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What is tone of voice and why is it important?

September 17, 2019

We all know that consistency is essential for brand recognition, right? We know how our logo should be positioned and we’ve memorised our colour palette, but have we carefully considered our tone of voice?

Because we should. Words – and the way we use them – can affect how our businesses are perceived.

If your brand was developed by a creative agency worth its salt, your guidelines document should include a page on tone of voice, alongside rules about logo positioning, typefaces and colour palettes.

But let’s start at the beginning…

What is tone of voice?

A tone-of-voice document should outline how your brand communicates, both in writing and verbally. As with visual guidelines, it should also provide examples of good and bad tone, including things to avoid and banned words.

If you’re pulling a guide together from scratch, try identifying three key qualities associated with your brand. For instance, you might want to be fun, direct and helpful, rather than serious, expert and understated.

You should also outline if you’re going to use contractions. For instance, saying ‘you’re’ sounds natural in chatty, conversational copy, whereas ‘you are’ might be more appropriate for formal language.

We also recommend including a list of banned words/phrases. In the past, we have been banned from using the word ‘kids’ and exclamation marks because the client felt they were overused.

Why is tone of voice important?

It Adds Personality To Your Content

First and foremost, tone of voice gives your brand a personality. It gives your audience a sense of what it’s like to work with you. If the tone of your blog content is direct and forceful, readers might expect the same from your team. If it’s flowery and verbose, customers might expect you to talk a lot, rather than cutting to the chase.

To help bring this to life, we often ask clients who their brand would be if it was a person. By imagining your business as a well-known personality, it cements how you communicate. Is your business more Alan Carr than Alan Bennett? Bear that in mind when you’re communicating with clients.

Stand Out From The Crowd

With a clear personality in mind, your brand can stand out from the competition.

Just think about Innocent smoothies for a second. While their tone is now a bit passé, there was a time when every brand under the sun was mimicking their chatty, friendly tone of voice. It helped them to stand out from other smoothie makers and became a go-to in the Boot’s lunch deal.

Now that I come to think of it, I can’t name another smoothie brand…

Cross-Channel Consistency

The most important reason to document your tone of voice is consistency.

I hinted at this in the introduction because it’s so important. Tone of voice helps to build recognition and trust.

If Innocent smoothies suddenly became stiff and formal on social media, you’d worry that the brand had been hijacked and be less inclined to trust it.

Read more: Sales & Marketing Lessons From Alec Baldwin

Knowing your tone of voice means also means you can carry it across platforms and channels without jarring your audience. Whether they’re reading a blog, watching a video, or even in-store, they’ll have a seamless experience.

But that’s not to say you can’t adapt your tone. If your brand has to deal with a serious subject, you can make the language more serious without losing the essence of your brand.

Freelance it out

Of course, once you have a tone of voice document, delegation is easier. You can ask colleagues and freelance writers to fill the gaps in your content calendar and know that it’ll be right first time.

It’s A Starter For 10

A tone of voice document is also a good starting point for building a content-marketing plan.

For instance, if your brand could be personified by Sandi Toksvig, could you find a comedy angle to your industry? Can you relate your business back to Bake-Off?

It really does help if you get stuck!

via GIPHY

So while it may not be immediately obvious why you need a tone of voice document, it can help in myriad ways. From building trust to creating a content marketing plan, it’s a vital tool for any business.

If you’re having problems pinning down your brand personality or defining your tone of voice, drop us a line; we’d love to help.

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