When people think of marketing and branding, they often look at the visual side of things – the logo, colour palette, designs, etc. Whilst this is certainly a vital aspect of branding, it’s not the only thing.
You also have tone of voice. The tone of voice is essential as it involves communicating with your audience and affects how your brand is perceived.
Many companies find it tricky to pinpoint their brand’s tone of voice, which results in them broadcasting mixed messages to consumers. This can create confusion and a lack of trust – something we’ll expand on a little later.
To help you create a tone of voice guide for your company, this article will outline what tone of voice is, how it helps your brand, a 3-step process to defining your voice, and how to create the guide itself.
Tone of voice expresses what your brand represents, its values, and its identity through all forms of communication. It’s how your brand’s message is perceived by its audience, i.e., your personality behind all written and spoken words. In other words, tone of voice is not about what you say but how you say it.
Your brand and its products and services are unique. Although there may be alternatives on the market, they will not be able to mimic your brand completely. From the employees to the company culture, your brand is one of a kind. As such, your tone of voice must also be uniquely ‘you’.
Builds loyalty and trust amongst your audience
A recent study found that consumers consider brand trust one of the most important factors before making a purchase. A brand’s tone of voice can play a key role in establishing that trust and loyalty amongst its target audience.
This is because humans are emotional creatures and we tend to lean towards things that make us feel a positive emotion. That’s why the right tone and writing style that consistently elicits the right emotions in the reader is so powerful.
Much like when we get to know someone and come to trust and appreciate their personality and mannerisms that make them unique, keeping your tone of voice consistent over time will help your audience associate positive things with your brand, which can foster that same trust and appreciation.
Differentiates you from the competition
You need to stand out in any business, particularly if you’re in a highly competitive or overly-saturated market. You need to be able to portray your brand personality traits and style to the consumer in a way that differentiates you from the rest.
Your brand tone of voice is one of the best ways to do this. It helps in creating content that makes you memorable and distinct from the rest of the pack. Remember, your tone of voice is not what you say but how you say it.
Adds a personal touch
Gone are the days when companies would keep it ‘professional’ and simply hide behind a good product. These days we’re seeing more and more companies think outside the box to resonate with customers.
That’s because consumers want to see a brand’s personality shine through its marketing and content. It gives them insight into the people working behind the scenes and the brand’s values. A consistent tone of voice helps showcase your brand identity to your target audience.
Helps to influence and persuade
When a business writes copy and content, it’s done for a specific reason. For instance, a blog post is typically there to inform the reader about a certain topic. As such, you don’t want to come off as preachy or to use overly-technical jargon, as this can put the reader off. Therefore, your brand’s tone of voice is crucial to how your message is received.
This is particularly relevant when trying to guide and influence your reader to perform a certain action. The aim is to ‘sell without selling’, and your tone of voice will determine whether you will succeed.
A consistent tone of voice can increase revenue
At the end of the day, the most important goal of a business is to create a profit. If it doesn’t, it will eventually go under. By developing your own tone and showcasing a consistent voice that brands can learn to trust and value, you can increase your revenue by up to 33%.
Your brand’s voice represents your brand’s personality, whereas the tone of voice is how that personality is expressed.
Think of it as a person. You have the same personality throughout the day (brand voice), but how that personality is expressed will depend on the situation and context (tone of voice). For instance, your tone will change when you speak to an adult versus when you speak to a child.
This means that your brand’s tone of voice won’t always be the same, but should be consistently ‘you’.
Before you can create a tone of voice guide, you need to establish what your voice is. This involves three steps
- Define your brand’s core values
- Create a tone profile
- Align your tone of voice with your target audience
1. Define your brand’s core values
When trying to create a tone of voice, it’s vital that you first choose your brand values. This will help you determine what your brand represents and what makes it unique, which will be the foundation upon which you can create your individual tone of voice. Think of it like understanding what you want to say before you figure out how you want to say it.
Choosing your brand values
When doing this, it can be tempting to think from your target audience’s perspective and simply align your values with what you think they want to hear. Whilst your values should align, they must be true to who you are as a company and what you wish to accomplish.
A good starting point is to create a mission statement. A good mission statement will help you clarify your company goals, how you plan on achieving them, and what you want your company legacy to be. Let’s take a look at travel clothing and gear site Patagonia as an example.
Patagonia’s mission statement is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. Using this mission statement, they have identified their core values as to “build the best product”, “cause no unnecessary harm”, “use business to protect nature”, and ‘not bound by convention”.
Ensure your core values satisfy the following:
- Actionable – You and your employees must be able to take action to meet your company values. If not, they’re just words that don’t mean anything.
- Memorable – They must be easy to remember. Try to keep them short and simple.
- Unique – There are probably hundreds of companies in the same industry as you. But what makes your brand so special? What’s your unique value proposition (UVP)?
- Specific – The more specific it is, the more actionable and memorable it will be. Keep it to the point.
- Meaningful – Your brand values should mean something to you, your company, and your employees. It should elicit some sort of emotion and should be relevant to your mission.
- Accessible – Make your core values easily accessible to employees and customers. Advertise it on your ‘About Us’ page or make a mural in your offices. Wherever you put it, ensure the right people can refer back to it anytime.
