Whether you’re launching a new brand or it’s the first time you’ve come to formally brand your business, tone of voice is going to come into play one way or another. It’s a crucial part of the process and can mean the difference between success and failure for your brand. And it’s harder than you think to get right the first time round.
Luckily, we’ve just gone through the branding process ourselves, being a new brand in the world of content marketing. So we’ve experienced first-hand what works (and what definitely doesn’t) when it comes to shaping your tone of voice. To help out both other startups and established firms, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to getting your tone of voice right the first time, complete with:
- an introduction to all things tone of voice
- what we learned through the branding process
- industry examples of great digital branding and tone of voice
- a downloadable tone of voice guide you can use for your brand.
So, let’s get started!
What is ‘tone of voice’?
Tone of voice is how the character of your business comes through in your words – both written and spoken. And while it does affect what you say, a large part of your tone of voice is the way you say it, and the impression it makes on your readers.
Your brand’s tone of voice should be felt and heard in every piece of content: from your website and emails to blogs and social media. Nowadays, there are so many channels where customers can find your business, so whatever that channel may be, you want your tone of voice to shine through every time. This creates a consistent brand that your customers will relate to and remember.
Basically how your brand’s personality sounds, in written and audio content. If your brand was a person, who would it be? Your voice will most likely include broader aspects of your personality – the same way our personalities shine through in the way we speak in real life.
This is what your brand sounds like. It’s the how you say it part of your brand voice, which can slightly vary depending on the type of content you create.
For example, let’s say your brand voice is bright, relatable and modern. Your tone is likely to be conversational, positive and enthusiastic. But you would lean towards being more conversational in an email and maybe have a more enthusiastic, helpful tone on your company website. Both of these tones still communicate that bright voice, but in slightly different ways to show off different parts of your brand personality.
After reading those two lists, you’re probably drawn towards particular words. That’s good. Write them down, because chances are, they’ll be the ones that end up shaping your tone of voice.
Before we move on, let’s do a quick recap.
Voice = how your brand would sound as a person
Tone = the way that you say things depending on the context
Why tone of voice is so important
Tone of voice is absolutely crucial for establishing a brand identity, and that’s why it’s such an important part of the branding process overall. You can’t really get to know someone in real life without talking to them, and in the world of creative branding, that same notion applies.
If you’ve any hope of connecting with your audience and establishing a relationship with them, then you need a unique and consistent tone of voice to recognise. Let’s look at this in a little more detail now.
It’s at the forefront of your communications
Your tone of voice is front and center in every interaction your audience has with your brand online: from your website to emails and social media. This means that it’s essential in building a brand personality, because it sits at the heart of your content.
By nailing your tone of voice and then consistently using it across channels and content, your audience will be able to get to know your brand. And it’s worth mentioning that this should be seamlessly integrated.
Tone of voice works the same way for brands as in real life – say someone switches up their tone mid-conversation. They go from being chatty, casual and relaxed to serious, professional and using lots of big words. It disrupts the flow and probably makes you question what’s going on, and chances are you won’t want to talk to that person again. You risk doing this exact thing – alienating your audience and creating distrust if your tone of voice isn’t consistent.
When you think about it, tone of voice is much more than simply how your brand comes across. It informs your customers’ perceptions of you, shapes your brand personality and can determine your brand’s trustworthiness and authenticity.
Your voice lets you set the tone
Couldn’t resist. But what we’re getting at here is that by establishing your brand’s voice early on, you can make a great first impression on every single user that comes across your business.
Think about the way you want them to think of you, and feel, after consuming your content. Whether that’s an expert, a fun and young brand, or a trustworthy source of information – this can all be communicated with a killer tone of voice.
Your brand’s voice is a major opportunity to put yourself in your consumers’ good books and create a positive, meaningful connection.
Brand voice creates connections
We’ve already mentioned what a big part of your brand’s personality your tone of voice encompasses. But getting your tone of voice right can not just successfully communicate your brand personality, but set you apart from your competitors too.
If you operate in a highly competitive market (which is most of us nowadays), of course it’s important to have the best product or service. But that doesn’t get you far if your audience doesn’t know it. This is where a stand-out brand personality, and tone of voice, can help you strike gold and find those customers.
