How to get the tone of your writing very wrong indeed

Sharon Tanton
TSB ad

We say no to the bank that likes to say yes

Getting the right tone of voice for your communications and content is one of the trickiest aspects of business writing. It’s very easy to get it wrong.

The advertisement above is for a bank. The one that used to like to say ‘yes’ like a grown up bank manager, but now is saying ‘but, hey, that’s just us’ like a smart-arse teenager. It’s an example of great messaging – we invest in the UK, we keep our money in local communities and don’t speculate overseas – but its tone really misses the mark.

“A bank needs to demonstrate responsibility and authority, not score points like an uppity 13 year old girl.”

Why does it sound wrong?  Because we don’t want or expect our banks to talk to us like our kids. Quite frankly, I get enough of that at home. This Disney Channel-like sign off grates, and undoes all the rest of the good work. It smacks of trying too hard and getting it wrong. Dad dancing at the disco. Me trying to talk street. Best avoided at all costs.

‘But hey, that’s just us,’ paints a picture of a teenager making a point. And while I love my teenagers, I wouldn’t trust them with my bank account. A bank needs to demonstrate responsibility and authority, not score points like an uppity 13 year old girl.

So how do you get it right?

The first thing is to know who you are, and to know how your customers want you to communicate with them. Over recent years there’s been a general relaxing of the rules surrounding the way businesses communicate. Informality is the order of the day, and on the whole I think that’s a really good thing. I’d far rather businesses spoke to me in a conversational tone than used language as a barrier to keep me at arm’s length.

“Know who you are, and understand how your customers expect you to behave.”

But it’s horses for courses. It’s fine for a brand like Innocent to communicate in that faux naïve tone – we’re good guys, doing good stuff, be our best friend – but a bank is a bank. They’re responsible for millions of pounds, they’re not selling squashed bananas and strawberries in bottles with woolly hats. A bank just can’t talk to me like that if it wants to inspire my trust. So know who you are, and understand how your customers expect you to behave.

And from that firm foundation, you won’t go far wrong. Aim for warmth in your writing and do the following.

Quick tone do’s and don’ts

  • Pull people closer by using ‘you’ rather than the more distant ‘them.’
  • Write for one person, not a crowd.
  • Don’t write anything you’d be embarrassed to be overheard saying.
  • Be yourself.
  • Be consistent.

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