Maybe you’ve heard about tone of voice (or TOV) - you might have even talked about it or considered it last time you wrote something for your brand. But for many brands, ask them about their tone of voice and their answer might be something relatively vague, like “oh, natural and friendly” or “professional but not dry”. That’s fine, but that’s not enough to give you a consistent framework for sounding like the brand you want to be, time and time again.
First, let’s take a step back and think about what tone of voice looks like and sounds like in action. Probably one of the best loved examples is Innocent’s conversational, cheeky and, well, innocent tone of voice. This is a good example because Innocent is so darned consistent. So much so, that if you took their branding off a piece of their content, you’d probably still know it’s them. Looking at a more extreme version, Brewdog’s irreverent, rebellious tone of voice is just as distinctive and, judging by their market share, serving them well.
But one thing I want you to know is this: your brand’s tone of voice doesn’t have to be as extreme or as distinctive as these examples (if you’re a professional services firm, this will probably come as a relief!). A good tone of voice lets the copy and content do the talking. And that’s because it provides a really good set of guidelines to help your brand sound natural and consistent.
How would a tone of voice help my brand?
Working with a copywriter or content expert on a tone of voice document for your brand is useful in a few ways. First, it encourages you to think deeply about your brand, its values and differentiators and how exactly it wants to connect with its audiences. One question I like to ask clients in tone of voice work is “what’s the dynamic you want to create with your customers?” and the answers are always super-enlightening.
Sometimes at this point we discover that the brand’s ideal role is as a mentor to people on a journey, so we can then start to shape the tone of voice towards one that’s supportive, wise and empowering. A gaming brand might discover that really, it wants to be best mates with a very specific customer base and that will help guide the tone of voice. An accountant might want to differentiate from the crowd by being the straight-talking, jargon-free option in the marketplace. For all of these examples, identifying and shaping a tone of voice gives the brand some tangible guidelines and helps them stay consistent.
It sounds complicated - how do we actually use a tone of voice?
I like to create a really simple set of Tone of Voice guidelines for my clients, that they can use as an internal guide and checklist. This talks about the dynamic I’ve just mentioned in a way that’s relevant to the brand and its audiences, and goes into a little bit more detail about the way the brand ‘speaks’.
Sometimes, this is as simple as a word grid - the kinds of words this brand uses (and never uses), and this is also something that the team can add to over time.
I also like to supply a 5-point checklist for brands to use when creating and signing off copy and content, to make sure that it’s aligned to what they’ve agreed their brand should sound like.
How do you get started with tone of voice?
There are a few ways. You can work with someone like me who will guide you through the process of uncovering and shaping the tone of voice for your brand and who will help you put it into practice across a range of content. Or you can make a start on your own, which I’d definitely recommend exploring. Pay attention to the brands who you think have a good tone of voice and notice what it is about it that you like. Think about your own brand in terms of characteristics and even personalities - if it were a person, how would it sound and what would it say? And experiment! If your brand content is usually quite technical, try breaking it down in a conversational, example-driven way. Try using humour if it’s appropriate (social media is a good place to test this kind of thing out). And see what resonates with people and what doesn’t.
Tone of voice is an organic quality that will change and evolve with your business. Pay attention to it, give it some love every now and then, and be prepared to push the edges of your comfort zone. That might just propel your brand content from ‘ho-hum’ to ‘hell yeah’!
If you’d like to talk to me about tone of voice, get in touch! You can also learn more about my experience, approach and services at www.wisdomandtrue.com.