Today, we’re going to talk about brand tone of voice. It’s often dismissed as a woolly, fluffy marketing concept, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The world’s biggest brands all have a unique and consistent tone of voice in common, and it’s a massive contributor to their success.
Still not convinced? Let us take you through the what, the why and the how of brand tone of voice…
What is tone of voice?
As always, let’s begin with the basics – the definition of tone of voice. When we’re talking about tone of voice in marketing, we’re quite simply referring to a brand’s ‘sound’. Whenever a customer is interacting with a brand’s communications – whether it’s reading the text written on a website, or listening to a voiceover on a TV ad, they’re taking in that brand’s ‘sound’.
By using language in a savvy way, you can create a sound or tone that lets your brand’s personality shine through.
Your goal? To get to a place where customers can recognise your brand via spoken or written words – even if they don’t know it’s coming from you.
Why is tone of voice so important?
Your tone of voice is essentially how you speak to your audience. It makes your brand feel more human – something consumers are a lot more likely to respond to, as opposed to a faceless corporation. Here are the main takeaways:
1. Tone of voice showcases your brand’s identity
When used properly, tone of voice demonstrates your brand’s character, personality and values. It’s a way to tell consumers who you are, what it is you do and why you’re doing it in the first place.
2. It helps you stand out from the crowd
There’s a whole lot of content out there, and a solid tone of voice will set you apart from the competition, differentiating your brand among the noise.
3. It helps you connect with your customer
A brand that demonstrates a consistent personality (via tone of voice) is much more likely to build familiarity and trust with its customer base.
How the world’s top brands use tone of voice
Below, you can see a list of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world, according to Forbes. What do these brands have in common, do you think? A quality, ahead-of-the-curve product offering? You bet. Super-slick services? Of course. A powerful tone of voice? Bingo! Above all else, each of the brands below have a kick-ass brand strategy that’s centred on a unique and distinctive tone of voice.
- Louis Vuitton
Take Disney, as an example. What words could you use to describe the Disney tone? Enchanting? Warm? Inspirational? Apple, on the other hand, might be described as confident, clear, concise and creative.
The sound we’re describing for each brand isn’t something that happens by accident – far from it. The bigwigs at the Disney and Apple HQs have designed it that way. How? By using language in an intelligent way. More on the hows of tone of voice later.
Bringing tone of voice to life
Some brands have nailed their tone of voice so eloquently, you can hear one of their adverts on the radio and you just know it belongs to them – even if you’ve missed half of it and didn’t hear the all-familiar tagline or slogan. That’s how powerful tone of voice is in communications.
Let’s bring this to life a little more. Below, you’ll see two YouTube videos featuring two celebrity chefs. Both are UK-based, with huge followings, best-selling cookery books, successful TV programmes etc. But notice how different their tones are. How do they achieve this, do you think?
It’s interesting isn’t it? Both of these people offer the same type of product lines, the same kind of service. But their ‘brands’ are worlds apart, and that’s because they’re underpinned by a particular tone of voice.
Exploring tone of voice indicators
Tone of voice indicators are used to break down the sound in question. Also, to define a brand’s tone of voice for the first time (more on the latter shortly).
Just as we explored Disney and Apple above, we’re going to review the descriptors or ‘indicators’ for the people (brands) in the videos you’ve just watched.
Jamie’s tone of voice indicators
How might you describe Jamie’s sound? Here’s what we came up with:
- Down to earth
Nigella’s tone of voice indicators
How about Nigella? You might say:
Indicators work together to create the brand or person’s sound. Jamie talks to his audience like he would talk to his friends or family. There’s no airs and graces, he keeps his descriptions simple and upbeat, with no flowery language. This is in stark contrast to the lovely Nigella, who’s sultry and almost poetic with her descriptions of food, and speaks in a slow, measured way.
How to define your brand’s tone of voice – a beginner’s step by step guide
Step 1: Start with your brand values
Brand values are often described in the marketing world as a company’s uncompromising truths. They’re the principles that showcase what you stand for and what’s important to you as a business. A company’s brand values are the linchpin of their brand communications, and should guide and inform everything that the company does and anything it communicates.
Example of brand values
To give you an example, take a look at the brand values of this online dating publication, which provides a platform for all things dating, sex and relationships in the 21st century:
- Inclusive – we will open up the conversation to all genders, races, sexual orientations
- Empowering – we exist to encourage self-love and boost confidence, helping you have a good relationship with yourself so you can connect more effectively with others
- Unbiased – we listen, we debate, and we operate with zero judgement
Brand values are an internal tool, not something that’s customer-facing. Even so, everyone in your organisation should be clear on what these are.
