Language is a tricky old thing when you think about it, because while numbers and formulas have definite right and wrong answers, the way we speak to each other is as changeable as pizza toppings.
Now, forgive us for pointing out the obvious here, but human language is meant to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information from one person to another. Sounds simple enough, only it’s not, because people have emotions and opinions and other things that make them interesting.
And that’s a problem for us businesses.
Just kidding. It’s not a problem, it’s a consideration. Almost every big company that you can think of has what are called ‘Tone of voice’ guidelines (sometimes it gets shortened to ToV, often because people aren’t sure whether or not to use hyphens…) Best not to upset that kettle of fish.
The TL;DR on ToV 🤷♂️
ToV guidelines, or ToV guides, exist to help make sure that whenever and wherever a customer —we’ll call ours Alex— encounters a brand, that they’re presented with a tone that’s familiar and trustworthy. Imagine, for example, if before Alex left for work this morning she received an email from Revolut saying:
We just wanted to let you know that your Revolut card is on the way, and should be with you in the next couple of days.’
But then at lunch Alex received a second email from Revolut saying:
We ain’t gonna lie, the wheel fell off the delivery van so you probably won’t see your card for like, six, seven days. Sozzles.’
Neither of those two tones is wrong, they just don’t belong in the same context. By making everyone aware of how Revolut as a company speaks, we stand a better chance of making sure that Alex always has a positive experience. Which brings us neatly to…
Creating positive experiences 😁
ToV guides strive to uphold consistency. But consistency is not what Alex is thinking about. Consistency is the word you use when talking about gravy, or a milkshake, or some other delicious liquid.
What Alex cares about is having a positive experience. She cares about whether she understands what’s being said, and whether it benefits her, solves her problem… you get the idea.
While the information presented in any given situation might not change, the words used to convey that information, do change… and therein lies the key to positive experiences.
Because it’s like your parents and teachers always said: It’s not what you say, but how you say it*. Oh, how right they were, and how little we all listened. How Revolut speaks to customers is directly linked to the experiences those customers have.
Nobody wants to be spoken to in a way that makes them feel small, or like they’re an inconvenience, or like they’re silly for not knowing what a P-value is (we’re guessing it’s something to do with hypotheses and statistics).
*Keep this saying in mind, because we’ll come back to it later. 💡
Niche jargon interlude 🚽
Speaking of niche jargon, we thought that it would be fun to ask the Revolut team for some of the things they say to their teammates, which would make most of us either barf, or scratch our heads (or maybe both).
Here are a few of the things they came up with, which while totally fit for purpose internally, should never make their way into any customer messaging (and yes, this section is primarily just a bit of fun).
Client journey — A client is a customer, and their journey is any series of actions they take to move through the app, or from one product to another.
Spin up a cluster — To set up a group of virtual machines to deploy a software program there.
Confidence interval — In statistics, a confidence interval is a series of values which is likely to contain the true value the researchers are looking for.
Null hypothesis — A null hypothesis is what researchers or analysts expect to find before doing any tests. If the tests confirm the null hypothesis, then nothing has changed.
Tastemaker — Somebody who is generally regarded as having good or favourable tastes about what should be done next.
Those are all extreme examples of serious jargon, but there are other, more subtle ways to alienate your reader, which can creep in even with the best of intentions.
😒 It’s not what you say, but how you say it 😊
Remember how we just mentioned that there are subtle ways to alienate a reader, or a customer? This is what we’re talking about. What sounds perfectly innocent and professional to you, could be perceived by a customer as cold, dismissive, even aggressive. And you’re not aggressive… you’re kind, and smart, and probably good at sports.
Try and frame your language positively, rather than presenting dead ends.
This is often easier with hindsight, but take a look at these two examples, and you’ll start to get an idea of what’s what.
❌ I am unable to help you further.
✔ I’m sorry that we haven’t found a solution yet. I’m going to ask somebody else for help.
❌ Your application has been rejected because you filled it out incorrectly.
✔ We’ve rejected your application because it wasn’t filled out correctly. Give it another try, and let me know if you need help.
👩⚕️ Person first, paying customer second
As a financial company, we have to be incredibly thoughtful and accurate about what we say, and not only because we’re so closely regulated (Shh... we may have already said too much…)
We need to be thoughtful and accurate about what we say, because people trust us with their money. When Alex receives an email or a notification or anything else from Revolut, she should feel confident that it was written by someone who actually cares about her experience.
