Make your tone your own

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Our name is Lark and we’re Tone-aholics. We love helping brands find their voice and tell their story. Perusing the purpose, massaging the messaging and teasing out the personality. We live for that stuff.

So you can probably imagine our anguish every time we tear the wrapper off a shiny new Tone Of Voice project and see the word Professionalism listed among a company’s values.

Oh the despair. The wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth. I mean Professionalism of all things! You know what we’re saying, right?

No? Ok, allow us to explain why describing yourself as Professional is, perhaps, the worst thing in the universe.

1. We already know.

A company calling itself Professional is like Andy Murray saying he can play tennis. It’s implied. It’s understood. It’s the bare minimum your audience expects.

And while it’s perfectly true that certain organisations might, from time to time, do things that are grossly unprofessional (and by ‘certain organisations’, we might mean Southern Rail, and by ‘from time to time’ we mean ‘every time, all the time, until the end of time’), they don’t proudly proclaim it as the cornerstone of their business model.

2. It’s self-defeating.

When someone prefaces a remark with the disclaimer “I’m not being rude, but–” you can be fairly certain that they’re about to deliver themselves of something at least mildly slanderous. And when a salesperson reassures you the magical ‘free money for everyone’ investment opportunity they’re pitching is definitely not a pyramid scheme, you’d be forgiven for suspecting it just might be.

We’re a cynical bunch. We wish we could be more trusting but just look what happened in 2016. So sadly, if you have to tell people you’re professional, they’ll immediately – and quite naturally – assume you’re not. Sorry.

3. The word is meaningless.

Because we expect them as a matter of course, values like Professionalism make you sound about as unique and authentic as an automated train platform announcer.

And we’re not just picking on Professionalism here – we mean all those wishy-washy, well-meaning descriptors which tell people precisely nothing about who you are, what you stand for or why you exist. Yeah, we’re looking at you, Integrity. Don’t think you’re off the hook either, Innovation. Passion, stop picking your nose.

Say we told you, for instance, that a company’s tone of voice was inspired by these three core values:

Professionalism. Excellence. Passion.

Could you name it? Could you venture an educated guess? Or even a wild stab in the dark?

No, of course you couldn’t. Because that tired, timeworn trifecta could be retrofitted to roughly 99% of all organisations, enterprises and movements that have ever existed, from Amnesty International to the Third Reich.

So. What to do?

How do you find a voice that is candid, compelling and unmistakably you?

Well, it’s simple. Know thyself, as Grecian branding guru Socrates used to say.

Take a long, hard look in the mirror and really think about what it is that makes your organisation unique. Think about what you were put on this planet to say and think about who you want to say it to.

Ok, not so simple. But really not that difficult either. This is stuff you already know – deep down. Stuff you feel.  

What floats your boat? What winds your clock? What gets you out of bed in the morning? No matter how arcane or esoteric, if it motivated you enough to start or join an organisation, the chances are it will motivate others to support what you do.

And we’re willing to bet it wasn’t Professionalism.