By Michelle Barnett
20/08/2017
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How does tone of voice help my brand?

When we say tone of voice we’re talking about how the personality of your brand comes across in what you write; on your website, social media, and in print.  What may seem like a minor detail is in fact a key part of your brand, as it’s how your clients are going to get the vast majority of their information about you.  All written content affects how your clients perceive you.

As such, the tone of voice you use should match and support the rest of your brand.  Let’s imagine that your business sells shoes – here are three very different tones of voice you could use:

  • Breathable poly-fibre uppers and memory-foam soles for high-performance footwear.
  • Keep your tootsies toasty and warm in this season’s super-snuggly shoe sale.
  • Everywhere’s a Catwalk with our new selection. Prepare to shine!

Surprisingly enough, all three of these voices could be talking about the same shoe, but each one has a different focus and a different style of ‘speaking’. Read all of them through and make a mental note of which one would be the closest to something your business might use. What kind of person do you think would speak in each of these voices, and who they might appeal to?

Billboard for Jack Daniels - the beginning, the end.

In Jack Daniels‘ billboard campaign they clearly had an audience that they were gearing themselves towards; they’re loyal, sociable, appreciate longevity, and are more than a little into rock music.

Why do we choose a tone of voice for a brand?

Firstly, to create familiarity. If you can talk to people in a way they recognise, they’ll feel comfortable with you more quickly. This builds trust in a brand and it’s services, and helps to bring in new clients. To do this, you need consistency in the way you communicate to your customers and having a pre-defined voice allowed you to do this.

And secondly, relatability. It’s understandably easier to talk to a person than an organisation. Particularly in situations where something’s gone wrong and the client is looking for help, you want to give the feeling of being valued and seen on an eye-to-eye basis. As well as helping with this, deciding on a tone of voice means you can make some decisions about how you’re going to respond to different situations before they occur, so that you’re less likely to slip back into your personal gut response.

How do we do it?

Decide on what characterises your company. We talk about this a lot with brands. Narrowing down your brand persona to 3 key values is a process we always recommend, and your results will say a lot about who your client base is likely to be. Two companies in the same market sector might have different ideas of their values. One financial advisor may be Reassuring, Personable and Authentic, while another might be Established, Trustworthy and Meticulous.

Hostess, the sweetest comeback in the history of ever

It’s okay to push the boat out and decide you want to do something a bit different. Some brands have irreverence and crass humour as part of their brand, and have made a success of this display of honest humanity. As always, we’re thinking about your main audience and what’s going to speak to them. American cake brand Hostess made great use of language and tone in their successful 2013 relaunch, employing a contemporary disregard for the rules of grammar in order to endear themselves to younger generations of cake-buyers.

Imagine your 3 traits as a person. Sometimes you can base this on a real person: the company founder, social media manager, or another employee. In other cases it may be possible to model that voice on a celebrity who fits your brand – Keith Lemon and Stephen Fry have very different audiences! Sometimes there may be a company mascot who fits the bill, such as Tony the Frosties Tiger. Or that voice may simply be invented, as long as you have a clear idea of it. What relationship does this person have to your clients? Are they a fun friend, a sage advisor, a supportive colleague? What kind of language are they going to use. This includes key words, such as how you describe yourself – are you an Application? A Product? Stuff? A Service? Pick one that sends the right vibe and stick with it.

Finally, think about how that person would respond to different circumstances. At this point it’s fine to be a little flexible, because you need to take your client’s needs into account. If someone contacted you because they’d found a dead insect in their cereal box, having the comedic tiger mascot crack his usual jokes is probably not the best response! You can still use informal language while being sensitive to a client in distress. This is why it’s useful to think about how you want to tackle negative situations through your tone of voice.

MailChimp does this particularly well, and has a website, voiceandtone.com, that giving examples of something a client might say, and then a counter-example of how MailChimp might reply and, more importantly, why.

This doesn’t mean that there’s a restrictive script that everyone has to follow to the letter, but the general guidelines should apply across the board.  By deciding on a voice that you will use to address your client base, you ensure a consistency of communication, no matter who happens to be running social media that day.

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