Why read this? : We look at how you create and use your brand’s tone of voice. Learn the key role it plays in your brand identity. We also share an example tone of voice, and how it would appear in a brand book. Read this to learn how to get more out of your brand’s tone of voice.
Your tone of voice is part of your brand’s identity. It’s how your brand talks to customers. The words it uses. The writing style. It’s embedded into every brief, and is in every part of your marketing communications.
That makes it important. And yet, most marketers don’t give tone of voice much thought. They don’t spend time on it, and don’t have the expertise in writing and behavioural science needed to do it well.
That’s why this week, we go into what tone of voice does, and how to best use it.
What is tone of voice?
Your brand tone of voice is a set of guidelines which defines the way your brand talks to customers.
It shapes your brand’s words and writing style in all its customer-facing marketing activities.
It converts your essence, purpose and values into actual words customers read or hear.
On your packaging. In your adverts. On your website. It’s everywhere. It’s there every time your brand interacts with a customer.
For example, say your brand has a serious purpose. Protecting the environment. Improving people’s health. Saving badgers. Something important. Brands with those sorts of goals need to talk in a particular type of way. Their tone of voice reflects the seriousness of those topics. No jokes. No smart-ass comments.
But say your brand’s purpose is less serious. More easy-going and everyday. Snacks. Toilet paper. Reality TV shows. For those sorts of brands, jokes and smart-ass comments would be much more desirable parts of your tone of voice.
Tone of voice defines how your brand talks, so people know it’s you. It makes you distinctive. Unique. Only your brand talks in your tone of voice. It’s how your brand would have a conversation if it were an actual real-life person.
Why do you need a brand tone of voice?
So why does this matter? Why is it important people recognise your brand’s “voice” like this?
Well, it’s important because it helps create consistency in how you interact with customers.
Consistency is key in marketing. It builds stronger connections with customers because they get to know you. They get to know what to expect from you.
Customers trust consistent brands more than ones who chop and change all the time.
Brands who aren’t consistent confuse customers. And as the old saying goes, if you confuse, you lose.
Look at historical adverts for big brands, for example. They almost always use a consistent tone of voice. What they talk about may change with the times, but how they talk rarely changes. In old Coca-Cola adverts, the writing is still happy, friendly and approachable. Old Apple adverts are upbeat, clear and confident. Nike adverts have always been positive, inspiring and motivating.
People know and trust these brands, because they’re consistent. Their tone of voice helps build strong connections with their customers.
When do you create a brand tone of voice?
You define your brand tone of voice as part of building your brand identity. It’s part of the copywriting guidelines in your brand book.
The tone of voice connects to other parts of the brand identity, notably the brand’s personality. Words bring the brand’s personality to life.
The guidelines describe the tone of voice, and share examples of how and when to use it, and not use it.
It should also describe how it connects with other parts of the brand identity.
The brand personality can also come out in its use of colours and typography, for example. See our articles on colour and typography psychology for how mental associations in those areas influence brand identity.
Who uses the brand tone of voice?
There’s 2 main groups who use the brand’s tone of voice.
First, there’s creative teams who write brand content.
So, there’s obvious written areas like copy used in print adverts, website pages and social media posts.
But it also includes scripts for spoken content in TV and radio adverts.
And words used in less obvious parts of the customer journey. CRM sign-up forms and welcome emails, for example. The words you use on receipts and invoices. Your FAQs and how you train customer service to answer customer questions.
Different people “speak” at each of these touchpoints, but they’re all speaking on behalf of the brand. Tone of voice helps make sure they all talk in a consistent way. Talking in one voice, the voice of the brand. Done well, it helps conversations between brand and customer flow better, and sound more natural.
Some brands get very prescriptive with this. Think how fast food staff greet you, for example. Or when call centre staff are clearly following a script.
For other brands though, they can make the guidelines more open. Give their teams more leeway by giving only broad directions. Leaving some wiggle room on the brand tone of voice allows for more informality. For more natural interactions.
The other main group who use tone of voice are approval teams.
Someone from marketing usually leads this. They read the content written by the creatives, and check it against what’s in the brand book.
Creative agencies usually also run their own checks on tone of voice. A more senior creative approver who signs off the work before it goes to the client.
When you create the brand tone of voice in the first place, it’s often done by these same people.
An approver from the marketing team, and an agency creative who’s an expert on copywriting.
What’s included in a brand’s tone of voice?
There’s no set rules to how you articulate a brand’s tone of voice. But normally, you expect to see :-
- Reference to the brand’s personality.
- A written description of the tone of voice, often describing the brand as if it were a real person.
- A list of do’s and don’ts for talking to specific customer segments.
- Examples of the tone of voice being used in a correct and incorrect way.
An example tone of voice
The best way to understand how tone of voice works is to start using it. So, let’s work with an example made up from a mix of several real brands. We’ll call it Sustenagen. These tone of voice guidelines will give you a good idea of what a writer would see if they were writing something for the brand.
Example - brand personality
Sustenagen is a medical product, with strong foundations in science.
It communicates with a specific consumer target audience who buy its products, and healthcare professionals who act as influencers.
Its personality focusses on being :-
- Scientific – A trusted expert who makes decisions based on facts and evidence. Sustenagen shares clear and objective information which has been scientifically proven.
- Empowering – Sustenagen deeply understands the needs of its customers. It gives them confidence by providing quality information so they can make better decisions.
- Calm – A reassuring and empathetic source of support for customers. Sustenagen listens to customer problems and gives emotional reassurance when needed.