A consistent, well-executed tone of voice is what your customers will remember amongst a sea of brands, because they’ll have a connection to your company. And establishing a connection with your brand is the first step in the start of your relationship with your customers. This relationship will not only determine whether they choose you, but also whether they come back, and who they tell about your business.
Customer relationships boost sustainable growth
We all want to grow our brands so that we can offer our products and services to more people. The best way to do that sustainably is by building a loyal, engaged and emotionally connected customer base.
Sure, some luck or clever marketing can bring in more customers, but that soon runs out if you spend your marketing efforts riding the waves of trends that don’t last. If you want your business growth to be sustainable, then you need to develop long-term relationships with your customers.
Your brand’s tone of voice plays a huge role in determining what that relationship looks like, because it’s what your customers interact with the most. Every bit of communication with them can come off positively or negatively, depending on how well your tone of voice, and brand personality, come across.
Ultimately, we want each interaction with our customers to build trust, and deepen their relationship with us. Whatever content they consume – whether it’s a tweet, blog post or product page, a consistent tone of voice builds on that trust, and results in longevity.
What does the ‘right’ tone of voice sound like?
It’s easy to feel intimidated when you realise how important your tone of voice is for brand building, and therefore, business success. But we prefer to see it as an opportunity – and a fun one at that – to express your brand personality and create authentic connections.
But how do you figure out what that tone of voice should be? There’s never going to be a one-size fits all answer to that. The perfect tone of voice for your business is one that accurately reflects who you are and what you stand for. And naturally, it will vary from company to company. Here’s what criteria the right tone of voice for you should cover.
Key when it comes to the branding process. So make sure your tone of voice is one that you can effectively portray in all of your communications. A great way to ensure consistency across your content is by creating some tone of voice guidelines (which we’ll help you do later) that your team, or agency, can use. That way, you know you’re covering your bases with each blog, caption or email you write.
Communicates your brand personality
The worst thing you can do with your brand tone of voice is copy someone else’s for ease. Of course, you can take inspiration from other brands, but ultimately your tone of voice has to show your audience who you are. So stay true to your brand personality when crafting your tone of voice, because otherwise you won’t be able to effectively communicate that personality.
If you’re an insurance company selling life insurance policies, it just doesn’t make sense to have a preppy, light-hearted tone of voice. So when you’re thinking about your tone of voice, keep in mind what your product or service is too – and whether your brand voice is suitable for it.
What we learned about tone of voice throughout the branding process
As a new brand on the block, we’re particularly well-versed in tone of voice, and how to get it right, because we’ve just done it ourselves. So here’s some wisdom from the other side of the branding process that’ll help you master your tone of voice from the start.
The branding process should start at your business’s conception
Many businesses consider digital branding, and tone of voice, as an afterthought – even when launching a new brand. But that just makes it that much harder to implement across your content, and it won’t feel as authentic if you’re trying to insert your tone of voice into your business. Instead, think of your tone of voice as a branch of your brand that’s growing and developing from the same plant.
We found that thinking about our tone of voice from the inception of our brand meant that we were able to build it into every part of our identity as a business – and tweak it accordingly as the brand came to life. That’s why the writefully tone of voice is so authentic and present throughout our content, because it really has been there from the start.
Multiple rounds of edits
Trust us on this one. Once you’ve first fleshed out your tone of voice, get someone on your team to give it a once over. But the work isn’t done after deciding what your tone of voice will be. Now you have to put it into practice with your brand’s content.
So when it comes to crafting your new site, blogs or any other written content…edit, edit, edit. Even the most talented content writer will miss things, lean too heavily into certain aspects of your tone of voice, or possibly take it in a different direction.
All three of these things happened to us when we were creating our content, and were caught throughout the editing process. The fact that we kept working at it with different members of the team helped us tweak our copy, and tone of voice, accordingly. Together, we were able to set and establish a tone of voice that’s true to our brand – and what we stand for. Which brings us to our next point: the power of the team.
Collaboration is crucial
Working together is easily the best decision we made in the whole branding process. Having different perspectives, skill sets and insights from our team kept our tone of voice focused and strong, caught any oversights and showcased our brand in a really creative way. This wouldn’t have been achieved had we given all the tone of voice exploration to one team member. The essence of writefully is our team, so why wouldn’t we all play a role in crafting its voice?
