Standard Life: language programme

Case Study


Standard Life

Type of Work

Tone of voice

Partnering a pensions company on a three-year, company-wide language programme

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when pensions weren’t something that anyone had to think about. Either your employer sorted one out for you – or the state did. If you had a little more money, you might speak to an adviser.
But by early 2011, that picture was changing drastically. Individuals now had to take responsibility for saving for their retirement. Yet many were sticking their heads in the sand and putting it off.
Having no pension is not a great situation to be in for the individual – and for the industry, it’s potentially disastrous. So something had to change.
Standard Life made a decision to become more customer focussed. It put language at the centre of a company-wide rebrand.

Features of language programme

Over a period of three years, we were intensively involved with Standard Life. These are just some of the activities we initiated:

  • Audit – established where Standard Life’s language was
  • Brand and competitor review – helped us to suggest a positioning, and how the language would need to change to achieve it
  • Tone of voice – we created an approach to language that consistently expressed the brand’s personality
  • Tone of voice training – we trained 4,000 people in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong and Germany to write and communicate in the new tone of voice. Teams included brand, marketing, internal comms, sales, social media, events, PR, corporate reporting, customer services, procurement and legal
  • Dual language training – in Quebec, we ran dual French-English training sessions
  • Translating tone of voice – we worked with in-house teams to translate Standard Life’s new brand language into German, French and Simplified Chinese
  • Language clinics – we held surgery sessions where anyone could book half-hour slots to discuss a project they were working on to get guidance and feedback
  • Writing key pieces – we rewrote huge volumes of documents including templated letters, emails, campaign materials, brand materials, websites and internal communications materials
  • Six-monthly MOTs – we offered continued support via Standard Life’s brand team, reviewing communications on a regular basis and giving feedback to individual team members to help them keep on track
  • Executive training – we coached directors on their use of language and communications
  • Train the trainer – we helped to identify and train language champions who became the go-to people in their teams for all questions about brand and communications. We also trained trainers who coached new starters on how to communicate for Standard Life
  • Specialist tone of voice guidance – we created guidelines and training for specialist teams including the social media team and the legal team
  • Re-defining the recruitment journey – we worked with human resources to map out and communicate the intricate path to employment in a financial services organisation
  • Messaging framework – we worked with the brand team to create a messaging system for the whole of the organisation
  • Naming framework – we created a systematic approach to creating new names for Standard Life. We also trained teams how to use it, and coached them through the process
  • Rebranding Standard Life Wealth – we defined and articulated the brand strategy for SLW after it merged with Newton. We adapted the existing tone of voice for this important sub-brand
  • Standard Life Investments – we adapted the existing tone of voice for SLI, and trained the teams there to use it

By treating language as a vehicle to reposition our brand – and to help achieve organisational change – we have succeeded in helping our customers to understand some of the most important decisions they will ever have to make. Wordtree has been fundamental in helping us to achieve this change.

Nicola Thomson Head of Brand, Standard Life


It’s impossible to document all the results of such an in-depth and wide-ranging programme.
Internally, we know that the pace of work and productivity have increased. People are energised and purposeful in their work. The churn of new recruits has stopped too.
It has saved money too – print costs are down, sign-off times are down. And customer services teams now spend significantly less time trying to explain horribly-worded letters to customers.

Externally, the wins have been phenomenal. Standard Life has engaged new business, had outstanding responses to campaigns – and really gone from strength to strength.

Interested in learning more? Check out these links:

FAQs on tone of voice
FAQs on creating messaging frameworks
FAQs on copywriting