08 July 2021

How to Define Your Tone of Voice

Imagine the year is 2006 and you’re auditioning for the X-Factor. Yes, you heard correctly. The X-Factor. You’ve just walked into the audition room to face Simon and co, when you realise that you’re not alone. There are dozens of other people auditioning with you, and they’re all singing the same song. Over and over again, at the same time. It’s horrendous.

Quick, how are you going to get Simon’s attention?! Are you going to join in with the others and sing the same old song? Or are you going to try something different?

Now, replace Simon with your customers and the other auditionees with your competitors. Are you catching our drift? Time and time again, we meet people who are fed up with competing for attention amongst the clamour of other brands in their industry. And they're right: it is frustrating - if you're not doing it properly.  

First impressions are important, and you only have seconds to make them count. So, with everyone speaking at once, how can you possibly cut through the noise? 

Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.

Simon Mainwaring

What Is Tone of Voice?

When you’re having a conversation, it’s only natural to convey emotion. Your voice will sound happy, angry, calm, excited; it’ll reflect how you feel at that moment. But how does this translate to written words? The answer is making your brand’s tone of voice memorable and distinctive. Tone is created by the words and phrases you use, and how you structure your sentences. 

For example, if you refer to your company as we or us, and use warm, casual phrases, you will create a friendly and welcoming tone. Referring to your brand as your Company Name and adopting an impersonal tone makes you sound formal, and perhaps even distant.

Your tone of voice describes how your brand communicates with your audience, rather than what you say to them. It’s how you want them to perceive your message.

Your brand tone of voice should be completely unique to you. It's a composition of your personality, beliefs and attitude, and the tone depends on the kind of brand you are and the type of audience you're trying to engage.

To stand out from the chatter, your voice cannot be plucked from thin air. It cannot be created on a whim and it certainly can’t be based on a trend you think is cool. Or one that your mates think is cool. Save that for the pub.

Rather, it must grow out of who you already are as a company. It should be based on your brand's values. After all, nearly 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. 

For example, skincare brands Lush and L’Oreal prioritise different values. Lush is concerned with being eco-friendly, whereas L'Oréal alludes to notions of science and advancement. It’s clear to see this difference when you look at their descriptions for moisturisers...

Lush: “In these little pots is every last ounce of our experience and expertise, along with a world of high quality, natural ingredients.” 

L’Oreal: ‘“Proven science, cutting-edge innovations captured in luxurious textures for a sumptuous skin care experience.”

Your voice is key to connecting with your audience. It’s not just about conveying your brand values, but also engaging your customers. You need to understand how they think and speak. You need to be one of the gang! After all, 66% of customers expect brands to understand them and their needs and expectations.

Personality is everything in art and poetry.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you're a corporate financial services company, for example, whose target audience are investors, your tone should be formal, concise and informed. But if you're a lifestyle brand hoping to engage millennials, your target audience is more likely to engage with you if you adopt a relaxed and conversational tone. You’re not a regular brand, you’re a cool brand.

By defining your voice, you're guaranteeing consistency for your audience. You should sound the same wherever people engage with you, be it on social media, in emails or on your website. Familiarity is comforting and will help build brand loyalty.

Brand Voice vs. Tone of Voice

While these two things are related, brand voice and tone serve two different purposes:

  • Brand voice represents your overall personality - your core values, unique perspective, how you express yourself. In other words, it’s how your brand talks all the time.
  • Brand tone is how you communicate. For example, when you announce exciting news, your tone will be upbeat. But when you inform your customers of an error, it is apologetic. It’s your attitude. 

So, now we know exactly what tone of voice is, how on Earth do you define one for your brand? Don’t worry, because we’re about to tell you!

Know your audience

To find your tone of voice, you must first pinpoint who your audience is and choose the right language to reach them. We do this through the creation of brand personas. Note their gender, age, interests, education, job title and interests, and build profiles around them. Are you a friend, a teacher, or a rich aunt who always brings that extra ounce of wacky?

Next, figure out which platforms they use to communicate with brands, then adapt your tone of voice accordingly.  For example, generationally speaking, millennials value both email and social media, particularly Instagram and Twitter. They tend to be loyal to their preferred brands and take a keen interest in their philosophy. Gen-Z spends more time on Snapchat and TikTok, and crave an authentic, personalised brand experience. 

Now, here comes the fun part! Explore the platforms that your target audience are using. Take a look around, research how to speak to their mates, what they like and dislike, the overall tone of conversations, the language they use. This is your chance to make your dream of becoming an international super spy a reality! Go out there and do some snooping!

Why is this important for your brand? Well, experts say that mirroring the communication patterns, tone and body language of a particular group allows them to feel a sense of belonging. If you talk like them, your content will be more relatable. This will lead to more followers, brand advocates and, most importantly, sales.

Define Your Core Values

Brand trust is more important than ever at a time when only 34% of consumers say they trust most of the brands they use. And how do you build trust with your customers? That’s right. Transparency. This will help set the tone and make your business sound more human, less robotic.

In order to define your core values, try answering these questions:

  • Why did you start your business?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Which problems are you trying to solve?
  • What do you stand for as a brand?
  • What current social issues are close to your heart?

Next, it’s time to write your mission statement (if you haven’t already!) This is a chance to show your customers who you really are, what you care about and how your brand can improve their lives. A well-established mission statement will shape your brand’s culture and allow your audience to relate to you in an authentic way. A job well done!

Review your content

If you already have existing content, conduct an audit and analyse what you already have. This will help you identify what is already working and what people are responding to. What resonates with your audience the most? 

Create your guidelines!

The time has come! You’re finally ready to combine all the information you’ve collected and write your guidelines. Set aside a separate document that includes the kind of phrases and expressions you want to use. How do you sound when interacting with your customers and clients? 

Use examples for different scenarios. Identify how you would describe your tone of voice if it were a person. Are they formal or casual? Funny or serious? Irreverent or respectful? Enthusiastic or matter-of fact? How do you want to tell your story?

Whatever you decide best represents your brand, make this document an integral part of every piece of content or communication. Consistency is key when it comes to personality and trust.

How can we help?

We map identities out with a product we’ve created called a Brand Blueprint. Rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it? It covers the cornerstones of your verbal identity that will help keep you, your team and any third parties you work with speaking from the same page.

You can read more about it here. Pop us an email to find out more about how a Brand Blueprint can benefit your business. It’s time to harness the power of ‘you’.

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