Using the right tone of voice for your brand

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. Why words are so important in your apps and across your brand

Tone of voice across your brand communications is as important as your visual identity. Innocent does this brilliantly. Give the company a call and you'll hear the following on the other end of the line: "Hello, Innocent banana phone".

Look on the bottom of an Innocent bottle and there'll be a message – maybe "stop looking at my bottom" (insert snigger here). The campfire cooking instructions on one of its veg pots say, "Pour contents into cooking pot. Sing campfire songs until bubbling nicely".


I know where I am with Innocent and I like it. It warms me to the brand and its products; it influences me to buy these over rival brands' offerings; it makes me carry a sample of its packaging in my wallet – I’m an Innocent evangelist, and this is down to the company's choice of words alone.

Yet I don't feel that developers of applications take this as seriously as they should. Your app probably has its own visual personality, but is that carried over to the words within? If it is, does that extend beyond the app itself? To the website that markets it? To your business card?

Each time I receive an email it should have the same personality, even if that's an automated response to a support request – actually, especially if it's an automated response to a support request. I know when a computer sends me a mail (you probably put 'do not respond to this email' as the first line of the message), but couldn’t you at least let me know through thoughtful wording that there's an actual human involved in the process somewhere?

Eighteen months ago, a serendipitous conversation with architect Duncan McLeod brought to my attention the duality that exists between the use of space and light in architecture and the new style of interface that we were exploring at Microsoft at that time with Windows Phone. Inspired by the conversation with Duncan I asked writer and director Johnny Daukes to join me to produce a series of films with people I’ve met and worked with over the years that would bring to life different aspects of this design paradigm, the aim being to help developers to produce more beautiful applications. I interviewed ex-British Rail creative director Tony Howard about how he approaches the design of signage for airports and railway stations. I explored how we should approach the production of audio and sound effects for small devices with legendary record producer Gareth Jones. Then, looking to explore our celebration of typography I asked Elliot Jay Stocks if he would interview Erik Spiekermann (who I consider to be the godfather of modern typography) about how we as designers and developers should approach type in the digital age. I also interviewed Nikki Barton Nokia’s creative director for Lumia about my favourite technology, the human.

So for film number six in this series of conversations about digital design, I interviewed head of copy at Blue Hive, Nigel Edginton-Vigus about how brands communicate through words. I have worked with Nigel in the past and he is one of the most passionate creative directors I've had the pleasure to work with. He also has many years of experience in brand communication which makes him (in my opinion) an authority on the subject.

There are many gems and much to learn in this short film. I agree with him wholeheartedly when he says: "If you met someone and were chatting to them then they just turned their back on you and walked away, that would be a very rude interaction, yet applications do that every day and I don't believe it should be that way." Neither do I, and this film intends to open your eyes and ears to the words that you use.

As with all the films in the series, watch it considering the context of your application. It will not only help your app stand out from the crowd but could also give your users another reason to love the work you do. Maybe, turn them into your very own brand evangelist?