If you’re struggling with this, finding out what your brand isn’t can help you narrow down what your brand is. Ask yourself what companies you dislike and why to pin down your own values.
Also, feel free to ask employees in your company about your brand identity, what your company represents, and what your company values the most. Their thoughts will give you insight into how the company is perceived and its targets.
You should now have a clear idea of what your brand is and why you are in business. From here, you can move on to the second step, creating a tone profile for your company.
2. Create a tone profile
Defining your brand’s tone involves creating a tone profile, also known as tone characteristics. Typically, this is done using Nielsen Norman Group’s four dimensions, an industry-standard metric that helps in defining tone of voice.
The four dimensions are as follows
- Funny vs Serious
- Formal vs Casual
- Respectful vs Irreverent
- Enthusiastic vs Matter of fact
It’s important to note that these dimensions are not binary but instead work on a spectrum. Most brands won’t be at the extremes of each dimension, so it’s crucial to find a balance, regardless of which side your tone leans towards.
For instance, if you were looking at the funny vs serious dimension, you could choose to be completely funny, serious, neutral, or anywhere in between. This would give you the flexibility to have a serious-leaning tone of voice but sprinkle some funny in there from time to time.
Where you fall on each dimension will depend on your brand and industry. For instance, a government or NGO’s tone of voice will most likely lean towards serious, formal, respectful, and matter-of-fact.
On the other hand, a food or tech company may have more wiggle room to experiment and may lean towards the other side. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all; It will depend on your brand value and company mission.
Once you have defined your brand’s tone of voice on these dimensions, you can delve deeper and identify adjectives that accurately describe how you want to communicate. The table below shows a few examples.
|Funny vs Serious
|Formal vs Casual
|Respectful vs Irreverent
|Enthusiastic vs Matter of fact
3. Align your tone of voice with your target audience
You’ve now defined your brand values and tone profile. The bulk of the work is done. All that remains is to align them with your target audience as much as possible.
It involves making a list of all your communication channels and connecting the right tonal values to each channel based on how your target audience communicates with them.
Think of all the channels through which you’ll communicate with consumers, such as your website, social media platforms, emails, paid ads, LinkedIn, blog posts, etc. Find which of your brand’s tonal values is best for each channel.
Not all communication channels are treated equally, and not every tone will fit. That’s why you might need to alter your tone based on the channel you’re communicating on. Analyse your consumers and target audience on these platforms to gauge what tones fit best.
For example, social media posts such as those on TikTok or Instagram will tend to favour more playful and fun tones of voice. Conversely, email marketing requires a more professional and informative tone. At the same time, you want to keep your overall brand voice consistent through every channel – which can be tricky.
It helps to think of it like a movie, “which tonal values will take the lead role in this film and which tonal values will play a supporting role?”. This way, although the focus of each channel will be slightly different, the overall voice of the message will remain on-brand.
At this point, you have everything you need to create your brand’s tone of voice guidelines. All that remains is creating a tone of voice document that outlines everything clearly and concisely that employees can follow company-wide.
What should a style guide include?
A style guide should include the following:
- Mission statement and brand values
- Brand personality
- Tone of voice in different contexts
- Words and phrases to use
- Establish formatting guidelines
Mission statement and brand values
Your brand style guide should include your mission statement (if you have one) and your core brand values. After all, this was the foundation through which you’ve chosen your tone of voice. Therefore, it should be a key component of all brand voice guidelines.
Define your brand personality
You want to outline your brand persona, characteristics and tonal profile here. This gives your content team an overview of the general voice through which to communicate through.
One key tip is to write the brand guidelines in the tone of voice that you’ve defined.
Tone of voice in different contexts
Outline your tone of voice with examples. For instance, if your brand has a playful tone, show examples where it is fun and playful. This will help your team understand what you mean.
Also, don’t forget to include tone of voice examples in different contexts. As we mentioned earlier, your tone of voice may differ depending on your communication channel. Show the perfect brand voice and tone in each context to avoid confusion, and be as comprehensive and detailed as possible.
Words and phrases to use
Depending on your brand and industry, you may have certain words or phrases that you want to use. Create a word bank of sorts that the content team can refer back to. You may also want to include a list of words and phrases to avoid.
Establish formatting guidelines
You also want to include guidelines on how to structure your content with headings, hyperlinks, images, paragraph lengths, sentence structure, bullet points vs numbered lists, etc.
Your format will vary based on the communication channel. For instance, blog posts will have a different format than LinkedIn posts. Therefore, it’s important to create guidelines for each one.
This is not a one-and-done process. As your brand evolves, so will your brand's tone of voice. Use your existing style guide as a tone of voice template that you iterate as time goes on.
Tone of voice relates to how your audience perceives your communication. It helps you differentiate yourself from your competitors, adds a human touch to your company, and can even impact brand trust and revenue.
Before creating a tone of voice guide, define your voice by establishing your brand’s values, creating a tone profile, and aligning this with your target audience. From there, you can create your guide to include your mission statement and value, tone of voice, and words and phrases to use and avoid.