Picture the scenario: Despite your best intentions and the careful consideration taken to construct a message, it gets misinterpreted by the recipient.
It can happen to the best of us.
Indeed, when it comes to online communication, things can often get lost in translation and it can be hard to control how we are perceived by others. This is something that can be of particular concern for businesses or brands. However, ensuring your company has a clearly defined tone of voice (TOV) can, to some extent, help reduce the likelihood of this problem occurring.
In this blog post I will discuss tone of voice guidelines: what they are, why they matter and which brands are using them well. Read on to find out more.
What Is Tone Of Voice?
Tone of voice refers to the way you express your company’s character and personality within your communications. It entails everything from the rhythm, pace, vocabulary, grammar and syntax used in your writing and the overall tone this helps to create.
Essential for connecting and engaging with customers, your tone of voice applies to pretty much all communications; every social media post, every live chat message exchanged with a customer, every slogan on ads. Some even go as far as to say that a brands tone of voice should extend to the language they use in call centres and on customer service bills. Otherwise, it’s argued, there is a potential disconnect between the brand and the customer, which could impact on sales.
Similar to how you use a logo, colour palette and competitor list, it’s important your business has detailed guidelines outlining tone of voice best practice.
Why Does Tone of Voice Matter?
Trust and reputation is crucial to any business, especially online. Consumers know when somethings a bit off about a company and one thing that can make them suspicious is inconsistency.
When browsing online, consumers will often look for consistent brand colours and a familiar logo for reassurance. Similarly, they’ll also look at a consistent tone of voice. If your tone of voice is erratic across all channels, it can be taken as an indication that your company is not to be trusted.
Having a consistent tone of voice not only helps to build trust, it also helps to humanise your brand and separate you from your competitors.
Plus, tone of voice guidelines matter as they help staff to adhere to the same style of writing -whether that be on your blog, on your social channels or in your advertising campaigns. Switching between different voices will often leave people confused and dilute any efforts to communicate your brand values. Speaking of which…
How Tone of Voice Relates to Brand Values
What is it that your company stands for, believes in and is trying to communicate to others? What is it that drives your company? These are the kind of questions you should be asking yourself when it comes to defining your brand values. Your tone one of voice, meanwhile, is the vehicle with which you express, promote and reinforce these values, traits and philosophy.
Brand values are core to your company and grow naturally out of who you are as a company, as opposed to simply plucking them out of thin air. Ideally, the messaging and tone of voice used across all your communications should reflect your brand values. This will help drive people through your marketing funnel and also help you to appear reliable and trustworthy.
Creating Your Own Tone Of Voice Guidelines
If you are yet to create your own tone of voice guidelines, a good starting point can be to audit your existing content.
Identify your best performing content and analyse the tone of voice in each. Despite having been created without a tone of voice in mind, are there any common themes evident in terms of writing style or personality? This can help you understand what kind of voice best resonates with your audience.
Next, try to define your brand as if it were a real person with a real personality. Describe it in no more than 5 words, then drill these characteristics down even further. For example, if you used the word ‘alternative’ to describe your business, other characteristics you might include are ‘quirky’, ‘eccentric’ and ‘unusual’. Create a list of the words you can use in your marketing efforts.
Following this, start providing examples of things your brand DOES say and, equally as important, things your brand DOESN’T say. In fact, sometimes it’s easier to begin with defining everything your company is not. If your brand is unlikely to ever be heard saying ‘epic’ or ‘awesome’, then make sure it’s documented! Having these thorough and detailed tone of voice guidelines in place is so valuable to your company, especially for new staff.
Also, remember to adjust your tone and style for different channels and audiences. Whilst your brands voice remains constant, it can take on a different tone depending on the situation including:
- Who you’re talking to – For instance, consider the difference in how you address an existing customer compared to an individual who is completely new to your brand.
- What you’re talking about – Are you writing a product page, a blog post which contains instructions or talking to a customer via live chat? Each subject has a different purpose and requires an altered tone.
- Where you’re talking about this – The way your brand writes for Twitter will, naturally, vary compared to other social channels, your blog or a written letter.
Last but not least, nit-pick away and detail your brands spelling and grammar preferences. Are American spellings acceptable? How about hyphenated words? Leave no room for ambiguity or inconsistency!
Which Brands Are Using Tone Of Voice Well?
Go ahead, roll your eyes. A blog post about tone of voice which features Innocent Smoothies? Zero points for originality, I know! But, as predictable as this one is, it’s predictable for a reason.
Innocent are a brand that really understands tone of voice. Think of every possible channel this brand can communicate their voice through, from Twitter and Facebook right down to their ingredients label, and you can guarantee it has their fun and quirky personality stamped all over it.
