Your tone of voice – the way you speak as a brand – is a key part of your personality.
It’s every bit as important as your company name, logo, or website design.
Getting the right tone of voice for your business means thinking about your audience, your goals and your brand background. Here’s how to do it.
What is tone of voice?
Tone of voice is: ‘not what you say, but the way you say it.’
It includes the words you choose, and also their rhythm and pace.
Do it right, and your tone of voice will naturally flow across all your written copy – from your website and documentation, to social media, emails and even packaging.
Why does it matter?
The way you communicate is an expression of your staff and brand that sets you apart from your competitors. So when your customers hear the same voice from you, long term, it shows them you’re consistent and reliable and instils trust. It humanises your business, and treats the reader like a human too – not just ‘the customer’.
Building this effective conversation and relationship is essential to long-lasting relationships, especially if you want to influence and change behaviour.
Overall, a well-defined tone of voice helps you focus your efforts, and gives you a clear direction to follow every time you communicate.
Finding your tone of voice
First off, consider:
- your brand values – how language and behaviour can reflect your personality
- your goals – what you want to achieve in your communications
- your audience – what works for them and what makes them feel part of your story
What do brand values look like? These can be as simple as individual words which sum up your business. Get everyone in your team to jot down three words on sticky notes, then review them together, putting them up on a wall. Be realistic – not too aspirational – and look for the best in what you stand for. If the values people are suggesting are ‘standard’ (about efficiency, customers and service, for example) don’t be afraid to stand by them. Just think about how these translate into writing which expresses benefits and connects with readers.
What do we mean by ‘formal’?
A formal tone gives a sense of expertise, authority and respect. It can be more appropriate to use in professional and academic settings, and it avoids contractions and colloquialisms. The challenge is often to communicate without resorting to jargon, or overly sector-specific language.
The downside: Used without precision – or adopted as ‘the standard business way of writing’ – it can be seen as stiff and lacking in personality.
And what do we mean by informal?
Informal language is conversational, spontaneous and warm. The brand Innocent has a unique tone of voice and is well known in the marketing world. They’re informal, playful and humorous across all channels, from social media and website to their packaging.
The downside: Pushed too far, it can seem careless and unprofessional.
Getting the right tone
Finding your voice is about writing in a way that best communicates your message. It’s up to you to decide how formal, or informal your writing should be, based on your audience preferences, your goals as a company, and your brand background. But wherever you are on the spectrum, you’ll connect best when you balance trust with reader appeal.
Bringing it all to life
When you have a good handle on what your tone is, create a style guide which will put these into practice.
The best way to bring this to life is with examples. Try including versions of the same sentence (as well as your rationale) in this format:
Write like this: We’re your expert one-stop shop to fix all your business IT issues.
Not like this: Integrated IT solutions are provided by our experts to address consumer needs.
And here’s why: We avoid jargon, speak to the customer and reassure them, avoiding passive constructions (‘are provided by’), while writing nicely to the point.
To easily clear up specific questions on language choice, add a glossary of words you’ll use, and which you’ll stay away from.
Finally, make sure you stay true to your word and write your guide in the tone of voice you describe. This will keep the experience of your brand internally consistent, so it comes through loud and clear for anyone using it.