All through this not-so-quiet news week, our research has been hitting headlines in places like The DrumYahoo, and Business Insider.

We’ve uncovered some handy nuggets about tone of voice and how it’s used across the world. If you didn’t catch the column inches, here are the numbers again – and a bit of thinking on what they mean.

We were trying to work out three things

We’ve been doing a fair bit of head-scratching recently: has coronavirus changed how brands communicate? Is tone of voice more important now, or less? And does that change in different places across the world?

We couldn’t get these answers on our own. So we (or rather, an independent team of researchers) spoke to nearly 200 brand and marketing directors across the world. Here’s what they told us.

46% think brands have become soft and fluffy in the pandemic

We’ve all seen it: we’re here for youdifficult timesnow more than ever… I just came in to buy milk. Interestingly, in the UK, we’re the fluffiest: 61% of marketing folks here agree. It probably comes from a good place – from trying to empathise with customers – but it means a lot of brands start to sound the same.

On the flipside, it looks like other companies are retreating into robotic corporate-speak: assistance is required through these unprecedented circumstances – 37% had spotted this, too. We reckon this one comes from floundering: brands aren’t sure what to say or when, so they retreat behind the barrier of safe-feeling formality.

The way you communicate is more important than ever –
but hard to get right

A massive 93% believe that your tone of voice can impact your bottom line as a business. That’s not so surprising when you think that this year, we’re all emailing and Slacking more than ever before. In 2020, your tone of voice is your company culture.

On top of that, 99% of marketing and brand folks say they regularly measure their tone to see how well it’s working – mainly by monitoring customer feedback and brand metrics. So far, so good: we tell anyone who’ll listen that if you want your tone of voice to work, you have to measure your progress. And they are (or rather, they say they are).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Your tone of voice also only works if people in your business actually use it. Only 9% said the vast majority of their company’s people (three quarters or more) actually write in their brand’s tone of voice. In fact, most participants reckon that less than half of their colleagues do.

So we all think tone of voice is important; we all say we measure it regularly. But is it working? Maybe not.

And working globally makes it even more complicated

A perk of working virtually is that borders seem to matter less: everyone we spoke to had ‘global’ in their title and worked in three countries or more. But within these global remits, 89% think your tone of voice should change from country to country.

For example:

  • 70% say brands can be funny when they’re talking to an Australian audience
  • In Asia, brands ‘can be the least funny’, according to the group
  • 80% of US participants think it’s fine to address customers by their first name, but when you look at the global results, only 54% do.

Can you be a consistent brand if you’re changing your voice in every region? That wouldn’t work with logos or fonts: why would it work with your tone?

Our view on these votes?

Tone of voice has become the new health and safety policy.

Everyone agrees it’s important, and everyone thinks they have one. But scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that tone of voice sitting in a drawer somewhere – unused, unloved, and perhaps totally ignored by certain parts of your global team.

So in the weeks to come, we’ll be sharing pointers on how to bring it out into the light. Watch this space.