They even manage to inject a bit of fun into a bog standard 404 error page with some video content:
Their navigation bar reflects their light-hearted and alternative tone of voice too. In the name of research, I had to investigate their ‘bored?’ pages. This presents the user with some fairly interesting content like information about their packaging over the years, adverts and photos from Innocent HQ.
Dig a little deeper/scroll a little more, however, and you get to the truly good stuff – ‘really bored’. Videos of dogs chewing stuff and penguins pinching stuff? I.AM.SO.IN. Bravo, Innocent!
Missguided, an online retailer which sells young women’s clothing, has nailed the whole supportive best friend/sister persona down to a tee.
On social media, customers are referred to as ‘babe’ and are frequently celebrated. The hashtag #BabesOfMissguided, in particular, encourages a sense of community and sisterhood amongst its followers.
Obviously aware of their young appeal, they use emojis in 👏pretty 👏much 👏every 👏single 👏breath👏. They pride themselves on being fresh and current, like the clothes they sell, and this too is reflected in their tone of voice.
Indeed, they’re always up to date on the latest lingo and emulate how young people speak (If the phrases ‘can’t even’, ‘lit’ ‘throw shade’ or ‘squad goals’ leave you feeling confused then you should probably go ask your BFF or bae to shed some light).
On their website they describe themselves as bold, straight talking, fashion forward and say they aim to empower women globally to be confident in themselves. Something I particularly like on their ‘about’ page is the reference to a Beyoncé lyric ‘who run this mother’, when discussing their CEO. It’s youthful, rebellious and a bit cheeky, babe.
Kate Spade is a brand that produces women’s handbags, clothes and jewellery.
Like Missguided, Kate Spade has a relatively young audience but tends to communicate with its followers in a more thoughtful and mature tone. Their social media posts are considered and lengthy, compared to the clickbait, snappy text and emojis commonly used by companies to grab the attention of an easily distracted, younger generation.
There’s also a clear brand guideline which is adhered to across all their online communications. This includes minimal usage of capital letters (as seen in the ‘who we are’ page of their website and their social posts below).
The Kate Spade tone of voice conveys simplicity, sophistication and elegance and is less ‘in your face’ than other brands aimed at a young women.
Gillette is a razor brand that’s been around for yonks but, unless you’ve been living your life social media free recently, you’ll be aware of the Twitter storm its recent ad campaign caused.
Traditionally known for its straight talking and direct tone of voice, it’s tagline, which has always been ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ has experienced a bit of a twist for their latest campaign to become ‘The Best Men Can Be’.
Entering into the current dialogue surrounding the issue of toxic masculinity, some argue that Gillette have isolated their core audience with this new advert while others have applauded them for its admirable message. As you can see on the website, Gillette have addressed their new campaign and it’s messaging on a dedicated page. The tone of voice remains forthright and frank, and they utilise short, abrupt sentences, such as the following:
‘We’ve all got work to do. And it starts today.
Gillette. The Best A Man Can Get.’
However, other areas of the website such as the about page is now inclusive of women, which is more in alignment with their altered brand values:
‘We are the men and women of Gillette, and we’ve got something to say to you’.
What do you think of Gillette’s change of approach and messaging?
As someone who personally has a very sweet tooth and considers themselves somewhat of a sweet connoisseur, for me, Skittles aren’t all that special.
Nonetheless, they’re one of the few sweet brands which really stand out when it comes to tone of voice. ‘Taste the rainbow’, the tagline on their quirky, fun and downright bizarre adverts, is instantly recognisable. Similar to their adverts, anything normal, ordinary or standard is thrown out the window when it comes to their online communications.
Even their website meta description doesn’t follow the rules. 165 characters? SEO? Google best practice? Who cares! They’re Skittles, they don’t need no visibility:
Make it onto the website and your confronted with a whole host of quirky and strange statements/questions which links to their Tumblr account:
And then there’s the Twitter account which is full of personality with off the wall, wacky and goofy posts. Interestingly, these posts are all written in the first person which makes Skittles unique compared to its competitors, offers a more human element to the account and encourages followers to remain loyal.
Even, the ‘about’ section on the Skittles Facebook page makes for entertaining reading.
“Anything you or any other fans around the globe post on the wall is your own doing, and does not reflect the opinion of Skittles, the Rainbow, any ninja, anyone registered with WM. Wrigley Jr. Company, or most registered hedgehogs”.
I rest my case!
Do you need help in developing or honing your business’ tone of voice?
Our content team has vast experience in this area, from helping companies to define their brand values and create a tone of voice from scratch to producing content for client websites off the back of existing tone of voice guidelines.
Drop us a message in the contact form below or feel free to call us at our Brighton office on 01273 733 433.