It's a term beloved of marketing departments and brand managers, but what exactly is tone of voice? At its core, tone of voice is the way you communicate who you are as a business and a brand, not just what your company does. It’s not just what you say but also how you say it: the words you use, their pacing and rhythm, as well as the ‘tone’ of your messages.
It doesn't matter if you're a one-man band or an employer of 50 people, your tone of voice should reflect the values of your business. Values really distill what your company is about and how it’s different from other companies - so it’s critical for an authentic tone of voice. People might seek out a competitor to buy from, or to work for, if the tone of voice of your business jars with their values.
Why is it important?
Your reputation is affected by how you communicate on a daily basis. It will determine whether people trust you as a company and value what you do. Therefore, tone of voice should be used consistently across all your communication and channels, from emails and social media through to marketing, campaigns and websites. Make it recognizable and familiar, something your audience can count on. That doesn’t mean it’s dull, repetitive or applied lazily to documents and copy. Your tone of voice needs to be distinctive, unique and authentic, setting you apart from others in your industry.
But it’s not just how you talk to your customers or your external audience that matters; your tone of voice should also influence how you talk about yourself internally. What you communicate externally should complement what you say or think about yourself internally.
What is my tone?
No one can answer that but you. Think about what is important to you as a company or small business today. Try to come up with some key words or phrases that reflect your purpose and values; jot these down. Refer back to this list when getting ready to write something about the business. Use a tone that complements your brand.
If you're selling trainers, you aren't going to use the same type of tone as a bank selling mortgages. It's important to think of your audience, too: are they young, do they value a sense of humor? Think about what your customers or audience will respond to. It might take some time, but eventually you should be able to find a tone of voice that suits your business. Apply it consistently.
Here are some practical tips for developing a tone of voice:
Don’t overcomplicate: simple and direct language is best. Using jargon, corporate speak or too many acronyms will alienate your audience, who may not understand your meaning or could misinterpret it.
When you talk about your business in copy, use ‘we’ or ‘our’. Using warmer language that’s inclusive is especially good when communicating internally. Creating distance between the company and who works there implies that you’re not all in it together.
Use your values to guide you: find words that reflect your values and your way of thinking - not who you want to be tomorrow, but who you are today. To come up with what sets you apart, think about why someone would want to work for you instead of a competitor.
Don’t go in for trends. Your brand identity shouldn't change with the seasons and neither should your tone.
Communicate your personality: once you know your values and what the company stands for, you can start thinking about how you want to say things, not just what you want to say. If you're a young drinks company, you might want to sound a bit cheeky and irreverent. If you are an accountant, you will want to sound authoritative and professional. But don't mistake that for using stiff and formal language. Always opt for plain English.
Be dynamic, not passive: ‘We get things done’ is stronger and more direct than ‘Getting things done is our aim’. Try to use an active voice - not only will it make your sentences less complicated, it will make your message clearer.