Editors do more than put your style guidelines into action. Louise Marsters explains how they can make your words sing to the tune of your voice guidelines too – and keep you on brand.
Your visual identity is all sorted: logo, colour palette, typeface, primary and secondary imagery. Hey, you look good! But how do you sound?
Let’s look at:
- why words are part of your brand too
- how tone of voice conveys your personality
- why everyone writing for your brand needs one voice
- the voice tools already in your style guide.
Words are part of your brand too
When we talk about brand, we often mean visual identity.
We approve brand colours, agonise over typefaces, workshop logos, define imagery style and visualise data. We document this ‘look and feel’ in a set of brand guidelines, and deploy it consistently across our advertising and reports, stationery and website.
But the impression we make goes beyond these tangible elements. How do we speak and connect with our audiences? What sort of language and words do we use?
Written style – call it ‘verbal identity’ or brand voice – describes a brand’s ‘personality’. That personality is always the same, so can be just as distinctive as visual style.
Are you a fruit smoothie brand with a personality that is informal, witty and subversive? Are you an industry body that is authoritative, forward-thinking and inclusive?
Successful brands stand out when they look and feel consistent across each piece of content they create. And brands that sound consistent gain credibility and readers’ confidence.
Enter the editor, to keep sound and brand aligned.
Tone of voice conveys your personality
If brand voice is our personality, tone of voice is how we express it.
It’s not so much what we say, but how we say it. The words we choose will influence how our content is received – and whether it’s trusted.
Do we talk in terms of ‘exploration and production assets’ (standard industry vocabulary, but detached and corporate) or ‘oilfields and oil wells’ (straightforward, real)? Is our brand about ‘strategic planning and development’ or ‘building homes for the next generation’?
Both tones can exist, depending on the context.
A corporate law firm’s brand voice or personality might be expert, commercial and professional. It might adopt a straightforward, useful and concise tone of voice (cool) for its client updates, but an accessible, responsive and committed tone (warm) for its pro bono reporting.
Its personality is the same, no matter the audience, channel or purpose of the content.
For an editor working on the firm’s communications, personality and tone are the prescription lenses for their editorial goggles.
Through these lenses, an editor can flag where the writing feels too legalistic for the client – often a non-lawyer – to understand, or too verbose to publish on the firm’s website, or too aloof to attract a solicitor to apply for a secondment.
They also allow an editor to leave well alone when the words are working.
When tone of voice is right, content becomes relevant and meaningful, which means it will influence and persuade; wrong, and people will switch off.
Everyone writing for your brand needs one voice
How we put together the words we choose also matters.
Tone of voice guidelines can establish the type of language, words, expressions and phrases that will reinforce the brand, even the length and complexity of sentences and their rhythm.
But everyone writes differently. Multiple people writing for a singular brand bring multiple voices.
Annual reports are one of the most challenging multi-author publications to align. Written by dozens of contributors – marketing teams, accountants, lawyers, managers, engineers, executives or, worse, committees – the report must tell one coherent, coordinated story for the past year. With one voice.
Writing isn’t necessarily the day job for these contributors. And no tome encouraging writers away from cliché, passive construction, nominalisation and jargon, and towards inclusive language, active construction, clarity and plain English will keep that voice on track.
The skill of an editor is to shape their combined words to flow as one voice, call out the legalese and ‘corporatese’, and align their tone and rhythm.
The editor is the valued gatekeeper of this quality-control process – a process that can help preserve the integrity of the brand and, quite possibly, the sanity of the reader.
The voice tools already in your style guide
A style guide is the business end of that process, giving writers and editors the detail of how to present the brand voice.
Peppered throughout are clues to a brand’s personality and tone of voice – tools, or rules, that editors put into action every day, as part of their mission to weed out the errors and infelicities, and variances in punctuation, spelling and terminology, that so frustrate readers.
Because where correct grammar is non-negotiable, (consistent) style is – and here are some examples.
- Do we use contractions (it’ll) or not (it will)?
- Do we use first (we) or third (the company) person?
- Do we prefer one variant spelling (while) over another (whilst)?
- Do we choose stately (utilise) or conversational (use) words?
- Do we capitalise ‘important’ words (the Members of the Executive Leadership Team) or keep it real (the leaders of our business)?
- Do we use full points for titles and initials (Mr. J. R. Hartley) or not (JR Hartley)?
- Do we use long (the 31st of March) dates or short (31 March)?
These simple choices can be the difference between a brand feeling formal and traditional or informal and modern, instructional or inviting a conversation. They help us present a unified brand – with a unified voice.
Make the most of an editor – and stay on brand
Now we know that an editor is more than a brilliant speller, here’s how to make the most of their skills and stay on brand.
An editor can:
- keep the language and words you use aligned with the brand voice you choose
- flag when tone of voice is off-brand – and sit on their hands when it’s spot on
- shape multiple voices writing for a singular brand into one consistent brand voice
- implement the detailed style choices that help a brand sound unified.
Have more sound ideas to add? Voice your thoughts in the comments.
More on how editors can help with business content
Six ways an editor can improve your business content by Mary McCauley
The CIEP guide, Your house style, outlines the value of a house style and reveals how to go about constructing such guidance if one doesn’t already exist.
About Louise Marsters
Louise Marsters edits communications and business content for corporate clients. Working in-house in corporate and financial communications taught Louise to shift her brand from ‘perfectionist’ to ‘pragmatic perfectionist’. Her colleagues even developed a strapline: Has it been Louise-d? Louise is a Professional Member of the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading, and a member of the plain language organisation Clarity.
About the CIEP
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
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Photo credits: branded tins by Waldemar Brandt; microphone by Jason Rosewell; brand identity by Patrik Michalicka, all on Unsplash.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.