- Forward-thinking –Sustenagen is at the cutting-edge of innovation and technological advancement. It’s constantly looking to improve the services it offers customers.
Example - Tone of Voice description
Communicating clearly and with confidence is key to Sustenagen’s success. It’s distinctive tone of voice helps it stand out from competitors, and build stronger connections with customers.
When writing for the brand, picture the brand as this type of person.
She’s a confident and knowledgeable family GP in her late 30s. She greatly values products and services for her patients which have been proven with science.
When she talks with patients, she’s approachable, and clear and direct in what she says. She shares balanced, objective advice, and gives examples to back up what she says.
She’s good at explaining complicated science in easy to understand terms. Patients like her holistic and non-judgemental approach to dealing with problems. They trust her to give excellent and reliable advice. Patients feel comfortable asking her questions, because she always explains things clearly.
Example - Talking to consumers
When talking to consumers, Sustenagen is consistently confident, approachable and intelligent. It’s never patronising, arrogant or complicated.
When writing for Sustenagen, it’s important to recognise the different stages of the customer journey. Customers need clear adult-to-adult conversations when they’re trying to solve their problem. Keep it simple and direct. But, the tone can be softer after the problem is solved. For example, in CRM writing to encourage loyalty where you want to remind customers of their positive experience with the brand.
It’s important to find a good balance between scientific credibility and clear language. Stick to facts and evidence. Don’t pad out sentences with unneeded extra copy. Simple and direct works best for Sustenagen.
Avoid over-explaining or repeating facts already covered. Assume customers are listening keenly, and are intelligent enough to understand the topic when clearly explained.
Also avoid using too many calls to action in the same text. One clear call to action is better than multiple confusing ones.
Also avoid exclamation marks, or overly emotional or cute comments. Stick to the facts, delivered in a confident and reassuring way.
Example - Talking to healthcare professionals
When talking to healthcare professionals, Sustenagen is articulate, clinical and straight-talking. It’s never complicated, cold or uncertain. Copy needs to be both clear and credible.
Clarity comes from keeping messages succinct and crisp. Short, punchy summaries which land key points. Use bullet-point lists, and clear headings and layouts so these busy professionals can quickly learn the key messages.
The audience must be left with a clear take-away they can use in their day-to-day practice.
Credibility comes from the structure and referencing of the science. Follow a logical order. Provide links to where the audience can find out more if needed. All claims and statements must be supported by a validated clinical reference.
Avoid vague passive voice statements like “it is believed” or “it is thought”. These sound ambiguous and uncertain. If in doubt, leave it out. Use only proven and scientific messaging for this audience.
Customer example - Right and Wrong execution
Let’s say Sustenagen had just upgraded its product with a new ingredient. It wants to add a sticker to the pack to tell customers about the change.
The right way to do this – Same trusted brand, now with new ingredient (insert name), proven by science to support (insert health claim). For more information, call our experts on (insert phone number).
The wrong way to do this – New ingredient! Same brand you trust! Looking for answers, advice or reassurance, call (insert phone number).
Why is this wrong? First, the exclamation marks don’t fit the brand. Too energetic. Not calm. Then, there’s no substantiation for why the new ingredient’s been added. It needs to include this to show the brand’s science and empowering attributes.
Healthcare professional example - Right and wrong way execution
Let’s say Sustenagen wants to write a mission statement for its healthcare professional website.
The right way to do this – At Sustenagen, we believe science is key to supporting patients in the best way. We’ve got (specific number) years of research experience in creating the best products in (the category) at our research centre in (location). We’re dedicated to using the latest scientific developments to provide the best (benefits) for our patients today, and into the future.
The wrong way to do this – Here at Sustenagen, we’re focussed on being the best at (delivering category benefit). That’s why we’ve been researching (the category) for over (specific number) of years at our labs in (location). We’re here to help you make the right decision for your patients!
What’s wrong with this – The claim to be the best could be seen as arrogant. It’s up to the healthcare professional to judge that. It only refers to past research and makes no future reference to support the brand’s forward-thinking personality. It’s also too informal e.g. shortened words like labs, and that exclamation point at the end.
A distinctive tone of voice
For writers, these brand tone of voice guidelines give them clear direction on how to write for this brand. They’re not so directive the writer still can’t be creative. But they set enough boundaries to make sure what the brand says in words is clear and consistent.
This brand would never be cheeky or playful, for example. It’s never going to be particularly social. You imagine more of a one-to-one conversation with this brand, rather than talking to them as part of a large group. It’s never laid-back or lazy in what it says. Its words are carefully chosen, and do exactly what they need to do, and no more.
Conclusion - Finding your brand’s tone of voice
Your brand’s tone of voice directs how your brand talks to customers. It’s a set of guidelines for anyone who writes on behalf of the brand to make sure the brand talks in a consistent way.
It’s a key part of your brand identity. You use it to build trust with customers by reinforcing your brand’s personality, purpose and values.
Customers are more likely to buy brands they trust. A consistent and repeated tone of voice over time helps build that trust.
The key people who use tone of voice are agency creative teams who write for the brand, and approvers who check for consistency.
The tone of voice guidelines are kept in your brand book. This also documents the brand’s personality and gives examples of how to (and not to) write in the brand’s tone of voice.
Check out our brand identity and writing skills guides for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help to craft your own brand’s tone of voice.
Shout (adapted) : Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
Microphone : Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash
Question mark sign : Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash
Woman writing on a Macbook : Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
Thumb up (edited) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Doctor in consultation : Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash
Logging on to laptop with stethoscope : Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash