Tone of voice is still a secret superpower
It’s been 15-odd years since Innocent Drinks showed the world how paying attention to your written tone could make your brand famous and your customers love you. More brands are thinking seriously about it now, but it’s still astonishing how many businesses don’t seem to bother. Whenever a brand takes its tone seriously, they always see profound benefits. Not nailing your tone of voice is like not bothering to have a logo or a website or something. It should be absolutely fundamental.

When people use the Primary Voices to help express themselves more clearly and more precisely, that’s what tells me they’re genuinely useful

I think Voicebox is a genuine contribution to brand thinking
I would say that because it was my idea! I’m usually sceptical of brand ‘models’. But the 11 Primary Voices has just been so helpful and useful to my clients – that’s why I turned it into Voicebox. After studying thousands of brands I realised that there are essentially 11 archetypal voices that underpin all tones of voice. I call these the ‘Primary Voices’.

Being able to talk in terms of these Primary Voices helps people to think and talk much more clearly about what tone of voice they’re after. And there’s something very reassuring about being able to see the full spectrum of voices – even the ones that you know aren’t going to work for you. And of course by blending the voices together, you can create an almost infinite variety of voices.

In workshops, people very quickly start talking about being a ‘straight-talking sensualist’ or an ‘Energetic simplifier’ or whatever. When they’re using the Primary Voices to help express themselves more clearly and more precisely, that’s what tells me they’re genuinely useful. That said, I’m always mindful of the quote by George Box, the statistician: ‘All models are wrong – but some are useful‘. That’s the spirit I think you have to use Voicebox in!

Strategy needs poetry
It’s a mistake to think that serious things like strategy must always be rendered in ‘precise’ language. It’s just not true. More important is focussing on help people ‘get’ it. When you’re trying to capture a big idea in a few words, those words need to be rich, emotional and able to contain multitudes and shades of meaning. You need metaphor, not corporate abstraction.

When you’re trying to capture a big idea in a few words, those words need to be rich, emotional, and able to contain multitudes and shades of meaning

Everyone is confused about storytelling
I think a lot of brands say they want ‘storytelling’ when really they just mean ‘a way of communicating that’s more interesting than we usually manage‘. Businesses use stories in so many different ways that it’s almost impossible to have a single idea of what ‘storytelling for business’ looks like. Much more effective to start with the idea of explaining (that’s why we’re That Explains Things!) Stories are just one way of explaining things.

That said, there’s a basic ‘grammar’ of story that all communicators should know. I worked with John Yorke, who was head of drama at Channel 4, and knows storytelling inside out. He wrote a brilliant book called Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, and we together put together a six week course on storytelling for business. Becoming ‘fluent’ in story had a profound effect on my work. I think every professional communicator needs to know their story stuff. I run a much shorter course for clients –  This is Storytelling workshop.

All writing benefits from being like joke writing
Writing jokes teaches you to keep an absolute unwavering focus on delivering your punchline. Even an extra comma or a single missing beat can cause a joke to flop. When you’re writing a joke, you have to keep checking in with your audience every few seconds – what are they thinking and feeling now. And now? And now? That’s a great training for all writing: constant empathy with your audience and a heightened awareness of every single word, pause, nuance. Funny is harder to do than serious – because you have to understand your subject well enough to know how to give it that extra twist. Laugher is just the sound that ‘understanding something’ makes when that understanding all comes at once.