Effective communication isn’t just about what you say; it’s also about how you say it. That’s called “tone of voice” — and getting it right can be the difference between success and failure.
Whether you sound formal or casual, humorous or serious, respectful, enthusiastic or irreverent — the words you choose, the order you put them in, the way you structure your sentences — all of these copywriting decisions make up your tone of voice.
Why tone of voice matters to your brand
Tone of voice matters because it tells your audience who you are, what kind of brand you are, and what kind of relationship you want with your customers (your audience). If you’re a cooler brand, for example a clothing retailer, you can get away with articles with a casual, friendly tone of voice. It might be perfectly OK to run a headline like “take a look at our briefs!” for instance.
On the flip side, say you were running a blog for a law firm. You might well offer general legal advice as part of your content marketing strategy, in a bid to attract people who want you to represent them in their legal matters. You wouldn’t dream of using an informal headline like “let us take a look at your briefs!” — no matter how funny you thought it was. You’d choose something like “Our experienced lawyers are ready to help you”. Dull, yes, but far more appropriate and likely to be far more effective.
Tone of voice helps your brand stand out from the crowd
Your tone of voice should also help your brand stand out. The voice you use, the tone you use, should be recognisably you. Richard Branson’s Virgin, for example, has a distinctive voice. If you’re on a Virgin train or plane, the language used is irreverent. They communicate their message effectively, but they use humour. It’s very different to one you’d expect on, say, British Airways or Emirates.
Choosing the sorts of words that will work for your brand — that will represent your brand well and communicate your message correctly — should be taken seriously. It’s very common for brands to have lists of the sorts of words they use, listing off considerations like “We apologise” instead of “We’re sorry”, for example, or whether contractions (don’t, won’t, can’t) are acceptable. Be sure to define your tone of voice (and, as part of that, your vocabulary and “style” guide).
Tone of voice helps people relate to your brand
The way you say something can turn people off your brand, or onto your brand. It can make all the difference between converting a customer or not. The words you choose in your written communication create an impression about your brand, so you want to leave people with a good impression. Be sure you know whom your audience is. Know what kind of language they use. Understand what they respond to positively. Know what turns them off. If you get the language and tone of voice right, it can help persuade consumers to become customers.
Whatever you publish — whether it’s an article on your website, a catalogue through someone’s letterbox, the voice over for a TV commercial or an internal memo — every single thing you write must be consistent with your brand’s tone of voice. When people read, hear or see something from your brand, they expect it to sound a certain way. If the message they’re getting is not consistent (or worse, contradictory) they will start to lose trust in your brand.
Keep tone of voice guidelines in your copywriting style guide
For this reason, any communications supplier you’re working with — copywriters, marketers, advertising agencies, public relations consultants — should all be aware of and comfortable with your tone of voice.
Lastly, it’s worth noting there are times when tone of voice can and should change. Sometimes you need to change your emotional tone — for example, if a tragedy has occurred. Sometimes you need to change the level of formality because the audience is different — like in your company’s annual report, for instance.
Have you got your brand’s tone of voice right? Does it speak to your audience in a way that connects with them and helps you convert them into customers? Lush Digital Media has an expert team of journalists and copywriters ready to help you. Get in touch any time.
Like what you’ve read? Sign up to the Lush newsletter for fortnightly advice to help you market your business better, tips from our video production gurus, and a podcast or two from our favourite podcasting team, Brand Newsroom. In the meantime, you might enjoy these: