News and insights • Posted on 23 March 2019

How to define your tone of voice

Your tone of voice isn’t what you say – it’s how you say it. And it’s hugely important. Tone of voice requires detail and definition and informs every aspect of a brand’s written communication. Get it right and through words, you can effectively convey everything your audience needs to know about the brand, its values and the people behind it.

Why is tone of voice so important?

A distinct tone of voice that’s relevant to – and resonates with – your target audience should reveal all about your brand personality and how you’d like to be perceived. It tells much about the people behind the brand and their likes, dislikes, aspirations and values. But so much more than this, it works to build trust in your audience. Consistency breeds familiarity so once you become recognisable thanks to a perfected tone of voice, customers and prospects will be at ease with your brand.

A well-honed and consistent tone of voice can also set you apart from competitors within the market. Craft a tone of voice that’s distinguishing, recognisable and unique and that should be enough to not only pit you above the rest, but ensure you’re easily identified and an authoritative voice in your area of expertise.

If you don’t have a tone of voice, you run the risk of, at best, confusing readers and, at worst, losing them and all credibility.

Start with your values

If you’re unclear what your business tone of voice is, a great place to start is with your company values. Consider not simply what your company does but why it does what it does. What was your overarching mission in starting your business and why does that make you any different from your competitors? Take the time to really get to grips with your buyer personas – their behaviours and when and where they’re digitally active, for example – and tailor communications to that.

Analyse the effectiveness of the current tone of voice within your existing content. By carrying out a detailed content audit, you’ll notice straight away if it feels disjointed, inconsistent or simply unremarkable. Follow this with a quick competitor review – take a look at the tone of voice of other brands working within your space and identify what’s working well for them and, more importantly, what isn’t.

You’ll need to decide where your tone of voice sits between each end of the spectrum. For example, between formal and chatty, serious and humorous or professional and fun. Other considerations should include whether your audience requires jargon-heavy or simple language and whether a friendly, more familiar edge to your tone might be appropriate.

You might find it a worthwhile exercise interviewing your customers to find out how they perceive your brand. Ask them to describe it in single words or short phrases and this may help inform your tone of voice. Conversely, their comments might flag up traits you don’t particularly want to be known for and so you can bear this in mind when honing your tone of voice.

Put it in writing

Once you’ve decided on your tone of voice, take every step to ensure it’s implemented and adhered to in every piece of written communication. Create a tone of voice guide and ensure everyone in the business has access to it. This detailed handbook should be the go-to guide for anyone responsible for content within the business. Write it in your agreed tone of voice. The handbook’s contents should cover the personality traits of your brand and how you’d like them to present in copy.

However, creating your tone of voice guidelines is only half the story. You then need to put measures in place to ensure they’re adhered to at all times – by everyone. That means making them easily accessible, implementing rigorous proofreading and editorial processes, appointing tone of voice guardians and perhaps even holding informal training sessions. Doing this ensures tone of voice guidelines aren’t forgotten and keeps every single piece of content or communication precisely on brand.

Consistency wins out

A consistent experience is crucial for those engaging with your brand. Keeping the same tone across all customer touchpoints will naturally increase brand familiarity and enable customers to build expectations based on what they know of you. And equally, if tone of voice isn’t consistent or a brand tries to be something it’s not, customers will see through this straight away and there’s the risk of losing their loyalty. All written content – whether online, printed, on social channels or in internal or external email – has to adapt to its surroundings but generally should appear written by the same person.

A brand’s tone of voice should be tailored to and clearly speak to its target audience. Taking the time to develop it through considerations around language, grammar and overall brand perception – and then monitor how it’s being adhered to – will pay huge dividends.

We discuss tone of voice in digital communications – and consider whether it risks being diluted – over on MarketingTech.

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Written by Carrie Webb

A life-long lover of the written word, Carrie is your go-to for compelling content that resonates with your audience.

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