Tone of Voice

WHY OUR WORDS MATTER

HOW WE SPEAK

An effective visual identity is not the only thing that makes a brand meaningful, appealing, and unique; the right choice of words is important too. Because we know about the power of words and their impact on our brand, we have defined our own style of language for our spoken and written communication: our Tone of Voice. This is the tone in which we want to communicate with our various stakeholders: a tone of voice that reflects our vibrant brand personality and is tied closely to our “Brand Plus” model (see Our Brand Manifesto). This model is the foundation of our brand and its expression.

Language that suits who we are makes us attractive and unmistakable. It differentiates us positively from our competition, especially in places where visual design elements play a subordinate role, such as text-heavy formats and channels. Also, it helps us to build good relationships with our partners and brings our brand personality to life. Whatever the subject of discussion, our language should always be an expression of that personality. 

Whether spoken or written, whether on social networks or in press releases or editorials, a coherent, consistent, distinctive voice builds trust and reinforces our credibility. Still, our language is dynamic – it has to adapt to the audience and the form of communication it is used in. To help you work with our Tone of Voice in different media, we have developed checklists and best practices to provide guidance about headlines, social media, marketing, press releases, editorials, and speeches. You can download the checklists here.

BEFORE AND AFTER YOU WRITE

Strong writing comes from strong planning.

Every beginning is difficult – that is why we have put together some questions to help you use our Tone of Voice. Use them as a guide and source of inspiration. 

Before you write something, ask yourself: 

  • What is the big idea here? What's surprising about this piece?
  • Who's going to read this? 
  • What does your reader need to know?
  • What might they want to know?
  • What do they need to know right now?
  • What can we tell them in another message?
  • How much space do I have?
  • Will this be transferred into different medium, country, or language? If so, do the media have different constraints? 
  • Do we want to them to do anything after they read this? 

Group together your points
Once you know the answers to these questions, group together the points you think are related, and highlight the most important information. 

Then, ask yourself: Do I need the things I haven’t highlighted?

After you’ve written something, do a final check:

Read it out loud. Listen for whether you

  • sound like you’re trying to sell something
  • run out of breath
  • repeating yourself
  • are contradicting yourself

If you are, then you need to ask yourself:

  • Am I really using our tone of voice? 
  • Does it sound like I’d speak? See the guidance under lively.
  • Have I answered all my planning questions?
  • Did I tell people what they need to know?
  • If they need to do something, is it clear?

WRITING CHECKLIST

Go through your writing and make sure you’ve thought about each of these principles. In the same way a scientist doesn’t always use every beaker, you don’t need to use everything. In fact, that’s unrealistic for most pieces. But if we’re not going to do something, we should be doing it consciously – not accidentally. 

How to change people’s perspectives:

  • Ask questions nobody else has ever asked.
 
    Keep going until you get to that one (or two) that are unusual and pull you in.
  • Leave them with some mystery. 
    Don’t give it all away at once. Holding back a little bit of information – while still giving people enough to be interested – keeps them reading. And it keeps your writing concise.
  • Give a surprising fact.

    Our discoveries and inventions change the world in stunning new ways. Relate them to real life, talk about possible ways they’ll change the world, and inject a bit of wonder.

How to find the right balance:

  • Answer the question.
    Make sure you’ve clearly included the main point. Is it near the top? 
  • Show the facts.
    Tell people how you know what you know. 
  • Use subheadings.
    They break up the text and make it more readable. 
  • Explain jargon.
    Sometimes specialist terminology is necessary. Just make sure you follow it up with an explanation in plain language. 
  • Cut adjectives.
    Unless they are absolutely necessary, leave them out.

Always write as you would speak. This will make your writing lively.

  • Use the active voice.
    As in “we discovered the protein,” not “the protein was discovered by us.” You can check by seeing if you can add “by” followed by an agent after the action. If you can, it’s passive. 
  • Talk directly to the reader.
    Use the word “you” when writing, to make sure you’re talking directly to one person. We use “we” or “us” to describe ourselves – instead of saying our company name over and over.
  • Use contractions.
    You can shorten words like “we will,” “there is,” and “will not” to “we’ll,” “there’s,” and “won’t.” 
  • Use everyday language, not formal language.
    Always use the simplest word you can. Help, rather than assist. Need, not require. But, not however. Give, not provide. 
  • Cut corporate language and clichés.
    Avoid phrases like “blue-sky thinking,” “innovative solution,” and “global goal-orientated business.” Instead, we say things like “We think in generations, not quarters.”
  • Stay away from abstract nouns.
    Words like “dedication,” “ability,” and “communication” feel detached. You can usually use verbs instead – like “we found” rather than “the conclusion of the research.” 
  • Avoid or explain jargon.
    Do not use them unless you’re absolutely sure your reader knows the definition. For example, does everybody reading really know what CRISPR is, and what it does? If not, it’s worth explaining that it’s like copying and pasting DNA.

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the writing checklist. 


ARE YOU WRITING IN OUR STYLE?

