Tone of Voice expresses a brand’s personality and core values. Its very essence is about the people that make up the brand – their values, professional attributes, their goals and what they are passionate about. So how do you define your brand’s tone of voice?
There are plenty of marketing articles online that talk about the purpose of tone of voice, but not so many that drill down into the detail. So, let’s explore what it means and how you find your ‘voice’.
Defining Tone of Voice
Before going into too much depth, let’s consider what ‘tone of voice’ really means. It helps to think of it as not what you say, but how you say it. You need to think linguistically. Whilst the words are important, so too is their order, context and pace.
If you ever read a marketing textbook about tone of voice, it will often refer to written language, rather than spoken. Think about it, how many times have you read ‘tone of voice informs all written collateral’ for a website, social media, brochures and email etc… Whilst it should inform the way we write, it needs to also address the spoken word. It should run through everything that the people working for that brand do, and most importantly, say.
It’s an expression of a brand’s culture
Your tone of voice should express your brand’s personality and values. It’s about the very people that embody your brand. What motivates them? What impact do they want to make? What do they want to share with the rest of the world?
It defines how you are different
Your tone of voice should be instantly recognisable, consistent and unique. This is much more than a list of attributes that make you more competitive. It involves taking a close look at the type of language you use every day and the words clients and employees use to describe the brand.
Before you start a brand workshop, at the very least, you should have already done some form of consumer research to find out what current and prospective clients think about you. Their experiences of your brand will help define your tone of voice.
You’ll be surprised by how much weight they give to various attributes. If your response rate is significant enough, you can use the likes of SurveyMonkey to identify similarities in answers, including frequently used descriptions and adjectives.
Importance of consistency
The most successful brands are those we trust. Why? Because they are consistent and as humans, we crave familiarity. The more familiar something is, the more at ease we feel. It stands to good reason then that consistent use of language is important to the consumer and integral to tone of voice.
The art of persuasion
There’s a tendency for businesses to include as much detail as possible, but this can have a negative impact on tone of voice. The aim is not for your audience to comment on your writing style or how detailed you are, but on how your business made them feel.
If you were asked to recite exactly what you read about one of your favourite brands, you probably wouldn’t be able to do it. But you would be able to explain how it made you feel.
Carefully selected words can make all the difference.
For example, charities appealing for donations tend to use short, emotive simple sentences as a way of creating a sense of attachment and duty. Whilst, researchers tend to use more protracted language as a way of implying a sense of academia or authority on a subject.
Define your values
You must accurately define the main purpose of your brand (your core values) before you identify your tone of voice. I always start with these and if a client isn’t sure what these are, I will spend time with them identifying them.
Identifying your personality traits and tone of voice will lie in what your customers already think of and say about you.
When you survey existing clients, consider asking them language-depicting questions such as:
- What three words would you use to describe us?
- If you could pick one thing we are best known for, what would it be?
- If we were an animal/car what would it be?
Think of your core values (usually between 4 to 6) as the glue that connects your business. They are your guiding stars that help to determine your long-term goals. They express your uniqueness. It stands to good reason you should be proud of each of your core values.
As an example, On Point Content’s core values are:
Consistency with your core values will mean you’ll ooze authenticity to your customers.
Discover your personality
I touched on this in a previous blog, but personality is incredibly important. Once you’re clear about what your core values are, you can really think about the personality of your brand.
How formal do you want to appear? This can vary depending on the audience you are talking to and which platform you are using, where you can alter the level of formality.
Formal language denotes professionalism, respect and authority but if you’re not careful it can feel starch and lacklustre.
Write with feeling
A good place to start is with the people who broker new business relationships in your organisation. What language do they use? Pay close attention to their tone, pace and relationship with the client. Whilst what we say can be very different from written content, a good copywriter should be able to mirror this personality.
Consider the advert below for Asana Premium. Who doesn’t want their team to do it’s very best? The language is authoritative, yet emotive.
If you ever have the pleasure of speaking to an Asana sales representative, they speak the same language – one that runs through their forums, help centre, academy and Asana Guide.
Brand vs corporate tone of voice
What if your business is an umbrella company for several different brands though? In this case, ‘brand’ and ‘company’ tone of voice need to be two different elements, and here’s why:
- Each brand might be talking to a different audience even if the products are the same.
- You might need a separate, more formalised corporate tone of voice if you work in a highly regulated industry. Your brands, on the other hand, might need to be more colloquial, chatty even.
- A brand’s tone of voice is likely to evolve quicker than a corporate tone. A brand’s tone of voice might need to be more flexible to accommodate changing customer expectations. Your corporate tone of voice is likely to be more uniform, highlighting the core immovable values the overarching business represents.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog and discovered how to define your brand’s tone of voice. There is, of course, so much more to discover, but hopefully, it’s given you some ideas.
Of course, tone of voice is simply one aspect, the visual identity of your brand is just as important. When the two combine, it’s powerful; the beginning of an exciting new brand journey.