From Alex’s perspective, that means speaking to her like a person first, and a paying customer second. Not a friend, not a number. That doesn’t mean that messaging can’t be conversational, but it should be above all else: Honest, clear, factual, and empathetic. Let’s break that down quickly.
The whole point of Revolut is to give people a radically better way to handle their money. We exist not just as an alternative to traditional banks, but as a way to make managing personal finances as easy and intuitive as browsing Instagram or ordering an Uber.
A key factor to allowing this to happen is honesty in every piece of communication. We don’t twist our words or bury the facts in small print. We tell it like it is — good, bad, or ugly.
If your best friend’s mum doesn’t understand what you’ve written on the first pass, then it’s not clear enough. Clarity comes from identifying the core message, and communicating that message in words we all know and use.
It should go without saying that we never lie to customers. Being factual is more about checking that what you’re saying is technically and legally accurate. There is almost never a time when copy can go straight from one person’s mind, out into the world.
Always get a second and third pair of eyes on your work from someone who knows the subject matter better than you do, be that legal, compliance, design, growth, whoever.
Chances are, you know someone who uses Revolut, who doesn’t work for Revolut. It could be a sibling, a parent, a friend, that one teacher who said that you couldn’t possibly eat that many dried figs in one sitting. How wrong they were.
Imagine if you had to read every single piece of copy you wrote, to one of those people. It would probably change how you write for the better.
Remember that when you write, you’re writing for someone with a need, or a problem.
A word on passive vs active 🤦♂️
No ToV guide would be complete without a section on the passive voice. The passive voice is the writer’s worst enemy. It’s like damp on a ceiling, or mould on bread. Once it’s there, the thing is no good.
The passive voice is weaker, it shuns responsibility and is often viewed as negative by the reader. See if you can identify the passive voice here:
A — We’ll make your exchange as soon as the stock market comes online.
B — An exchange will be made by us as soon as the stock market comes online.
Example B is passive. When you use the active voice, you take ownership of what you’re saying, and appear more trustworthy to your reader.
Headers, subheaders and punctuation ⁉️
The main title of your post or document should always be H1. Subheaders should follow a hierarchy of H2 then H3. Product names are capitalised, while headlines and subject lines are sentence case.
❌ Introducing The New And Improved Revolut For Business App
✔ Introducing the new and improved Revolut for Business app
Introducing 24/7 H1 headline support from Revolut
With H2 subheaders now free for all users 🔥
For lists with short-form copy (as below), we don't add full stops. If your list is made up of full or multiple sentences (as in the Niche jargon interlude) section above, you may add full stops.
- Withdraw up to £200 for free from international ATMs.
- Get travel insurance from just £1/day.
- Instant spending notifications.
- Currency exchange at the real rate.
- Withdraw up to £200 for free from international ATMs
- Get travel insurance from just £1/day
- Instant spending notifications
- Currency exchange at the real rate
p.s. We favour British English over American English in the first instance.
If you remember nothing else... 🤔
Alright, so ToV guides can be sort of intimidating. It’s a lot of information to take in, and if writing copy isn’t your primary role, it can be difficult to slip into that mindset and hit all of the points mentioned here.
Below is a summary of the most important considerations. If you can incorporate most of them into your writing, you’ll be moving in the right direction.
- Let your writing breathe — To poach a line from the recent Netflix series, Russian Doll, “Writing [dialogue] is like swallowing; if you think about it too much, it becomes impossible.”
If you have something to write, write it. Don’t worry about the words you’re using, just get it down in the most authentic way that you know how.
- Keep it active — Own your words and avoid shunning responsibility.
- Be empathetic — Think of writing for someone close to you, and how you would phrase your message for them (you’re a person, not a robot).
- Stick to the facts — Jokes and light-hearted banter are great, but they should be used as accessories, and only where appropriate.
- Respect your reader — If you had to explain each piece of writing you published to a customer on the street, could you do it with a clear conscience?
The final word on emojis 💙
It’s no secret that we love a good emoji at Revolut, and when it comes to using them in your copy, it’s pretty simple: use them in headers and subheaders where appropriate. Avoid using them in the middle of body copy unless vital.
We could debate the plural form of emoji… but let’s not.
We hope that this guide helps you with your writing. If in doubt, contact your nearest copywriter. ✌
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