When it comes to defining a brand’s tone of voice, it’s important that you start with these values. After all, if you’re not clear on your brand purpose and identity, how are you going to get this across to your audience?
As an example, if you’re a company specialising in clubbing holidays for the 18 to 30s market, you’re going to want to come across as relevant, fun and cutting-edge. You wouldn’t then, decide on a tone of voice that’s formal, stuffy and high-brow. Your tone has to reflect your values and your purpose.
Step 2: Get to know your audience
Once you’re clear on the values you want to express through your voice, you need to think about how you land these well. And to determine how you should speak to your audience, you need to get to know your audience. What makes them tick? What’s important to them? What are their goals in life? A great starting point for this is to create a Buyer Persona.
Using a Buyer Persona
A Buyer Persona is a make-believe customer profile – a fictional summary that showcases your customer ‘ideal’. A Buyer Persona is developed using in-depth knowledge about your audience. It’ll help you understand your customers needs and wants, thereby helping you to speak to them in the right way.
Some brands will have several buyer personas to cover all customer bases – for instance, a travel company that offers holidays for all ages and budgets.
In order to create this in-depth knowledge, there’s lots of data you’ll need to explore across many different sources. You’ll explore your customers’ ages/life stages, where they live, where they work, how they spend their free time, what they like to spend their money, and so on..
We’ve got a brilliant how-to guide to help you gather this research, complete with worksheets for you to fill in. You can find them here.
Step 3: Identify your tone of voice indicators
Now that you’re equipped with the what, the why and the who of your brand, it’s time to get into the how. That is, deciding how you want to consistently talk to your customers.
There are multiple ways to do this, but essentially, you need to brainstorm and pinpoint the tone of voice indicators that you feel are right for your brand. It’s a list of words that sum up the personality you want to express through your use of language.
Here are some prompts to get you started:
- Do you want to sound upscale and high-end or accessible and down to earth?
- Are you talking to your customer like you would chat to a friend, or do you want to be a voice of authority?
- Are you conversational and chatty? Or polite and formal in your communications?
- Do you want to sound warm and friendly? Or cool and confident?
- Are you playful or tongue-in-cheek? Or calm and serious?
There’s no right answer here. This is your brand personality, and yours to define and execute.
Step 4: Write a content blurb
This exercise is given many different names – a tone summary, a content blurb, a style extract, a mission statement etc. etc. The point of it remains the same, though. Once you’ve got a lovely list of words (we’d recommend no more than five) that sum up your new brand voice, you’ll want to bring your sound to life.
To do this, write a paragraph that embodies your tone of voice indicators. For a good Copywriter, this is a doddle. If you don’t have one, here are some of our top tips:
- If you’re going for an informal, conversational sound (a la Paddy Power or Innocent Drinks), write in the same way you’d say something out loud. I.e. avoid long sentences and pompous words you wouldn’t use in real life
- Use verbs to put the customer in the heart of the action and establish excitement or awe (e.g. experience the magic, brave the zip lines, tackle level 5)
- Use timely slang to sound in-the-know and relevant – you’ll need to be really confident here, though, or you risk moving into dad-at-a-disco territory
- Use conjunctions to establish an informal, chatty flow (we’ve, I’ve, I’m, they’ve)
- Play with sentence length to determine pace
Step 5: Create Tone of Voice Guidelines
Once your brand’s tone of voice has been established, it’s important that you protect it. Your Tone of Voice Guidelines will do just that. This document can be as comprehensive or short and snappy as you fancy, but it should always contain these things:
- Your tone of voice definition – i.e. your indicators
- Examples of your tone of voice in action – e.g. your content blurb/style extract, snippets from multiple channels, e.g. email marketing, blog, direct mail, press releases
It’s also helpful to include a style guide in here. That is, a guide to how you, as a brand, will present things like numbers (prose versus digits) and dates (10.05.90 versus 10th May 1990).
This guide should also define how you write certain words that can be presented in different ways. For instance, wifi, Wi-Fi or wi-fi. Majorca or Mallorca. An A to Z format is a great way of ensuring you include everything, and you can add to this as you go.
While this doesn’t relate directly to tone, it defines your brand style, and these should go hand-in-hand to establish that all-important consistency and familiarity.
A final note on tone of voice in branding
Ultimately, you’re aiming to establish a tone of voice that gets your personality across in a positive and effective way. The reason we trust and buy from brands such as Disney and Apple is we feel like we know them. We know what to expect from them. And that’s extremely powerful.
Need a hand defining or bringing to life your tone of voice? Get in touch with the team at Bubbli.