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Five tone of voice lessons from Innocent

5 April 2012

Freelance copywriter Trina Wallace applies principles of Innocent’s tone of voice to charity communications 

“We want to sound like Innocent.”

This is the brief I’m (still) often given when I ask charity clients to describe the tone of the writing they want me to produce.

It’s no wonder. Over the last 13 years, drinks and healthy eating company Innocent has grown from a three-person outfit to a multimillion pound business. A large part of the company’s success is thanks to the brand created through its tone of voice.

It’s distinctive, friendly and engaging. Of course, cracking jokes and being cheeky often isn’t appropriate for charities. But I certainly think that the third sector could benefit from putting the principles of Innocent’s informal tone of voice into practice across their communications.

Here are five tone of voice lessons that I think charity communicators can learn from Innocent.

1. Remember that you’re talking to someone

Innocent’s language is warm. When you pick up an Innocent smoothie, you feel as if the people behind the brand are talking to you. There’s room to make your charity comms do the same. People are used to informal language and if you communicate in stuffy speak, your content will stand out for all the wrong reasons. You don’t need to overegg the colloquialisms but talking in a natural way, using plain English and avoiding jargon, should be your aim. Often, one of the most powerful words is “you”.

So instead of:

Looking forward, a key aspect of our management strategy is to work alongside service users to create impactful outcomes.

You could have:

We will support you to reach your potential.

2. Have conversations

Social networks are the ideal place to inject some personality into your charity’s tone of voice. Instead of sharing links to your latest press releases, use tools like Twitter and Facebook to talk with your supporters and donors. Make it a rule that you communicate with someone at least every third tweet. If they raise concerns about an issue, respond. You never know, they could become your future star campaigner.

3. Make your writing reflect your values

Innocent doesn’t have strict brand guidelines. Instead it focuses its brand on the business’ values. Charity communicators should also see their organisation’s values as a tone of voice guideline and ensure their writing reflects them. If your organisational values are to be “friendly”, “approachable” or “honest” but your external communications talk about “strategies”, “stakeholders” and “service users”, they might not be conveying the image you want them to.

Your words need to fit your brand. Always think about why your audience needs to know what you are telling them.

So instead of:

The new supporter stakeholder panels are a key part of our organisation’s 10-year plan to empower people affected by mental health problems.

You could have:

Our local support groups bring people affected by mental health problems together to campaign and raise awareness of stigma and discrimination.

4. Get people doing things

The number for Innocent’s banana phone is included on every one of their smoothie bottles and customers are encouraged to drop into their head office and have a chat. In the same way, all your charity comms should have a purpose. Most likely this will be to get new donors, supporters, volunteers or commissions. Make sure every web page on your charity’s site has a call to action and that each story in your newsletter is followed by a ‘find out more’. Social networks should be monitored regularly and guide people to further content.

5. Use words that describe the impact of your work

For fresh inspiration, Innocent asks their customers to suggest witty words for the bottom of their drinks containers. Similarly, charity writing should use the words of the people supported by the organisation’s cause. Doing so will ensure your writing is more authentic and striking.

In these difficult economic times, donors don’t want to read over-marketed copy that’s obviously only meant to make them part with their cash. Using the words of your service users, staff or volunteers in your writing is a much less obvious way to make the case for your cause.

Read more

Finding your charity’s voice

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.