Have you ever had an immediate dislike for someone because of the way they said something? Whether it’s a celebrity, a friend, or a snarky office email from a work colleague, tone of voice plays a huge part in how we engage with each other.
From a consumer perspective, the same applies to how people perceive your business. And when it comes to creating effective tone of voice guidelines, this becomes something of a literary double-edged sword.
In what way? Well, sometimes all it takes is one well-placed sentence to capture the attention of your target audience and develop that long-term relationship. But in the same breath, inconsistencies from poor tone of voice can undo months of work in a matter of seconds.
In short, understanding how content works with the buyer journey is vital. Why? Because building a successful business needs more than a great idea and good intentions.
Of course, these components are absolutely essential too. But without a specific personality behind your writing, how will consumers know who you are, what you stand for, and what sets you apart from the competition?
In this article, we’ll explore how to mine your business for that golden brand voice just waiting to be heard. We’ll also look at what defines tone, the types of voices to consider, and how to finely tune your brand voice guidelines through questions and brand voice exercises.
the difference between ‘tone’ and ‘voice’ in writing
Before we delve into why you need to nail your tone of voice, it’s important to understand what separates them both – before unifying them effectively.
Similar to how we use tone to speak in everyday life, the tone of your writing is the vehicle that pushes what you want to say forward. A strong and clear tone can help you add some flourish and style to what you’re expressing.
Relates more to the personality of your brand and how you use it to convey that message. A well-crafted voice in your writing should help to elevate your tone and influence your content.
Together – if done well – you’ll have the blueprint for a tone of voice that’s consistent, impactful, and encapsulates the spirit of your business.
But why is it important to develop the personality of your brand when attempting to gain momentum in your niche? And does it really matter if it’s consistent across the board?
Why create a consistent tone of voice in writing?
So, you’ve got some general ideas about the personality of your brand. Time to get out there and tell the world, right? Wrong. When that inspirational fuse is lit, it’s important to knuckle down and get those brand voice guidelines set in stone before the ‘big boom’ of your content reaches the ears of your target audience.
Not certain? Need more reasons to set those tone of voice guidelines in stone? Besides unifying your brand under one clear voice, here are five reasons why creating a consistent tone of voice from the start is crucial.
Think of this as a direct result of maintaining a consistent tone of voice. A stable and dependable tone of voice can not only pique interest, but continue to cultivate it into long-term success.
Remember, building tone of voice guidelines requires a solid foundation that conveys your message in the right style. It keeps you on track, maintains a steady momentum, and is always there to refer to in difficult times.
Speaking of difficult times, a consistent tone of voice guide isn’t about refusing to adapt to unexpected changes. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you put in the work and nail your values, mission, and how to convey those benefits, it makes adjusting to breaking news, world events, or sudden changes in products easier.
Think of it as a constant ‘cheat sheet’ that empowers you to react quickly. After all, if you’ve got a strong framework to build on, you’ve always got that ability to be agile, yet logical.
- brand awareness
Like all methods of communication, from a quick hello in a coffee shop to an introductory email announcing a product launch, trust is never given freely. Instead, it needs to be earned.
Building on that foundation of stability and agility helps to generate more brand awareness. While this alone won’t guarantee overnight success, it plants the seeds of success for the future and adds depth to how people perceive your company.
- thought leadership
What can you do with this increased awareness? Your tone of voice can elevate anything from the latest news in your industry to a monthly newsletter that’s engaging and insightful.
Altogether, you’ve got a recipe for thought leadership and a unique perspective to lure in those future loyal customers.
Awareness breeds familiarity. And in time, much like a great novelist, poet, or screenwriter, there’s an opportunity for consumers to read something and immediately associate it with your business.
If you can crack that by implementing strong brand voice guidelines across all channels of communication: social media, emails, landing pages, web copy – and everything in between, familiarity will soon develop into loyalty.
elements of tone in writing
Despite now knowing the above benefits, the term ‘tone’ is still pretty broad, right? It’s kind of like saying the benefits of cooking are that you’ll eat food. It brings more questions than answers…Will it be food I like? How much seasoning went in the pot? Is it fine dining or fast food?
Here’s where you can begin to consider the more intricate elements of your tone of voice, and how to bring that unique flavour to your marketing palette.
word choice and vocabulary
Let’s say you want to take a trip to Disneyland. The whole place has a ‘tone’ that’s easy to spot. From the lush colours and fairytale setting to the heartwarming characters, there’s an immediate association we all have when we think of Disney’s general tone.
But what if the characters there opened their mouths and blurted out dialogue from Quentin Tarantino movies? The first thing you’d probably do (after covering the ears of every child within a two-mile radius) is question why these two styles have been put together.
Both have value in terms of success and creativity. But do they fit together? Absolutely not. For a business, this offers a simple but important fundamental concept – knowing what your target audience expects and applying it to your choices of words.
sentence structure and length
After your Disney / Tarantino crossover nightmare, you drive around looking for some food. You’re craving a nice juicy steak. You don’t want to spend a fortune but you’d like a good meal in a classy establishment.
Which of these two signposts is more likely to get your attention?
- A: Hello there, weary traveller. We humbly request that you consider us for your culinary experience this evening. With a hefty array of delicious morsels to choose from, we truly believe in all earnestness that our food is fiscally sound as well as sumptuous!
- B: Five-star dining at a fair price.
Of course, option B is the ideal structure and length for this scenario. Taking into account the needs of the consumer: fast but informative content and the snappy nature of the sentence, this accomplishes several needs in only seven words.
