What is Brand Tone of Voice?

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

What is brand tone of voice and why does it matter in your marketing?

Have you seen the phrase Tone of Voice bandied about?

If so, and you’re not sure what it means; or you get it but don’t know if it really matters; or you simply have no clue what yours should be and how to apply it to your marketing… read on.

This one’s for you.

What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice refers to the way a brand communicates with its customers. Tone runs deeper than just words – it’s the overall feel of the messaging and should apply to every piece of communication from tweets to terms and conditions.

Innocent drinks are often brought up in conversations about tone, and for good reason. From their packaging to their Twitter feed, you always know you’re looking at something Innocent.

But so what?

Why does tone of voice matter?

Done right, tone of voice makes the difference between a great product that blends in to the background and a great product which really stands out.

● Familiarity – Having a clearly defined tone of voice makes you recognisable in a crowd, and familiarity breeds trust

● Building connections – A survey showed that 65% of people feel an emotional connection with brands. A strong and consistent tone of voice helps to build these connections with your customers

● Increased revenue – The average increase in revenue from consistently presenting a brand is 23%

OK, so it matters. You’re convinced.

But how do you figure out your own tone of voice?

How to identify the right tone of voice for your business

As with most aspects of business, figuring out the right tone of voice starts with your customers.

How do they speak? What do they want and need to hear from you? This will be based on a variety of factors, from their demographics to your product or service.

If you’re a family counsellor then a jokey or sarcastic tone is probably not advisable – if you’re a bar or you sell trainers, it could go down really well.

Don’t feel you have to be serious just because you’re dealing with serious issues, though. Dead Happy – a life insurance company aimed at millennials (whose logo is a skull!) – do this brilliantly, but it only works because they know exactly who they’re marketing to.

The important thing here is not to assume anything.

Do your research – it takes longer at the beginning but saves time, effort and buckets of cash later down the line. It’s always easier to get something right first time, than to have to fix it later.

But my tone of voice is just… me, isn’t it?

For small business owners, their tone of voice generally starts off as simply their voice. Because they’re in charge of everything from invoicing to content marketing, they just write as themselves. This can work well, but problems tend to arise if they start overthinking and second guessing themselves.

Do I have to use complicated legal-ese in these terms and conditions? Shouldn’t I sound extra knowledgeable and formal in these FAQs?

Not having clear guidelines can lead to inconsistent messaging, or stiff and robotic communication which is confusing for customers.

What happens when you get tone of voice wrong?

Inconsistency. “Humour” that falls flat. Promises that go unfulfilled.

All related to tone of voice – and all leading to unhappy customers.

On International Women’s Day 2021, a certain fast-food restaurant made a real whopper of an error by tweeting a very ill advised “joke”. Apparently, it was supposed to highlight their scholarship programme for female chefs, but unfortunately for them, most people didn’t see the funny side and they were forced to delete and apologise.

On a smaller scale, you’ve probably signed up to mailing lists promising witty and upbeat emails – but delivering ones that are bland and dull. And you probably unsubscribed, quick-sharp, because that’s not what you were promised.

Pin down who you are – and who you’re not

Examining your brand’s values and principles is essential to tone of voice. You’ve probably got these in spades but maybe you haven’t ever explicitly specified them, even to yourself.

Write them down and consider what they mean to you and to your customers. When you’re clear on what you stand for, this comes across in your tone and gives your following another chance to connect.

What you stand against, and the words you avoid are just as important.

Try coming up with a list of adjectives describing who you are, then a list to describe who you are not. Audit your existing content to make sure both are clear, and check your future content against the same list.

How do I outsource my tone of voice?

As a copywriter, this is probably the question I’m asked most. How can you sound like me? Won’t it be obvious it’s not me writing?

When a brand has grown organically around a single person with a strong tone of voice, it’s really difficult to see how that can be handed over to a stranger – even if it is their job! That makes figuring out how to grow your brand pretty tricky.

A great copywriter produces copy that sounds like you – on a really good day. But this doesn’t just happen by chance.

I start my projects with an in-depth brief. We talk about their ideal client, their wants and needs, and what keeps them up at night.

We talk about what words they use, and the words to avoid at all costs. I’m not just listening to what you say, I’m also looking out for the way you say it. Formal or casual? Funny or serious? Matter of fact or enthusiastic?

I’ll note how you make your points and all your idiosyncrasies and unconscious catchphrases. After we’ve spoken, I go through your existing content, watching your videos, listening to podcasts, gauging your tone, making notes and, basically, channelling you!

I can then produce tone of voice guidance so that anyone in your company can write copy that hits just the right tone.

Lily Karenza is a Nottingham UK based copywriter, working with small–medium enterprises, artists, creatives and independent entrepreneurs. She specialises in websites, blogging and sales copy – and nailing her client’s tone of voice.

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