Creating a killer tone of voice: why it’s important and how to get started
Written by Polly Jacobs and others
Why create a tone of voice?
Tone of voice is your brand’s personality in action. It’s how you translate your company’s principles, ‘big idea’, and vision onto a page (or video, signage, packaging copy, a tiny disclaimer message…) for the world to see.
But these days, few companies actually have a solid tone of voice in place that sets them apart.
Which means a lot of companies aren’t showing their personality properly. Which is a problem, because in a world of highly competitive (and often similar) products and services, it’s not just what your brand says that will make you stand out from the crowd.
It’s how you say it.
Faced with a choice, we tend to go for the products or services that we recognise. And tone of voice is a hugely underutilised way to capture recognition and loyalty.
But, does it really make a difference?
Let’s put it another way – why do we have favourite comedians? Why do we follow AOC on Twitter?
Because we don’t just like the things they say – we like how they say them.
And while it sounds a little touchy-feely, people want to buy from brands that inspire them. Brands that make them think and feel. Brands that tell stories.
Need a little proof? Let’s look at the ‘Significant Objects’ experiment.
In 2009, journalists Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn purchased 100 items of ‘tat’ at a series of thrift stores for the average price of $1.29 per item. The two men then sold these items online for $3612.51 – an increase of 2,799%.
The items weren’t valuable. Rob and Joshua asked contributing writers to tell short stories about each item, which were included in the eBay descriptions. It was the way the products were described and the stories that were told that hugely amplified their objective value online.
It’s the same principle for brands like Oatly. Or Nike. Or Apple.
Each brand has competitors with products just as good, if not better, than theirs. (Android users would certainly say so anyway). But it’s their clearly defined tone of voice and brand identity that allow them to claim the lion’s share of their markets.
Without a tone of voice, your brand is sure to blend in with the beige sameness of your competitors – even if you have a great product.
Want to know how to get started creating your brand’s unique tone of voice? Then read on…
Spend some quality time with your brand
Authenticity is key when developing a tone of voice. For the most part, clients and consumers are smart – they will quickly see through any façade a brand attempts to put up.
So, ask yourself the important questions. How do you, your stakeholders and (most importantly) your consumers perceive your brand?
Take a deep dive into your brand to define its true vision, principles, and personality. Try to summarise your brand’s voice in a few paragraphs about your business. Where does your solution or product meet your consumers’ needs? How should your voice reflect that need?
Run workshops, internal and external, to explore what makes your brand unique alongside the people who experience it every day.
Be uniquely you
The enemy of a standout tone of voice? The companies that try to be all things to all people. (It’s also a good general content tip. Find a niche and own it!).
Decide who your target audience is, decide how you want to speak to them and decide the best way to set yourself apart in their eyes.
Once you’ve distilled these insights, you can use them to inform your brand’s tone of voice.
Too many businesses start with a vision to create a unique tone of voice, only to shy away when they realise it involves doing something that their competitors aren’t. But that’s the whole point! Herd mentality has no place here and sets you on the sure-fire path to boringsville.
So be uniquely you, and have a think about what tonal space you could occupy and make your own.
Avoid cliches ‘like the plague’
Too often, we see companies describe themselves as ‘human’ and ‘honest’. These terms are far from differentiators. They’re the tonal equivalent of adding the minimum legal holiday requirement as a ‘perk’ on a job listing. Don’t do it.
Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, most brands these days aim to sound conversational – even the big banks. So, when you say you want your brand to sound human, it’s important to dig a little deeper. Decide what you mean by that. Cheerful and chatty? Tongue-in-cheek-witty? Daringly outspoken?
Prepare to flex
Tone of voice will vary across your channels. It’ll still be you – just slightly different versions of you. Much like you’ll speak differently around parents than around friends, you’ll need to adapt your tone of voice between a press release and a tweet.
Leaving room for flexibility is key to having a tone of voice that is easily adapted to different audiences and purposes.
That’s why we call tone of voice documents ‘guides’. Because they’re just that.
(Plus, take it from us writers, there’s nothing more dull than a set of uber-rigid guidelines. Let writers add their own sparkle!)
Next steps in Tone of Voice development
These points are merely the warm-up. Once you’ve done the groundwork, you’ll be ready to define your tone of voice traits and create specific writing advice and tips around them.
With the right tone of voice, your clients or consumers will know your writing as soon as they see it.
At Eulogy, we help our clients answer the question: what do you want to be known for?
So, if you want to talk to one of our word nerds about developing your brand’s tone of voice, click here.
And you can check out some of our work here.