Why I’m happy for Voicebox to ’give away all my secrets’

January 24th, 2019

Why I’m happy for Voicebox to ‘give away all my secrets’

So, VOICEBOX – the super-simple-do-it-yourself-tone-of-voice-method wot I created  is now making its way in the world. How far? To Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, and across the United States, as well the UK, seeing as you asked. And it’s being put to work in a variety of ways: internal re-brand projects; agencies wanting to expand their ‘offering’; writers wanting a different voice for live projects – and even one organisation who are using it to help their people think about their ‘personal communication styles’. It’s exciting to see it take on a life of its own.

One of the most frequent questions people ask me about Voicebox is ‘aren’t you worried that you’re giving away all your secrets?’

So, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the real reasons I made Voicebox. Broadly speaking, they’re these:

The time was right for tone of voice to evolve. It’s been a generation since Orange mobile hired the world’s first ‘head of brand language’, and well over a decade since Innocent Drinks showed how being playful with your words in every nook and cranny could make people love you. It’s not a niche ‘early adopter’ thing any more. Yet there hasn’t been any new thinking about it since, well, ever. Given that there are now tons of brands out there doing brilliant things with their tone of voice, it felt like the time was right for a fresh way of looking at things that went beyond vague ideas about ‘friendliness’ and ‘fun’.

To de-mistify the ‘dark art’. Tone of voice is not a ‘dark art’ – yet it’s sometimes treated as such. I think this is simply because there hasn’t been a shared way of talking about it before. My hope is that Voicebox’s 11 Primary Voices can help everyone involved in branding have more structured, useful and objective conversations around tone of voice.

To call bullshit on lazy work. You flick through a massive brand guideline document. There’s 50-odd pages about what you can and can’t do with the logo; another 50 pages of colour swatches; a chapter on how to crop images – and just two flimsy pages on tone of voice. They’re always the same smattering of vague adjectives (‘friendly’, ‘human’, ‘honest’). Sorry, that ain’t good enough. Voicebox gives brands a benchmark. Just say to your agency ‘we’d like to do our tone of voice the Voicebox way…’

For the ‘abundance’ it’ll create. I don’t see Voicebox as ‘giving away secrets’ so much as ‘creating connections’. Yes, there’s basically 10 years of insights and experience crammed into that box – but by putting it out into the world I’ll create new experiences that’ll lead to new insights that’ll help me do better work. In my experience, life and work are just more fulfilling if you don’t treat creativity as a scarce resource. (Also, I’m not giving anything away. I’m charging for it 😉

(Also, I just bloody love a model.) Models and frameworks that help us think more clearly are some of humankind’s most elegant inventions. Whether that’s Jung’s archetypes or the sublime good/cheap/fast triangle – the simple grouping of ideas together can be just ridiculously powerful and helpful. The second I had an inkling that there might be a sort of ‘archetypes’ way of looking at tone of voice, I couldn’t not follow it through! (Caveat – all models should be treated with a lightness of touch. As George Box, the British statistician said, ‘all models are wrong, but some are useful‘. So – Voicebox: wrong but useful. I’ll take that.)