Tone of Voice
Define Your Brand’s Tone of Voice
with a Tone of Voice Workshop
Are you thinking about holding a tone of voice workshop?
Then you’re in the right place.
Tone of voice, or written personality, is a powerful tool that every brand should be using. A strong written personality helps you stand apart from rivals and build deeper relationships with customers. It’s an important component of any marketing strategy aiming to attract and convert more prospects. Many companies fail to consider tone of voice, so you’re already at an advantage.
All my copywriting projects involve a discussion about tone of voice during the briefing stage. Cookie-cutter processes create samey results so, honestly, I tailor my approach to your needs. But, broadly speaking, I offer two approaches to tone of voice. Read on to find out more (I’ll let you in on a little secret too).
1. Bespoke tone of voice workshop
This is not just about creating cracking copy, it’s about getting senior decision makers together to define a written personality based on the unique qualities of your organisation. Any work you’ve done on brand values or audience segmentation is useful and will feed into this process, but it’s not essential to have any of those things.
If you want to define and use brand voice to maximum effect there are five stages:
A. Look out
B. Look in
A. Look out
Before the workshop, I do extensive research into your competitors’ copy, which I share on the day. This is the part that lots of otherwise useful approaches to tone of voice miss. What’s the point in defining your tone of voice in isolation?
By exploring what your competitors are doing we spot gaps to exploit and pitfalls to avoid. Companies in the same sector often sound the same. Have you ever taken the time to check how your copy stacks up against your rivals’? Bosses often can’t recognise their own About Us copy when shown unbranded alongside other companies’ blurbs.
Many companies’ About Us pages are dull. Bulldog Skincare’s isn’t one of them:
B. Look in
A thorough audit of your copy helps us pinpoint where you’re getting it right and what needs improving. I take you on the journey a typical customer might follow when interacting with your brand: social media, blog post, web page, sales email, newsletter, and so on.
What do they experience on this journey—consistent communication or mixed-up messaging? Let’s find out and, if it’s the latter, do something about it.
C. Define (the tone of voice workshop)
The workshop itself is an intensive and fun session during which I guide you through a clear process using the 11 Primary Voices of Commercial Writing (nod to Nick Parker, founder of That Explains Things). Running a tone of voice workshop is a hands-on process; you and your colleagues discuss (argue), write and, ultimately, make decisions. No one knows your company better than you. I’m there to help you turn that knowledge into a distinctive written personality.
We also look at real examples from all sorts of brands so you can see the sheer range of what’s out there. Once you’ve settled on a broad definition of your tone of voice, you get your hands dirty with tone of voice workshop exercises, both individually and in teams. This bit is all about saying goodbye to your comfort zone and discovering how far you’re prepared to push your brand language. It’s challenging, rewarding and, dare I say it, great for team building.
At the end of the workshop, you have a written tone of voice definition and an understanding of how to use language to create different impressions on the reader. After the workshop, I apply the definition while writing your copy to bring your new tone of voice to life on the page.
A tone of voice definition is all very well, but how will it work in practice? You need a good-sized project (ideally something customer-facing like web copy) to test it out. While writing, or rewriting, copy we begin to see what works and what doesn’t for your brand.
All the insight we’ve gained during the project is captured in the tone of voice guidelines. The set of guidelines could be simple or it could run to many pages, depending on what is most useful for your team. Either way, it should contain a definition of your tone of voice, tips for applying it and examples of what to do and what not to do. The level of detail is up to you.
F. Tone of voice training
Okay, I lied. There are six stages.
How can you make sure all this good work lives on beyond my involvement? With a training session.
The training session is designed to help your team get the most from the guidelines and apply them to their everyday writing. ‘Team’ could mean the same group of people who were in the first workshop where you defined your tone of voice. Or it could be members of the wider department who write on behalf of the brand.
During this session, your team members have the opportunity to apply the guidelines during creative writing exercises and receive instant feedback on their work. The result is that rather than feeling like the guidelines have been imposed from above (a sure-fire turnoff), your people are involved and empowered.
2. Sample-based approach
If you don’t have the time or budget for a workshop but you’re still wondering how to define your brand’s tone of voice, there is a quicker approach. First of all, you share your thoughts on tone of voice when you brief me, including references of copy you like (not necessarily in your sector). Then I write a sample, or samples, for you to review.
Once you’ve given me your feedback on the sample—indicating how, say, conversational, energetic or straight-talking you want to sound—I write the first draft.
That sounds very simple and it is. But, important decisions about register, vocabulary, grammar and level of formality still have to be made (I cover this in more detail in my blog post ‘What is Brand Tone of Voice?’). The difference with the sample-based approach is that I make most of them behind the scenes, on your behalf, using a combination of your input and my experience of tone of voice copywriting.
Whether you choose the tone of voice workshop or the sample-based approach you end up with great copy. But they are two very different services.
Principles of good business writing
Now for the (not-so) secret part: you can turn tired writing into copy that’s clear, confident and compelling without even thinking about tone of voice.
People don’t read business writing (basically anything marketing related) for pleasure. It’s not like curling up with a good book. They’re probably downright hostile to reading it because they’ve lots of other things they’d rather be doing. They read it because they want something: a specific piece of information or an answer to a burning question.
So how can you make sure your customers get what they need from your writing quickly and easily? There are a few simple principles you can apply. They are the foundations of good business writing and I keep them front of mind whatever I’m working on.
Putting the reader first
It might be your copy but it’s not about you—it’s about them.
Getting to the point quickly
They haven’t got all day.
Using short sentences
Literature this ain’t—short sentences are easier to understand.
Keeping the language simple
No one is impressed by your distensible lexicon. Sorry.
Choosing verbs over nouns
—multi-platform solutions for user engagement—que?
Avoiding the passive voice
The classic corporate dehumaniser (although sometimes it is useful).
Watching for death by jargon and business-speak
Write like people talk (within reason).
Breaking some of the rules to keep it interesting
That’s what rules are for.
Using tone of voice is a great way to help your brand stand out. I can help you apply tone of voice in two main ways: with a brand tone of voice workshop or a sample-based process.
Both methods are useful, but the tone of voice workshop is the most effective way to create a unique brand tone of voice from scratch. It’s ideal for organisations who see brand language as a key part of their strategy.
If you’re going the whole hog, I can help you do all of the following:
- Research your market to find opportunities
- Audit your existing content
- Define your tone of voice
- Apply it to any brand writing
- Capture everything in tone of voice guidelines
- Train your team
Need a tone of voice copywriter? Get in touch for a personalised proposal.