What is Brand Tone of Voice?
Companies sweat blood to create distinctive visual identities for their brands. But what about the written identity (tone of voice)?
Companies regularly shell out large sums on logos and branding because they want to stand out and make the right impression on their customers. Far fewer think about their choice of words. But if you want an effective marketing strategy, words are just as important.
Because so many companies don’t make the effort to consider their tone of voice, getting your words right is potentially an easier win. The fact you’re reading this page means you’re already one step ahead of the laggards.
What’s on this Page?
On this page, I cover tone of voice definition and benefits and share some sparkling examples. I also touch on putting your values to work as part of your brand writing and when to dial your voice up or down. Finally, you get the lowdown on tone of voice guidelines.
If you want to get your hands on a distinctive written identity, visit my page about running a tone of voice workshop.
An Easy Way to Understand Tone of Voice
Consider these two ways of answering the phone:
‘Hello, how can I help?’
‘Good morning. May I enquire as to how I can be of assistance?
Worlds apart, right? The same is true for the way your brand communicates in writing. There are myriad ways to get it both right and wrong.
Your writing can draw the reader in or it can push them away. Convey confidence or create confusion. Raise a laugh or provoke tears of frustration.
Tone of voice meaning in a nutshell: the written personality of your brand. Like actual personalities, there are many brand personality types. You’re stuck with your personality, but you can control your brand identity using voice to positively affect how your target audience feels about your organisation.
The Many Personalities of Olly Davy
Have a look at these further examples (based on me):
Olly Davy is an experienced freelance copywriter writing engaging copy for brands, agencies and entrepreneurs from all sectors.
Hi, I’m Olly Davy. I write words that work for you. I specialise in customer-focused marketing copy that persuades customers to get in touch.
Olly Davy knows people. And he knows how to use words to push their buttons. Tell him which people and he’ll find the right buttons. Simple.
They’re all true, but they’re also contrasting. Which is more likely to encourage you to pick up the phone?
Benefits of Voice
Aside from helping you put clear air between you and your rivals, one of the main benefits of using tone of voice is giving your brand message and marketing more consistency. Marketing teams strive for consistency because it’s important for creating, maintaining and growing customer relationships.
People find consistency reassuring in people, and it’s the same with brands. If your homepage language is different from that of your emails, which is world’s apart from your Ts and Cs, people will be confused. If they’re confused, there’s no way they’re going to buy from you.
Used properly throughout your content marketing, language is a powerful tool for showing customers how you can make their lives better. Your product might be fantastic, but if you don’t write about it in a way that resonates, you’re undermining the whole project. That’s money down the toilet.
Here are some examples of brands who’ve got it right.
Tone of Voice Examples
Dollar Shave Club know that every touchpoint is a chance to show your brand personality:
Jack Daniels are masters of storytelling:
Nest is all about home. The warm and welcoming voice matches the offer perfectly:
What Makes up Tone of Voice?
To create a distinctive tone of voice, you must know your brand and its values inside out. But values on their own don’t make a tone of voice (more on putting your values to work in your writing below).
I don’t agree with the idea that you can get your top people in a room, come up with a list of words (like ‘passionate’ and ‘honest’) and hey presto you’ve got a written personality. Words are open to interpretation. A bank and a bakery could have wildly different understandings of the words ‘passionate’ and ‘honest’.
A list of brand values is a good start. But it’s just that—a start. What follows is a messy, creative process. It’s only when you apply your values to your writing that you discover what works for your brand.
This process of translation, from values to voice, involves making decisions in three key areas: register, vocabulary and grammar.
Register, Vocabulary and Grammar
Choosing the register means finding the sweet spot between extremes: for example, between formal and chatty, serious and humorous, detached and warm.
Vocabulary is, simply, your choice of words. Long, short, slang, technical—what types of words should and shouldn’t be used in your brand writing?
Grammar options are things like using contractions (it’s, you’re etc.), avoiding the passive voice and long sentences, and deciding which, if any, rules you’re happy to break. You could go into exhaustive detail here, but generally it’s best to keep it simple.
What Do You Stand For?
Tone of voice is not just how you write things, it’s what you write too. More than just a nice list to put on your website, values, and associated opinions, are a large part of what makes a written personality authentic. Knowing what you really give a damn about helps you create distinguishing features that make customers fall in love with your brand. If all your competitors sound similar it’s a great opportunity to do something else.
It takes confidence to do this. As soon as you express an opinion there’s always some keyboard warrior ready to take umbrage. But the death knell of any marketing is trying to be all things to all people.
Here are some examples of brands standing up for what they believe.
BrewDog taking the fight to Budweiser:
Oatly have strong opinions on milk and they’re not shy about using them:
Who Gives A Crap combine a cheeky tone with an extremely worthy cause:
Varying Your Tone
Another crucial thing to consider is how and when you vary your voice. Like your personality, which, although underneath it remains the same, you reveal different aspects of depending on the situation. Your brand tone of voice will vary depending on three factors.
Who is reading it
If your brand has more than one audience. The people using the software and the people paying for it, for example. It’s worth thinking about how you talk to each group.
When they read it
At what point in the sales process the copy appears. An outbound marketing email may take a different tone to an in-depth white paper.
Where they read it
Social media is the obvious place where you can dial up your voice. Write formally on Twitter and LinkedIn and you come across like a bit of a fuddy-duddy.
What Are Tone of Voice Guidelines?
Tone of voice guidelines are often an afterthought, buried deep in the brand guidelines or style guide among hundreds of pages on font and logo positioning. If you’re going to create guidelines don’t make this mistake.
Done well, tone of voice guidelines are incredibly useful. Rather than spend all your waking hours editing your team’s writing, give them a resource to help them stay on track. While it’s true even the best guidelines won’t turn anyone into a great writer, they do help team members writing on behalf of your brand to do so consistently.
The best brand voice guidelines include a definition of the voice as well as practical tips for applying it. And, importantly, lots of examples of your voice in action. Before-and-afters are particularly handy for demonstrating how your voice has evolved as well as pitfalls to avoid.
A set of guidelines should capture everything, or at least the most important stuff, known about a written personality. For that reason, they’re normally written at the end of a copywriting project when the new voice has been rigorously tested through application.
To recap, tone of voice is your written brand personality. It’s based on your brand values, developed while creating content and involves making decisions about register, vocabulary and grammar. You can make all the decisions yourself or get a freelance writer to help.
The benefits of tone of voice include greater visibility in your sector, more consistent marketing and increased engagement with customers. Ignoring tone of voice or getting it wrong could mean confusing customers, or worse, alienating them.
If you find yourself in any of the following situations, it’s time to take action:
- Your brand has no clear voice
- Your brand sounds different on different channels
- Everyone writing for your brand has conflicting ideas about how it should sound
- Your product or service is great but you’re not getting the response you want
I’ve helped many organisations find their voice and I can help yours too.
Get in touch to discuss your project and get a free quote.