Does that mean option A is no good? Not necessarily. There’s room for longer, more extravagant sentences in your tone of voice. As long as it suits the needs of your customers and the personality of your brand.
use of humour and wit
Generating funny content that serves its purpose well is extremely difficult. Yes, a funny ad can stay with you for a long time. And when done well, razor-sharp wit can turn something like a lifeless industry-specific monthly newsletter into a must-read.
But in order to allow the value of your product or service to shine and be the ‘hero’ of your brand’s narrative, it’s important to make sure this humour doesn’t overshadow the message.
emotional appeal and storytelling
The values of your brand will usually be rooted in some kind of emotion. Let’s say that three of your values are the following:
- we support one another as a team
- we’re open with our customers
- we embrace change
There’s an immediate insight into how your brand’s personality can convey these values through your content. Clarity, positivity and reassurance, and a future-focused mindset could all be applied to your TOV, based on this example.
Telling your brand’s story should always begin with one question…Why did you start the business?
If those reasons align with your target audience (frustrations with slow service/ solving a common problem/ a desire to push the industry into the future/ a love for personalised customer service), you can build on that common ground in your content.
types of tone of voice: pros and cons
Building solid tone and voice guidelines also means understanding the pros and cons of your choices. Below are some of the things to consider when developing the unified voice of your business.
Captures the attention. Makes your content more unique, memorable, and shareable.
Many consumers struggle to associate funny with reliability. Who you are, what you do, and what you offer may get lost in all the humour.
People tend to associate a serious tone of voice with quality, reassurance, and trust.
Younger consumers may find the tone too dull and lifeless. A serious TOV can be difficult to make memorable.
Easily establishes your business as authoritative. Some consumers will also appreciate the respectful approach of a formal tone.
A formal TOV can come across as rather dull, lifeless, and impersonal. If your business depends on winning over customers, this can sometimes be interpreted as cold and unprofessional.
It gives your business a personality and much-needed relatability to the modern world. Readers may feel an instant connection to your brand.
It can sound like you don’t care about your own product or service. The breezy and casual approach also reduces the feeling of urgency in a consumer to take action.
Creates harmony and adds some heart to your brand. Kindness, warmth, and respect are also associated with this tone, as well as truth and honesty. Plus adds a more personalised feel to your marketing campaigns.
Can come across as sucking up to your target audience. Modern consumers are drawn to innovation and personality, but they aren’t stupid!
satirical / cheeky
A little bit of satire and self-awareness can really take some of the stuffiness out of your specific industry. Sometimes, you don’t have to respect the ‘old guard’ and common standards. When done well, it’s highly effective.
There’s a fine line between a cheeky tone of voice and one that’s too leftfield. Depending on your target demographics, you could find people being put off by your company. Remember, irreverence doesn’t mean being outright rude for the sake of it.
It’s infectious! Helps to create content that flows well, has a punchy rhythm, and inspires customers to take action. Your brand can easily become associated with positive energy and a friendly disposition.
If you go too over the top, your content can feel a little sales-heavy. In some extreme cases, even like you’re reading a spam message. Overdoing the enthusiasm can rub people the wrong way, making potential customers avoid your business at all costs.
practical / pragmatic
Sometimes the best approach is to adopt a tone of voice that’s simple, direct, and completely open. It’s clear and leaves nothing to be guessed when it comes to your company values, offers, and overall mission.
It’s a competitive world out there. If you can’t muster some kind of passion or enthusiasm in your content, why should anyone care? With a practical TOV, you run the risk of producing flat content with no personality.
challenges in nailing your tone of voice guidelines
With the pros and cons of each option to consider, finding that perfect tone of voice can be challenging. But with the rewards of customer loyalty, brand awareness, and a strong company narrative awaiting you, it’s time for a little introspection.
That’s why conducting a few brand voice exercises can make all the difference in the world. To nail down those core values, expand on your brand mission, and tell good stories, ask yourself the following essential questions:
- What is the story of your company?
- What 5 words best explain your core values?
- What’s your overall mission?
- How would you describe the TOV of your competitors?
- What makes your brand different from them?
- How can your tone of voice reflect this difference?
- How would you like to sound to customers?
- Why do you want to sound that way?
- If your brand was a fictional character, who would it be?
- Do your core values and the tone you’re aiming for work together?
With these challenges answered, you’ll be able to really hone in on what works for your tone, and more importantly, what doesn’t. Brand voice exercises like reading sample content out loud and brainstorming scenarios where you’ll be challenged to stay consistent are great.
However, keeping on top of this with deadlines looming and unexpected changes to culture, news, and your industry is difficult. That’s why you’ll need to create brand guidelines that are able to achieve the following:
- give new and existing employees a clear tone, direction, and reason for your voice
- prioritises consistency across all social media channels and platforms (yes, even TikTok)
- stresses the importance of being professional but creative within this tone
- avoids cultural, societal, racial, and social insensitivities
- addresses difficult topics and situations with care and empathy
- sets a strong idea of what makes your brand unique and why
a tone of voice that truly matters: final thoughts
A well-told story is a universal thing that draws us into the narrative being articulated. Whether it’s a film, a novel, or a personal choice to take a chance on a new business, words have the power to sell, reassure, inspire, and cement long-term relationships.
So, what tone and what voice works best for your brand, and the new business opportunities just itching to discover you?
At writefully, we feel that the tone of voice in which you convey your brand’s message is essential to success. A company that doesn’t know its own personality can’t express its benefits to the people actively looking for them. And when you’re lost for words, a gap is created where loyal customers and conversions vanish into the marketing abyss.
Got a great brand story to tell but can’t quite nail your tone of voice? Well, it’s one of many petals to our writefully flower. Let our tone of voice specialist run a workshop, then craft a set of tone of voice guidelines that you wish you always had.