Who does creative branding well? Some tone of voice examples
Across the creative industries, we all rely on each other for inspiration. It’s what helps us to be better and keep producing new ideas. So let’s look at some brands who do tone of voice particularly well.
Global superstar and fashion icon Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty in 2017 to finally address the lack of diversity in the beauty industry. And what she and the Fenty Beauty team have managed to do is engage, empower and bring together makeup lovers of all colours, genders and ages – through distinctive, irresistible brand personality and tone of voice.
From their website copy to social media, Fenty Beauty positions itself as your friend who cares, and number one cheerleader with each piece of content. This is thanks to their use of slang and playful tone balanced with positive and celebratory language to make their customers feel empowered, cared for and beautiful.
Short and snappy copy from their homepage perfectly encapsulates their down-to-earth approach and genuine care for the customer.
Social media is where you can be more playful, and Fenty Beauty show off their sassy side with their Instagram captions and use of emojis.
A household name when it comes to homeware and furnishings – you can’t hear the word flatpack without thinking of them! They’ve revolutionised the way we decorate our houses, but also the way we live, with innovative designs that save us space and time. Their brand personality has all the laid back Scandinavian-cool you would expect from Ikea – but is grounded in family values and humility.
They’re particularly good when it comes to tone of voice examples, because of how much sense Ikea’s brand voice makes. Their tone of voice is relaxed and positive, but relatable and inspiring too. Unsurprisingly, their products reflect the same vibe. Ikea is here to bring people together and solve everyday problems so we can focus on the good things in life: family and love.
Their About Us copy speaks candidly about their humble beginnings, emphasising their down-to-earth personality and mission to make their customers happy. This human story behind a huge brand like Ikea builds those emotional connections.
We see here how their positive copy inspires readers to get the most out of their homes and time.
The environmental charity is best known for its bold demonstrations and statements, and passion for protecting our planet through enacting political change. So we expect their tone of voice to match this.
Take this excerpt from their website below. They communicate the urgency of their cause with direct language and an honest – bordering on blunt – tone. Then in the following headline we see that political flare, with the highly emotive word ‘Revealed.’ They want to evoke a reaction from their audience, because ultimately their goal is to inspire change and encourage others to support their cause.
These examples come from completely different industries, which are targeting varied audiences. But one thing they have in common is the impact that their tone of voice has on consumers – achieved by establishing trust. Each company has leveraged its tone of voice to present an authentic, trustworthy brand that its consumers not only connect with, but have a long-term interest in too. And they each do it in their own unique way:
- Fenty Beauty positions itself as a highly relatable, down-to-earth brand that genuinely cares about inclusivity in the beauty industry, and their customers feeling beautiful.
- IKEA wants to make people’s lives easier and happier with their products. Their family values and modest tone convince people that they care and are an authentic brand.
- Greenpeace has a clear mission. There’s no fluffy sales copy or beating around the bush with these guys. They have a cause, and back it up with facts and honesty to achieve their goal. Their authenticity is a great asset when it comes to communicating what’s important to them.
Getting your brand tone of voice right
Now we’ve looked at some great brands that’ve nailed their tone of voice, let’s get into what tone of voice can look like for you! To establish your own unique brand voice, you need to ask yourself a series of questions, and come up with the answers, about your brand. You have to know it inside out if you’re going to portray it convincingly and consistently to the outside world.
Think back to those example words we listed earlier and the ones you (hopefully) jotted down. You’ll need them for this next step.
Define your tone of voice with writefully
We could list all the things you need to do to define your brand voice and hope for the best – but chances are you’ll finish reading, then carry on with your day. So instead, we’ve created a simple worksheet-meets-guide to help you ask the right questions about your brand, in order to decide what your tone of voice will be.
We’ll take you through the brand side of things, and also bring in the user perspective – crucial in defining a tone of voice that’ll resonate with your audience. Then we’ll bring it all together with a few fun exercises to get to the heart of your brand, and therefore, your tone of voice.
Sounds good? You can download the worksheet right here and use it in your next meeting, or ask some of your team to fill it out to get a well-rounded perspective on who your brand is from the people who live and breathe it!
For more content marketing genius, head over to the writefully knowledge hub now.