How to Find Your Brand’s Tone of Voice
  • By Mark Harrison

    Copywriter

Everyone has their own tone of voice. From birth, we hear the accents and turns of phrase that those around us use and we develop our own tone accordingly. It’s what makes your voice recognisable and distinctive from others.

This is why thinking about your written tone of voice is such a valuable process for your brand and any customer-facing activities and strategies.

Your tone of voice should be present in all written copy produced for your brand, from your website and social media posts to all of your direct communications with customers. You shouldn’t sound just like your competitors and nor should your voice be drowned out by others.

First and foremost, tone is about what you’re saying, not how loudly you’re saying it. In order to develop a uniform tone of voice that you, your employees, and your audience all understand clearly, you need to be able to answer five key questions:

This is why thinking about your written tone of voice is such a valuable process for your brand and any customer-facing activities and strategies.

Your tone of voice should be present in all written copy produced for your brand, from your website and social media posts to all of your direct communications with customers. You shouldn’t sound just like your competitors and nor should your voice be drowned out by others.

Know Your Audience

While it’s always worth looking at what competing brands are doing, in order to find out what you could be doing either differently or even better, it’s more important to focus on your audience.

Nowadays, online marketing is focused on intent as much as demographics, but that’s not to fully discount factors such as age or gender. If you identify that your primary audience is male or female, young or old, or has any other main demographic characteristic, it’s important to engage that primary audience with your tone of voice.

However, when identifying your ideal customers, it may be more effective to develop customer profiles based on who intends to pay for your products or services. Who will come across your website or social media posts while searching for products like yours, and how will you greet them?

For instance, if you run a landscaping company, you would speak in different ways to a mum-of-three who wants to spruce up her garden and a pub landlord looking to renovate their beer garden.

But by understanding what motivates these different clients, you’ll be able to create an inclusive but specific tone. This should work for your branding and marketing materials but can also be easily personalised for written communications with different customers.

Promises and Core Values

More than just telling customers what you do, you need to ensure your tone of voice adequately reflects your brand’s core values. The key is to convey what you’re promising to your audience in any written copy you produce, whether it’s an advertisement or a web page.

All brands are different, but whether you judge that your ideal tone is either authoritative, irreverent, or somewhere in between, you want to build trust. You’ll want to reassure your customers that you know your industry and they are in safe hands when they choose your products or services.

However, you choose to convey your values or promises, whether you’re offering legal representation for victims of accidents at work or the latest fashions for teenaged customers, it’s just as important to be honest as it is to be appealing.

Don’t over-promise or just say what you think your customers want to hear based on researching other brands. In order to develop a unique and versatile tone of voice, you need to emphasise what you’re offering that nobody else does.

Developing a Personality

Understanding your audience and embracing your core values are crucial parts of developing an effective tone of voice because these govern how you act with your customers. In writing, action defines character, which is why you also need to make sure your voice is a personable one.

Particularly problematic for business-to-business copy, it’s a common misconception that people only want to be informed. While they don’t necessarily want to be entertained, they don’t want to be bored by your copy and you don’t want to bore them.

As well as setting you apart, your personality should be persuasive. Beyond the fundamentals of honesty and confidence, you must consider what tone will appeal to as many of your prospective customers as possible.

Think of the  you’d like your customers to use when they describe your company and how you might achieve this effect, including the key examples in the table below:

personal adjectives

Your copy needn’t fit into one of the five categories we’ve created above, but none of them are “boring”. With a little personality, your copy will have a human voice rather than a robotic, corporate one.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re courting other businesses or individual clients, there will always be another person on the receiving end of your brand, and your personality will determine exactly where your copy sits between formal and informal tones.

Balancing Your Content

 While your copy should inspire readers to become customers, it shouldn’t be doing so blatantly. Your primary objective may be to make a sale, but it’s more effective to facilitate this through a good customer experience than to pitch them cold.

Having determined both your selling points and your brand personality, you need to strike a workable balance between these to avoid putting customers off. If you’re too formal and functional, you may not engage your audience. If you’re too affable and not informative enough, customers may choose to spend their money elsewhere.

In whatever tone you have chosen, the ideal approach is to encourage customers without haranguing or patronising them. They should be informed about what you are offering and reassured that you’re the right choice for their needs.

This is more rewarding for both you and your customer, not only leaving them satisfied and fulfilled but also making a good impression that increases the likelihood of them buying from you again or recommending your services to other potential customers.

Adapting Your Tone

As mentioned, every customer is different, which means that one tone of voice will not suit everyone. Versatility is an important aspect of your tone of voice precisely because even the most carefully designed buyer profiles will not anticipate everyone’s needs.

In terms of website copy, you should be careful to adapt your tone of voice to different stages of the buyer’s journey. Your tone of voice should be flexible enough to vary depending on what you want your customers to do, whether it’s your call to action or the main body of your copy.

Moreover, it should be adaptable enough to encompass a whole range of interactions with customers. If dealing with a customer in person, you might vary your tone between answering a general query about a product and answering a complaint, but you wouldn’t put on an entirely different accent.

An adaptable tone of voice enables you to maintain the same consistency in writing to your customers as you would in speaking to them, provided that it enables you to reflect your core values and personality in different contexts.

Implementation

While your customers should help you determine what your brand should represent, it’s also helpful to involve your copywriters and other colleagues in this process, especially when it comes to implementing your tone of voice.

After all, it will be a group effort to represent your brand in all customer-facing actions, so it’s imperative that everyone who works for you understands what that brand is, from its development onwards.

Once you have determined a tone of voice, a major test would be to try and write a guide, in that tone, that can be used to get new and existing colleagues up to speed. Your guide should explain how this tone reflects your company’s core values and customer promises and explore different contexts in which it may be varied.

Your written tone of voice doesn’t provide a script for employees to follow, but a shared basis on which to communicate with customers. It’s a way of actively, not passively, engaging your audience and getting them emotionally and then literally invested in what you do.

5 Top Takeaways

Keeping everything else in mind, here are five more useful tips to take away when developing your brand’s tone of voice…

  1. Scannability should always be considered when writing online copy. Remember that simplicity and straightforwardness can be distinctive in itself, especially if your competitors are writing long, involved copy.
  2. Consistency is key to a great tone of voice. While your voice may be versatile and adaptable, it must still be your own singular voice in order to be recognisable.
  3. A good sense of humour is valuable, but make sure you’re actually funny. Nobody wants to make their customers cringe at your misplaced jokes, so if in doubt, leave it out. This is especially true for topical humour, which will instantly date your copy.
  4. Authenticity is paramount. Your copy shouldn’t sound forced into the tonal guidelines you’ve set yourself, so if it doesn’t sound natural, maybe give it another pass.
  5. Likeability is key to making your brand sing, and fortunately for you, the majority of your customers are looking for a brand they like. Make your property helpful and enjoyable to read and your message will come across much more effectively.

Conclusion: It’s Not What You Are, But Who You Are

Finding your written tone of voice is about taking control of your brand’s story and telling it the way you want. It’s about taking responsibility for how you communicate with your audience.

After going through the aforementioned questions, you should have a clearer idea of your brand’s personality and the way you represent it. A key thing to remember is that you should always use what you want to say to inform how you say it.

By establishing a strong and distinctive tone of voice in your copy, you’ll not only set yourself apart from competing brands but also build trust with your customers by keeping your message in mind. No matter how loud you say it, the surest way to grow your brand’s influence is to say it consistently.

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