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What you say and how you say it: developing your tone of voice
Tone of voice in brand communication is often overlooked. But to ignore one of the most important components of excellent communication is a mistake.
It is not about what you say – and indeed you may have a range of fantastic products on your website that you believe you’ve explained well, in a clear and concise way.
That is, without doubt, a good start. You have communicated the “what” of your business and its products and services, so that website visitors will gain great insight about what you do.
Now, it’s time to think about “how” what you’ve said will land with the various audiences you want to attract to your website. And, more importantly, whether how you are communicating and the words you are using will encourage people to linger, check out other pages and return – ultimately to make a purchase.
This is where the “how” or the “tone of voice” comes in.
Below, we explain tone of voice – what it is and why it is important. We will provide tips to help you find your tone of voice and how to develop it. And we will help you understand when and where to use it – and how to measure success.
What is tone of voice?
Tone of voice describes how your brand communicates with your target customers and thereby influences how they perceive your messaging. In other words, it describes how we want to communicate with our audience, rather than what. Your company’s tone of voice represents your brand personality and values.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Over-selling. Don’t adopt a tone of voice more often associated with a car salesman. The hard sell is a big turn-off.
- Overly repetitive language, that keeps on bashing your sales message home, will be perceived as nagging. And no one likes a nag.
- Being over-friendly. Over-familiar language simply doesn’t work. You can be pretty sure that a brand that tells you it “misses” you or enquires about your plans for the weekend doesn’t actually care that much – especially with most personalised communications being automated.
- Talking down to your visitors. Not everyone will have the deep knowledge about your products and services that you do, but there are plenty of ways to explain technicalities without being condescending.
- Avoid slang. The use of slang is unprofessional. You need to be especially wary of hip slang like “on fleek” – most of which is out of date within months. Not only will this leave you looking decidedly uncool, but you’ll also need to rewrite your content from scratch, wasting time and money and potential customers.
A definition of tone of voice for brand marketing
Brand tone of voice is how you choose to communicate with your stakeholders, ranging from existing and potential new leads, to investors, suppliers, staff and industry organisations. (This list is by no means exhaustive.)
Written tone is created by the words and phrases you use when communicating and how you structure your sentences. For example, using direct, second-person pronouns (such as “you”) and simple phrases tends to create a friendly, chatty and approachable tone.
But if you stick with third-person pronouns (“he,” “she” or “they”), complex phrasing, and more technical terms, then you will create a more formal tone that may be off-putting to readers. This is especially the case if you use industry jargon: it can make you seem aloof and unapproachable.
Your company’s tone of voice represents your brand personality and values. This includes the words you choose and the order you put them and applies to all the content you deliver — website content, social media posts, emails, and any other formats. It is all about creating content that attracts visitors, engages and delights them.
Why is tone of voice important?
Using the right words and linguistic style that your audience understands and can engage with is one of the most important ways of connecting with them. You need to find a way of speaking in their language, without over-simplifying what can sometimes be technical points.
Establishing brand voice guidelines helps in the creation of consistently well-written, informative, engaging and relevant content. High-quality content, written in a consistent style, will help any client – across all sectors – to reinforce its brand personality and its purpose and its ability to communicate key messages clearly and concisely.
It is vital, at all times, to speak in plain English, using language that website visitors, existing and prospective customers, agents and partners, and the media can easily understand and relate to. Otherwise, companies run the risk of failing to engage with their target audiences and may even turn them away – even if they like your products and services.
How do I find my brand's tone of voice?
There are several steps to follow to find your brand’s tone of voice.
Know your audience
As more and more of us make purchases online, we expect the brands we are buying from to know who we are and to understand our pain points.
A great start is to create audience personae. Whether you are a B2B or B2C business, you need to identify the types of people most likely to be attracted by your products and services – and what you have to say. You can use Google Analytics and social media channels to help you. Think age, job title, seniority, responsibilities, gender, education and where they live. For B2B sites, you need to establish whether you are talking to someone with authority to make purchasing decisions. If not, the emphasis must be on providing everything they need to ‘sell’ you to their superiors.
Remember, as no one has been left unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic, you need to communicate with empathy. During times of crisis, people need reassurance that you have taken the time to get to know them and understand them.
Agree your core values
This is all about knowing why you exist and what is important to you. What is it that you are striving to achieve? How will you conduct yourself with your internal and external stakeholders?
To help, write down five values that you/your business holds close to its heart.
Write a mission statement
This should be a short, informative statement that explains who you are, what you do, what you care about and what you can do for your readers/customers.
A helpful exercise at this stage is to list the words and phrases that you would like your audiences to use when describing you.
Most companies want to be known as honest, trustworthy, reliable, knowledgeable and relevant. But the list goes on, depending on the nature of your business and your target audiences.
Do I need a Tone of Voice document?
Without a doubt, no matter how large or small your operation is, you most definitely need a tone of voice document that informs all content across all channels. It is a vital component of an effective inbound marketing strategy.
This will ensure that you communicate consistently with visitors and customers, in a style they like and understand.
By adopting the right tone, you will be able to build a connection with your visitors. This is because you will be offering them well-written content, in language they understand, that is relevant, and answers their pain points.
Empathy is essential for opening up a dialogue with customers. It will encourage them to feel an emotional connection with your brand – because you are demonstrating that you care about them.
Being caring and friendly makes brands more approachable and encourages repeat visits. In time, providing you continue to create topical, relevant and informative content that answers their questions, they may well convert into customers.
By showing that you care will also help to build trust in your brand, which will help you build all-important reputation.