your c-suite, your marketing team, your sales team, any employee that comes in contact with customers and prospects, and finally, all employees. Training and reinforcement are important tools in this effort. Forma has built some powerful training systems that have proven effective at ensuring consistency among teams. Archetypes are a useful tool to reach this goal; if implemented correctly, they can be used effectively to guide employee efforts.

Stage 5: Monitor and reinforce consistency. Monitoring your tone of voice is important. As I covered in the last issue, inconsistency will hamper—or even destroy—any intended benefits. Reinforcement of the desired tone is important here; it will be an ongoing process, rather than just a “one-and-done” affair. The good news is, once you’ve worked through steps 3 and 4, this becomes a much more manageable task.

How do you know this is paying off?
If you’ve gone through the 5 steps above, what effects can you expect? In other words, how do you know it’s working? One of our many recommendations (and one of the ways we help our clients) is to implement a monitoring system. Pick a few prominent touchpoints and audit them periodically. The touchpoints you choose will depend upon the employees you’re trying to track.

To audit the marketing department’s efforts, start with your website. All new content that’s added should utilize the correct tone of voice, and the existing content should eventually be brought into harmony. You might want to consider adding tradeshow activities, webinars, and email campaigns.

Monitoring the sales department’s efforts is harder (but still very useful). Their communication is quite often directed just to prospects so it’s out of sight of any monitoring efforts. But there are some obvious targets that can be monitored periodically; email blasts, for example. Another is the annual sales meeting. This meeting is also a good opportunity to run a short refresher course on the importance of tone of voice (and your archetype).

Auditing the tone of voice by employees in general requires examining social media. LinkedIn is the most prominent channel for B2B companies.

Monitoring, not surveillance.
This monitoring program might be interpreted as surveillance. They both start with paying attention; the practical difference between monitoring and surveillance is what you do with the information you gather. If you put your attention on “punishing the guilty,” your efforts will more likely be interpreted as surveillance— and will be resisted. If instead, you put your focus on celebrating wins and “rewarding” good behavior, your efforts will be seen in a much more positive light.

As the saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

The ultimate benefits.
If you’ve brought your team along, explained the importance of differentiation through tone of voice, and emphasized each employees’ role in creating a consistent tone of voice, you can expect to see consistency in your tone of voice build across the entire organization. As I’ve discussed in previous issues, tone of voice is both noticeable and noticed by audiences. It will alter their impressions of an organization.

You can document these shifting impressions through market research, if you choose. But whether you choose to prove the existence of these effects or not, or you choose to invest those monies in additional marketing efforts, the effects will be there.

Is tone of voice enough?

Tone of voice is incredibly powerful, but it’s not enough.In order to harness the positive effects of a clear tone of voice, and the self-reinforcing nature of archetypes, we’ve got to “prime the pump” by communicating the crucial parts of the pattern. Remember, this communication is multi-factorial; that is, it will be presented to the audience through many different touchpoints, and in many different ways.

In other words, tone of voice will not be enough.

I know it’s odd for me to say, having just spent the last 5 issues discussing the power of tone of voice. But an example will make my point clear: Imagine that one of the attributes that you’re trying to communicate is “We maintain a focus on our customers.” (Let’s save the issue of whether this is an appropriate attribute or not for another time.)

It’s relatively straightforward to imagine a tone of voice that aligns with this idea. The tone be that of the Caregiver—or the Guardian, or Concierge, or any one of a number of archetypes. This tone might be more casual, slightly enthusiastic, and maybe even a little humorous.

Embedding this tone in the web site can only go so far on its own. And it only makes sense to apply this tone if the entire customer experience is aligned around the idea of keeping a focus on the customer. If, for instance, it’s difficult to find the specific product you want to buy, or place the order, or contact a service representative, then the wording on your web site won’t make much difference, will it? (Unless that difference is to further alienate prospects by creating expectations that the site is not fulfilling.)

If, however, the web site is a joy to use, the customer service is impeccable, and returns are simple and swift, then the tone of voice will be deemed credible and help cement these features in the minds of the customer. And once you’ve established credibility, customers will be more willing to accept that the entire user experience will be similarly enjoyable and trouble-free—even before they experience most of it.

That’s the power of tone of voice. It’s not enough all by itself, but it is a powerful multiplier, reinforcing the attributes you want to communicate to your audiences.

Tone of voice is powerful.
As so often happens, I didn’t set out to write multiple issues on the use of tone of voice in life science marketing. But as I’ve been creating and sharing this content, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of material worth covering. Here are just a few of the key takeaways. Think of these as a summary of the last 6 issues.

Tone of voice is incredibly powerful. It is an underutilized resource in life science marketing.
  • Tone of voice is an underutilized resource in life science marketing.
  • Tone of voice can help differentiate organizations.
  • Tone of voice can help clarify your messages.
  • Differences in tone of voice are noticeable by your audiences.
  • Different tones of voice have different effects on audiences.
  • Tone of voice can be characterized by four spectra, according to the Neilson/Norman Group: Funny vs. Serious, Formal vs. Casual, Respectful vs. Irreverent, and Enthusiastic vs. Matter of Fact.
  • While these spectra can be useful in some circumstances, using them to proactively define and maintain consistency in tone of voice requires significant copywriting skills.
  • Archetypes are a powerful way to define and guide tone of voice.
  • Different archetypes have different sets of behavioral attributes.
  • These behavioral attributes encompass different communication styles, including tones of voice and vocabulary.
  • Communication style is built from content, writing style and vocabulary. Of these three, vocabulary is one of the easiest to control.
  • Archetypes (and the accompanying tone of voice) are self-reinforcing patterns: the presence of some attributes brings to mind other attributes; the attributes bring to mind the label; and the label brings to mind the attributes.
  • Patternicity (the tendency of people to complete a partial pattern) is one of the driving factors behind the power of archetypes.
  • Other biases and heuristics come into play here too, including confirmation bias, the familiarity heuristic and the illusory truth effect.
  • The more employees you have, the more inconsistent your tone of voice tends to be.
  • Consistency is crucial when implementing tone of voice.
  • This is so important that it’s worth repeating: consistency is crucial when implementing tone of voice.
  • If you decide to implement a consistent, differentiated tone of voice, it’s important to view your efforts as a journey, not as a “one-and-done” event.
  • The key steps in implementing an effort to clarify your tone of voice are: decide, define, implement, share, monitor, and reinforce.
  • Monitoring your tone of voice is important.
  • Fix those instances of your tone of voice that are both very wrong and very prominent first; then titrate the others.
  • And last but not least, tone of voice should not be used by itself. It is part of a complete set of tools available to marketers. These tools reinforce each other.

In the next issue, I’ll discuss the common mistakes we’ve observed when using archetypes to control tone of voice.