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How to create your tone of voice

Author Ryan Noble

Date 14.12.2018

Tone of voice is such a natural thing, both in spoken and written language, that it’s importance can easily be forgotten. But, in a world where people trust brands who sound like… people, a brand’s tone of voice is more important than ever.

What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice is simply how a brand sounds. From its emails to its tweets and its packaging to its internal newsletter, the tone of voice comes across in the words used, the phrases chosen, the personality that (hopefully) shines through.

When a brand gets their tone of voice right, their audience can recognise their branding instantly and likely think more positively of the brand, such as thinking they’re more approachable or trustworthy.

How do brands use their tone of voice?

For a brand to have a recognisable tone of voice, it must be two things:

  1. A good fit with the brand image and values
  2. Consistent across all comms

For example, if I were to say:

Relax with coffee that’s been lovingly slow-roasted, stirred with indulgent double cream, and finished with a side of buttery shortbread.

It’s not just a coffee, it’s an ________ coffee.

Can you guess which brand I was trying to be? I bet you can…

If you guessed Marks & Spencers, you got it. See how powerful a tone of voice can be?

M&S used to own the very idea of indulgence and quality, and much of that was a result of their tone of voice (and lots of slow-motion shots of food, of course).

So that’s a quick example of tone of voice in action, now let’s create yours.

How do I figure out my tone of voice?

It can be difficult to know what your tone of voice should be. Even the greats once started with a blank page and had to start somewhere, and I’m guessing they probably started with their ‘Why’.

Here are a few exercises I would run through with a brand when figuring out their tone of voice, and they just might work for you…

1. Understand your brand’s ‘why’.

Knowing what your brand stands for, is the first step to knowing how it would sound. If your brand exists to create fun wherever it goes, it’s likely to sound energetic and cheery. However, if your brand is aiming to make people feel secure, it’s likely to use a calm, authoritative voice.

2. Create your audience personas.

What are their challenges? Where do they spend their time online? What are they looking to achieve? If one of their challenges is feeling like they have no time, they probably don’t want a rambling monologue of branding… but if they’re driven by emotion, they likely have more time to discover a brand and will appreciate a more descriptive style of language.

3. Choose a celebrity that fits the brand image you want to have.

Associating your tone of voice with a real person can make it easier to visualise. For example, how would this person talk about X, Y, and Z? It becomes more tangible when you’re able to understand the nuances of identity and how someone might say one thing, but they would never say another.

4. Associate your brand with descriptive words.

This aims to make that tone of voice distinguishable in another way. For example, if you’d describe your brand as inspiring, they’re unlikely to be moping over #SundayBlues or sending out sarcastic emails.

5. Update existing brand messages with your new tone.

Ask everyone involved to bring some comms from their department, whether it be internal or external, email or social, brand offer or brand apology. Consider these and try rewriting them based on the above. How would these messages sound in your new tone of voice?

If you manage to get to step 5 and like how your updated examples sound, you just might have found your tone of voice… Before you send it out into the wild, though, take the time to give it the best foundation within your brand.

After all, a tone of voice that isn’t understood by everyone is a tone of voice that isn’t going to be used by everyone…

  • Make sure this new shift in tone is approved by the people at the top, otherwise it’s going to be impossible to make brand-wide impact.
  • Run a focus group with your audience so that you can see if the new tone of voice is having the effect you hoped. If not, workshop it again with them.
  • Create a ‘how-to’ guide on your new tone of voice, so that everyone is singing (or writing) from the same hymn sheet. Consistency is key.

Ready to find your tone of voice? Take these questions away with you and make it happen.

5 questions, 1 defined tone of voice:

  • What is my brand’s reason for being?
  • Who are my key audience?
  • Which celebrity would my brand be most similar to?
  • If I had to pick 3 descriptive words for my brand, what would they be?
  • Does it work when we update existing comms in the new TOV?

Need to convince someone that tone of voice is even important? Here’s an article we wrote a couple of years back, sharing more info on why tone of voice should be considered.

Words have power. When the right language is used, it can drive emotion or action, which is basically what all brands have been trying to do since the dawn of time.

Find your tone of voice and your audience should find you.

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