A consistent tone of voice gives your organization a strong personality. It contributes to your already powerful brand voice that connects you with your audiences.
But how do you decide what your tone of voice should be? And how do you make sure that everyone in your organization uses the same tone of voice across all your channels?
Our Tone Tonic guide answers all of these questions—and more. It provides you with the tools to start building your own voice.
What you will find in this article:
- What is a tone of voice?
- What’s the difference between brand voice and tone of voice?
- Why is tone of voice important for my brand?
- Why is consistency important when it comes to your tone of voice?
- How do you find your tone of voice?
- Who decides my company’s tone of voice?
- A style guide?
- What are the best examples of style guides?
- Is there another tool for maintaining a consistent tone of voice?
What is a tone of voice?
Your brand’s or organization’s tone of voice defines how you come across. Tone of voice is not about what you say on your different channels and at different touchpoints in a customer’s journey. It’s about how you say it.
It is not about the content of your message, or even the type of products or services you are selling. It is about the words you choose and how you present them.
Tone of voice concerns the types of messages you send out and how you want your audiences to hear or see them. It defines your organization’s style.
A strong, consistent and authentic tone of voice on all your channels helps you connect to your audience, wherever they find you.
Many organizations try to have a consistent and sometimes distinctive tone of voice. Innocent drinks, for example, uses humor. The company’s Twitter profile says: “We make healthy drinks. Please buy them so we don't get fired.” This is one of their posts:
THINGS JANUARY IS LONGER THAN:— innocent drinks (@innocent) January 13, 2023
Stephen Merchant stood on Richard Osman's shoulders
A game of Risk with 4 tortoises
The collective pause on a Teams call when someone asks "does that make sense?"
JANUARY IS SHORTER THAN:
Avatar: The Way of Water
Salesforce is another good example of a company using a consistent tone of voice. Their brand page says: “We value progress over perfection, and speak candidly about what we do, eliminating jargon and buzzwords in favor of clarity and compassion.” Sounds good, right?
What’s the difference between brand voice and tone of voice?
We would say that your tone of voice is part of your brand voice. