They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but unfortunately in the world of business and brands things are often more complicated. When it comes to your brand, tone of voice may sometimes be overlooked and under valued – when in fact it’s another key cog in the branding machine. Your tone should go hand in hand with your brand values and key messages, and however and wherever people come across your brand they should be welcomed with the same style, authority and presence.
What it is
The personality of your brand is reflected in everything you release to the big wide world, as well as your internal communications. That’s not just visually with colour palettes, imagery and wider brand world, it’s also linguistically.
From print marketing and product packaging to website content and social media, your tone of voice should be consistent throughout.
Just as a person’s tone of voice and dialogue reflects their personality, the same can be said for the written language a brand uses and the subsequent impression it creates. Think of someone you know who is friendly; their tone of voice is likely to be personable, warm and caring. In contrast, someone who is more of a daredevil or star of the show may come across more confident and perhaps even slightly aggressive. Brands work in exactly the same way. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with either of those mentioned; as we’ll touch on later your brand values will naturally influence your tone.
Why does it matter
It’s not what you say about yourself, it’s how you say it. That’s why it’s crucial to get your tone of voice spot on from the onset and throughout. Your tone of voice both embodies and expresses your brand’s personality and values. Working in tandem with your imagery and supporting brand world, it will reflect all about you and the people who make your business.
Think about how a betting company like PaddyPower incorporate a witty, humorous and almost pub-like chat to their communications.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have someone like British Airways with its professional, warm and responsible feel.If we spun these two around, subconsciously we’d know straight away that something just wasn’t right. For large brands their unique tone of voice is so successfully intertwined with their brand, it becomes pretty much indistinguishable.
Even if your brand’s not a peacock you’ll still want to stand out from the crowd, and tone of voice can be key to differentiating your brand from the rest. It should be distinctive, recognisable and unique. On the face of it that may seem like a tall order; how many ways can you say what you want about your product or industry? But think about it. Going back to the personality comparison, we all have our individual language – both written and spoken. Culture and dialect may be the most significant factors, but underneath that we each have our own idiosyncrasies, favourite expressions, inflections, and pace.
From a customer perspective, the way you interact and engage is vital to building that all important trust. Take social media for example –
Someone with a complaint can be turned from a disgruntled customer to a brand champion in just a few well worded and carefully constructed tweets.
Of course it’s not always that easy. Like many things in life, tone of voice is no quick fix – be prepared to put the typing work in before your voice and brand language is firmly cemented into your audience’s mind. And as customer trust builds, watch your relationships blossom through your relatable and appropriate tone of voice.
Using values to define your tone
This is the biggie. From your logo and strapline to your website and marketing materials, your unique brand values should inform everything you do – tone of voice is no different.
All the above should be intrinsically linked, and in the case of tone it will be consistent throughout your brand touchpoints.
a tone of voice is a wider expression of who your company is, including your values and way of thinking. The best brands are true to themselves.
The attitudes and values that inform their tone of voice are not fabricated or falsified – they organically grow from who your company is and what it looks and sounds like today.
In the case of our BetterBrandBuilder™ process, we define your tone of voice during the CREATE stage. This is informed by the previous DISCOVER phase, where we lift the lid on your organisation both internally and externally to unearth your true values, meaning and mission. This acts as part of the wider brand building process, helping to position and propel your brand into its marketplace with a unique, clear and compelling point of difference.
Consistency is key
Once your tone has been defined by your brand values, ensuring consistency is perhaps the biggest challenge facing many businesses. Particular challenges arise for medium to large-scale companies, when a large number of people start producing content and messages for the outside world.
Internal brand guidelines should be in place outlining your defined tone of voice, but often the challenge lies in ensuring this is followed even when lines may be blurred. In this case you need to trust your team and make sure they both understand your brand values and tone of voice and are comfortable executing them.
While evolution and variation will naturally take place, always remaining true to who you are and your overarching brand values is pivotal.
Tone and style for social
The discussion around tone and style for social could be a whole blog post on its own, so we’ll leave the nitty gritty for a different day. Instead we’ll try to cover some of the basic dos and don’ts.
It’s not the 80s anymore; most of us don’t wear suits to work, we don’t have fax machines and we don’t use bricks for phones. And with access to social media, the internet and emails 24 hours a day, the lines between work and home life are becoming ever more blurred. While that may not necessarily be a good thing, it inevitably impacts on how and when we communicate.
Depending on your sector, social media is likely to be your most perceptive channel to public and customer exposure. As a result, it’s imperative your messaging tone and style is consistent and inline with your brand.
Sales are sales, but be extremely wary of just talking about your service or product all the time. Instead treat social and your tone of voice as a channel for warming and nurturing leads. We’re not talking cold hard sales here. We’re talking steady engagement in a manner and tone that your target audience and followers can relate to. Take an interest in what matters to your customers and why – get involved in the conversation and play your part.
You may choose to flex your tone and grammatical muscles slightly with each platform. For example, LinkedIn will naturally be more informed and business driven while on the opposite side of things, Facebook will be a more informal and social tone. But we’re straying too close to the lines of content here (which definitely is another blog post for another day). Let’s move back to tone of voice.
When it comes to complaints, grievances or negative comments, again carefully consider your strategy. Finding the balance is key. No one likes a know it all or being talked down to, but then again you need to have confidence in your product or service. Know when to accept you’re in the wrong but also know went to have some fun, stand your ground or defend your corner.
For some organisations in the B2B world, a big stumbling block can be a lack of personal approach or human face. And while it’s true that such B2B conversations and engagements can be awkward and clunky, it doesn’t always have to be. At the end of the day you’re speaking to the people behind the face of a business, so treat them like that. That’s not to say you should be ‘matey’ or talking like you do in texts; you should still present a unified and professional voice, just a little less formal than usual.
Humour and quirkiness
Humour and quirkiness can be two great tools for improving your communications and nailing your tone of voice. But be careful – make sure any humour is relevant, suitable and most of all relatable to your target audience. We don’t mean tell jokes every five seconds on your social channels or newsletters. We mean subtly going about things and even laughing at yourself from time to time.
Take someone like MailChimp as an example. With the help of imagery, they regular turn run-of-the-mill copy into something distinctively ‘MailChimp-like’, making it funny, lively and young.
This brings a certain humility and down to earth feel to your brand that customers can truly relate to and value. Some brands will want to stay well clear of humour and that’s fine too. As with your wider tone of voice, your brand values will give a good indication of whether you should press ahead or give humour a wide berth.
A final word: variation and when to keep things simple
This post has mainly covered customer interaction, lead communication and general tone of voice; more formal documents and corporate copy will inevitably be different. When it comes to such instances you may still want to add some unique brand flavour but this will largely depend on the circumstances and situation.
Do your utmost to avoid dating your copy. While colloquial or slang terms can be great, make sure it’s relevant and isn’t going to look drastically out of date or cringey in six months time. Vocabulary is sometimes like fashion – what can be on trend now can be out of date in just a few weeks time.
Keeping things timeless, consistent, simple and natural is nearly always the best route.