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR HEADLINES

Curious: make people wonder

  • Be thought-provoking:
 
    Get your audience involved by asking questions or state a fact that is truly remarkable. Be big, bold, and brief.
  • Try an unconventional approach:
 
    Grab their attention by leaving them with some mystery. Deliberately leave out one key piece of information to guide people to deeper sources of content. 
  • Be clever:
 
    Give a surprising fact or use ambiguities to your advantage. Create a striking and smart headline. 

Accurate: give just enough information

  • Use very few words, sometimes only one:
 
    Our headlines are vibrant and clear – can you think of a single, powerful word or a line that expresses everything you want to tell? 

Lively: find the unexpected image

  • Be energetic:
 
    By using the active voice and everyday language you can address the reader directly. Make sure to choose positive and encouraging words to transport your message. 

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the checklist for our headlines. 

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA

Curious: make people wonder

  • Ask questions nobody else has ever asked:
 
    Search for your question in the search bar. If you find it, come up with a new question. Keep going until you hit on something new. (Or at least rare.) 
  • Leave them some mystery:
 
    Deliberately leave out one key piece of information to guide people to deeper sources of content. For example: “What does your phone have in common with water sterilization? Find out.” (It’s the LEDs we’ve deliberately left out here.) 
  • Give a surprising fact:
 
    Look through the data. Is there a fact or figure that’s unusual, quirky, or something you’ve never heard before? For example, “investing €2 billion in research” is boring. “Investing €100 million to find out how to allow people to control robotic limbs with microelectrodes in the brain” – that’s interesting. 

Accurate: give just enough information

  • Focus on one fact:
 
    If we’re hosting an event for example, you don’t need to tell people about every single speaker in one tweet. Instead, split up the detail. Three tweets about three different speakers is more interesting than the same tweet three times. 
  • Cut adjectives:
 
    Things like “our fantastic team” don’t add to your writing. Ask yourself, as opposed to what? (Our terrible team?) If it’s ridiculous, leave it out.
  • Break it up:
 
    Paragraphs look a lot longer on Facebook and LinkedIn than you realize. So use paragraph breaks whenever you get to longer than three or four lines.

Lively: find the unexpected image

  • Talk about the people, not the product:
 
    Who does this help? Who’s involved? It’s more interesting to explain that we’ve helped the police catch criminals than that we’ve created a new spectrometer. 
  • Use words that conjure up imagery:
 
    Explaining that oxytocin is the “cuddle hormone” makes us imagine hugging our loved ones. 
  • Punch up your writing:
 
    Try adding a series of one-word sentences or the occasional short and snappy sentence. For example, “Genome editing.” “Lights out for deadly diseases.” 
  • Use emojis and hashtags sparingly:
 
    If your witty insight needs a picture to make sense, it’s not witty. And only use a hashtag if you’re really joining a conversation. 
  • But avoid exclamation marks:
 
    They make us look like we’re shouting. 

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the checklist for social media. 

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR MARKETING

Curious: make people wonder

  • Give surprising facts:
 
    Look through the data. Is there a fact or figure that’s unusual or quirky – something you’ve never heard before? 
  • Start with the unexpected:
 
    Make your headline and first paragraph a big, bold statement. For example: “Color was invented.”
  • Change their minds:
 
    Once you’ve set up your bold statement, you need to have the evidence to back up your claim. Use it to prove your point. In the case above, we could go on to explain how before dyes were created, the ancient Greeks didn’t even have a word for “blue.”

Accurate: give just enough information

  • Keep it brief:
 
    Keep to one theme or idea in a paragraph. It shouldn’t take you more than a few paragraphs to get from surprising to mind-changing. So challenge yourself to always cut 50 percent of your first draft.
  • Split facts with subheadings:
 
    If we’re talking about the different benefits of semiconductors, we want to split them up. Treat each new fact like a new page and each subheading as a new headline.

Lively: find the unexpected image

  • Talk about the people, not the product:
 
    Who does this help? Who’s involved? It’s more interesting to explain that we’ve helped the police catch criminals than that we’ve created a new spectrometer.
  • Use words that conjure up imagery:
 
    Explaining that oxytocin is the “cuddle hormone” makes us imagine hugging our loved ones.
  • Vary the pace:
 
    Use a mixture of very short sentences and the occasional long one to break up the rhythm of your writing. Like this. But if any sentence gets to around 25 words, it’s probably time to split it up. And it’s okay to start sentences with “and,” “but,” and “so.” It can help break ideas up.

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the checklist for marketing. 

 

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR PRESS RELEASES

Curious: make people wonder 

  • Find a surprising angle:
 
    Journalists are looking to tell a story. They want to know what’s newsworthy. The fact that we’ve got another drug on the market isn’t interesting. They want to know why it matters and what the struggles were. Was it difficult to create the drug? How will it affect people’s day-to-day lives? 
  • Address the elephant in the room:
 
    Ask yourself what people already know about this. For example, if we’re announcing a recall of a drug, be up-front about the problem. Honesty is the best policy.
  • Start with the conclusion:
 
    Journalists have a phrase: “burying the lede.” It’s when a writer puts the most interesting nuggets at the end. Don’t say: “We highlight commitment to research with new drug.” Say: “Our €200 million investment helped thousands fight multiple sclerosis.” 

