As a designer, I often find myself zoomed-in 1600% on a letterform, inspecting every detail and crevice of the typeface to affirm it speaks to the brand I’m marrying it to. Are the bowls round enough? Is the x-height squat enough? Do the descenders have a playful curve? If the brand thinks it’s friendly, approachable and accessible to all—then it’s my job to make sure its font is too. If the brand is exclusive and available to only the select few, then I better keep looking.
All this (literally, it’s exactly what I was doing when the thought sparked) got me thinking… “How do our copywriters discover their tone and voice they apply to brands?” Just as I do diligent discovery work with the client and audience, apply color, typography, and imagery to a brand—how do they do it with words?
The best thing you can do as a writer is listen. Most clients have a sense of their tone and voice, and my job is to help them express it.
I may ask them to talk about their ‘why’ — what drives their organization’s purpose? Together, we may look at their existing brand language and unpack what they like or don’t like. But often it’s about getting them out of their industry and putting them in the place of being a consumer. By looking at non-competing consumer brands, clients find a means to express their opinions on language and tone with more clarity.
Once we discuss likes and dislikes, I also ask them where they feel their tone and voice is on a spectrum from, say, quiet to brash, traditional to innovative, or conservative to pushing boundaries. Then I ask them to define this spectrum in terms of other brands. I am always surprised how different people perceive this spectrum. One person’s brash is another person’s quiet.
In short, an effective understanding of tone and voice comes from listening, providing feedback on what you are hearing, then listening some more. Unless I’m talking to Greg. Then even I have a limit.