How to define your tone of voice
Every brand needs to define its unique tone of voice. For many, it acts as the face of your organisation. Tone of voice entices potential customers and indicates the ‘personality’ of your company within the first few sentences of any post.
Harnessing a tone of voice is important no matter the nature of your business. As your company grows, having clear guidelines on how the brand displays itself through words is vital for your external and internal marketing.
What is tone of voice?
In speech, tone of voice means something slightly different, as it refers to how the words sound when said out loud. Within writing, it usually refers to how emotional or formal the sentences are, influenced by structure, jargon, and perspective.
When we consider a brand’s tone of voice, we’re usually analysing how a company is communicating with its audience. It’s how the brand influences the messaging it’s conveying, usually in the form of website content (such as blogs and product descriptions), social media posts, and email newsletters.
Why is tone of voice important?
A company’s tone of voice is often the first thing an audience will infer from an online search. An important part of marketing strategy, it represents a brand’s values and personality.
Tone of voice can also be different across various mediums. What’s written on your website may not be the same register you use on a TikTok post, for example. Brands now use social media as a serious way to grow their customer base, so perfecting a tone of voice for different audiences is also important.
It offers a chance to communicate and engage with your audience. In an interconnected world where brands are battling for screen time, harnessing a unique, identifiable, and trustworthy tone of voice is the first port of call for any marketing strategist. While your tone should still be recognisable across your varying platforms, it can be slightly adjusted between platforms to attract a new audience.
Who decides a tone of voice?
Typically, a brands tone of voice will be tailored by the marketing and content teams. A business owner might input how they hope their brand will be received, but it’s down to your creative teams to further develop it.
As tone of voice encapsulates the entire company, many brands brainstorm within the workforce as part of their content strategy. Asking staff to summarise the company in a few words can help you develop your understanding of your business, and may be a useful way to consider alternative messaging.
How to discover your unique tone of voice
There are a few things you can do to choose the right tone of voice for your company, including audience research and identifying brand values.
Conducting audience research is one of the best ways to decide on a tone of voice. Who are your main customers and who do you want to attract? How do they communicate? What do they engage with?
Consider your current marketing strategy. What language or marketing techniques do you already adopt?
When marketing on a new medium (particularly on social media), doing competitor research can be beneficial. While your tone of voice is unique to you, understanding how others in the industry have adapted theirs to fit with a particular audience and platform can assist in your strategy.
Identifying brand values
Having a good understanding of your brand values can be extremely useful when harnessing your tone of voice.
A B2B brand that views itself as professional and exclusive may adopt a formal and technical tone of voice, while a B2C company might choose to write with a chattier tone.
It can be helpful to compose a mission statement or message architecture, which is an “outline of communication goals that reflect a common vocabulary” that can be especially useful for your tone of voice research.
How to keep your tone of voice consistent
Once you’ve decided on your tone of voice, the real challenge begins – maintaining consistency.
Even if your company is still relatively small, establishing clear guidelines for your tone of voice is important. It allows new team members to quickly understand and harness the communication of the organisation. You’ll also be able to clearly show an external stakeholder, such as a freelancer or investor, the narrative direction your company has adopted.
Most brands have a style guide of copywriting tips and tricks to keep communications aligned across mediums.
This usually includes:
- The intended voice and tone – e.g. chatty, formal, or jargon-heavy.
- Punctuation and grammar rules.
- Preferred words and phrases – usually those that best reflect your brand values and appeal to your customer base.
- Words and phrases to avoid.
Remember to regularly update your style guide as the company matures. Later, you may also include sections specifically for new online mediums as your brand researches and establishes new audiences on these platforms. Deciding how many emojis to use in a post could mean the difference between alienating and engaging your following.
Adapting your tone of voice
Pursuing a tone of voice doesn’t mean you write every blog article, newsletter, and social media post identically.
Knowing when and how to adapt your company personality across channels and campaigns will ensure your content works in unison to represent the brand.
Even though your wider audience may have similar interests, there will be disparities in what sections of your marketing strategy people are exposed to and how they consume it.
Nowadays, this isn’t as straightforward as young people are online, while older generations purely consume newspaper or television ads. The majority of people have at least one social media account and use the internet for browsing. Tone of voice needs to be broken down into how to simultaneously appeal to multiple, seemingly opposing audiences.
When working out how to adapt your content, it’s useful to consider how different generations use the internet. Gen Z has been largely raised online – for them, the internet is something they use naturally for entertainment and communication.
However, because of their so-called dependency, they are also increasingly looking for ways to switch off and disconnect. How can your brand reiterate that social media is a necessary and omnipresent part of life (crucial to your business), but engaging with your company will also enhance their life away from the screen? In short, you understand and resonate with the desire for a digital detox while also actively promoting your digital marketing strategy.
Navigating generational differences for your tone of voice can be a tricky thing to get your head around initially, which is why competitor research both within and outside of your sector will be valuable.
Look at the kind of language competitors use on social media and how the post appeals to different age groups. Perhaps the image is appealing to Gen Z (a largely visual demographic) but the wording is more tailored to Millennials, who are more inclined to read longer posts.
Soon enough, you’ll find it easy to identify what type of blog or social post will perform better and why, the latter being crucial to backing up any kind of marketing strategy figures.
If your company addresses a variety of sectors or topics, understanding how to link them through one recognisable tone of voice can be difficult. This is particularly true if your blog has a wide range of themes and writers – encouraging authors to maintain brand consistency, no matter the subject, is key.
Ultimately, the best way to hone your tone of voice is to experiment with different pieces of content. Playing around with language, brainstorming with other team members, and conducting competitor research is all part of the fun of making your writing sing.
Remember – you won’t get it perfect the first time – no one does. But as your content grows and you continue to identify your tone of voice, it will become easier and more natural. The end goal is for your audience and readers to recognise your company via content alone, no matter the situation, subject, or medium.
Every organisation has its own way of communicating within the workplace. However, establishing a consistent internal tone of voice can be a fantastic way to promote unity across the company.
Including a section within your style guide on how to communicate internally on a wider scale is something to consider. It’s also a good way to promote your wider brand tone of voice (and ultimately your company values) so everyone, even those far removed from any content or marketing departments, is made aware of how the business communicates both internally and externally.
Defining your tone of voice: main takeaways
- Tone of voice demonstrates the personality of your company.
- A strong tone of voice should be recognisable by your audience, no matter where they find you.
- Brand values, audience research, and competitor analysis are the main factors for deciding your tone of voice.
- Use style guides and team communication to maintain consistency in your tone of voice.
- Don’t be afraid to update and adapt your tone of voice as your company grows and attracts wider audiences.