Accurate: give just enough information

  • Stick to the facts:
 
    Once you know what your angle is, describe the facts one by one. You want to be unbiased and impartial. But make sure that you order them in a way that keeps the story going. 
  • Split facts with subheadings:
 
    If we’re talking about the different benefits of semiconductors, we want to split them up. Treat each new subheading as a new headline. 
  • Be specific:
 
    Rather than saying something vague, like “we work on consumer health,” use examples to bring that to life. Ask yourself, what do we actually do? Do we find cures for diseases? If so, what kinds of diseases? Going into detail is what makes our writing accurate.

Lively: find the unexpected image

  • Use quotes to show our personality:
    These are useful if you want to add a little flair to your writing. But make sure they’re natural and real. Say them out loud to check
  • Vary the pace:
 
    Use a mixture of very short sentences and the occasional long one to break up the rhythm of your writing. Like this. But if any sentence gets to around 25 words, it’s probably time to split it up. And it’s okay to start sentences with “and,” “but,” and “so.” It can help break ideas up. 
  • Talk about the people, not the product:
 
    Who does this help? Who’s involved? It’s more interesting to explain that we’ve helped the police catch criminals than thatwe’ve created a new spectrometer. 

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the checklist for press releases. 

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR EDITORIAL

Curious: make people wonder

  • Start with the unexpected:
 
    Make your headline and first paragraph a big, bold statement. For example: “Color was invented.” 
  • Address the elephant in the room:
 
    Ask yourself what people already know about this. What will they be asking themselves? For example, if we’re writing about a new drug for cancer, explain that it won’t be a cure. But it’ll reduce people’s suffering. Honesty is the best policy. 
  • Change their minds:
 
    Once you’ve set up your bold statement, you need to have the evidence to back up your claim. Use it to prove your point. In the case above, we could go on to explain how before dyes were created, the ancient Greeks didn’t even have a word for “blue.” 

Accurate: give just enough information

  • Make it clear what is an opinion:
 
    Lay out the facts of the situation. And if we have an opinion, put it into its own section. It’s okay to lead with a point of view, but we don’t want people to think it’s the truth. Be humble and willing to change our mind in a later article. 
  • Break it up with subheadings:
 
    It’s okay to write a long article, if that’s what’s necessary to explain a topic and go into detail. But whenever you get to a new idea, create a new section. Treat each new subheading as a new headline. 
  • Be specific:
 
    Rather than saying something vague, like “we work on consumer health,” use examples to bring that to life. Ask yourself, what do we actually do? Do we find cures for diseases? If so, what kinds of diseases? Going into detail is what makes our writing accurate. 

Lively: find the unexpected image

  • Tell a story:
 
    Talk about characters and conflict. Always ask yourself who is involved in this story. What went wrong? How did they overcome it? Is there an unusual or surprising perspective you can give? Are there any characters that we’ve never heard from before? The factory workers who produce our medicine? The automotive manufacturer who uses our paint? How has it helped them? What problems did they overcome? 
  • Vary the pace:
 
    Use a mixture of very short sentences and the occasional long one to break up the rhythm of your writing. Like this. 
  • Use words that conjure up imagery:

    Explaining that oxytocin is the “cuddle hormone” makes us imagine hugging our loved ones. 

Please have a look at our resources, where you can download the checklist for editorial.

HOW OUR TONE WORKS FOR SPEECHES

FAQ

Resources

Using Company Brand Assets

Any use of Company Brand Assets is subject to our Brand Hub Terms and Conditions.

Please be aware that Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (“Company”) is not allowed to use the trademark “Merck” in the U.S. and Canada. Furthermore, Company’s name may only be used in the following format “Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany” and in simple, non-stylized font and never close to any logo in the U.S. and Canada. 

If Company Brand Assets downloaded from the Brand Hub are to be used in or targeting the U.S./ Canada please make sure to comply with these requirements. As a registered Brand Hub user please visit the Brand Hub Logo and Company Name Section for more detailed information.

If you legitimately share Company Brand Assets with other users, you must make sure that the sharing recipient is aware of these restrictions, our Brand Hub Terms and Conditions as well as any applicable Design Basics and Appendix Guidelines. 

As the sharing recipient you must ensure with the person sharing the Company Brand Asset with you that you are complying with aforementioned restrictions as well as with any applicable Design Basics and Appendix Guidelines. You are furthermore bound by our Brand Hub Terms and Conditions.

For any questions please get in touch with our Brand Help Desk.

 

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  • BRAND MANIFESTO

    We are a vibrant science and technology company. What does that mean?

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  • COMMUNICATIONS

    Communication is key. We speak with one voice and tell our stories across all channels.

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  • NARRATIVE

    Our narrative captures the true essence of our brand in words. Its purpose? To help us tell our story.

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