Countdown to Christmas: Day 21 – Tone of voice

How can a round of “Marry, date or dump” help you analyse the tone of voice of your corporate communication? You’re in the right place to find out.

KimKim Borrowdale, (pictured), communications consultant and a former classmate of mine from Kingston University’s post-graduate diploma in Internal Communications Management course, has written for my blog to show us how.

I first published this article in February this year and am doing so again as part of my Advent series of guest posts as we countdown to Christmas – we’re nearly there!

Marry, date or dump… Helping teams with tone of voice

Kim now works in the health sector in Australia and specialises in stakeholder engagement, brand, internal and change communication. You can find out more about her experience on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @KimBorrowdale.

Over to you Kim…

This week I took part in a #commschat tweet up on language and tone of voice (more details and a link to the transcript are below). It got me thinking about a series of tone of voice workshops I ran for lawyers not so long ago.

This law firm was going through a rebrand and got quite excited about the new visual identity, the colours, the images, the website…all of the usual very tangible outputs staff tend to gravitate to during a brand project.

Now, as lawyers predominantly communicate with their clients in writing (a LOT of writing), I very quickly realised that the basic tone of voice training included in the brand package I’d prepared was not enough to affect change at an individual level.

Tone of voiceSpot checks of marketing communication as well as internal communications told a very different story to the soon to be launched newly rebranded website.

It was clear that workshops by department were needed. But how to successfully engage lawyers in a new tone of voice when their very business is legal writing and their product themselves as individuals?

It’s simple. Make it personal. Make it practical. Make it fun.

My five steps to running a successful tone of voice workshop

1) Give them some homework

Before the workshop, I asked each team member to gather some examples of client and staff communication, from their team and others. It didn’t matter what it was – an email, a brochure, a letter – anything they had received or sent out in the past week.

TIP: Collect your own range of examples just in case your participants come empty-handed.

2) Don’t start with the work stuff

Set up flipcharts around the room and encourage small group discussions about customer communication they have personally received. Get them to put the brand names into Marry, Date or Dump columns, depending on how they reacted to a specific communication from that company.

TIP: Make sure your attendees understand what you mean by Marry, Date or Dump. Try referencing three celebrities you’d marry, date or dump, followed by three brands and people will very quickly pick up the concept.

3) Get to the why

Back as a large group, discuss why each brand is in the Marry, Date or Dump column. For example, did a communication feel too much like it was a mass mail out (Dear Insert Name)?

Did you delete an email because it was just far too long and boring? Or did you feel like they knew exactly who you were and what you needed from that company at that time?

TIP:  If you are getting stuck on the who, have some examples from your personal experience up your sleeve that focus firmly on the why.

4) Take a walk in the customer’s shoes

Turn the focus back to the work examples they brought along to the workshop. Encourage the group to put themselves in their client’s shoes.

Would they marry, date or dump the communication? How could the company move from dump to date, from date to marry in this particular communication?

TIP:  If attendees are starting to get a little bit sensitive about constructive criticism of their own work, introduce some examples from other departments or other companies from the same sector.

5)  Keep playing the game

Encourage the group go back to their desks and attempt a rewrite of one of their communications in the new tone of voice. Then get their team-mate to read it. Yes, support from the communications team should be available when needed but peer to peer engagement and support is the only way an organisation can sustain a new tone of voice.

TIP:  Follow up. Offer to attend a departmental/team meeting in a month to have a look at some of the revised communications as a group.

Post author: Kim Borrowdale

Thank you Kim, I really enjoyed your approach and like the idea of marry, date or dump. Have you tried something like this? How would it work in your organisation?

You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

More on #commschat

Read the transcript of this week’s #commschat on language and tone of voice.


#CommsChat is a Twitter-based conversation that is based out of the UK. Everyone is welcome to participate. It happens every Monday at 8pm GMT, and to join in you just need to include #commschat in your Tweets.

See more information via the #CommsChat website. I regularly stop by the chat, and also participated in the tone of voice conversation on Monday alongside Kim.

If you miss it, the transcript is always published by the hosts, Communicate Magazine, the following day.

Further reading:
Is ‘soz’ or slang appropriate for brands to use?

First published on All Things IC blog: February 2014. Republished December 2014.

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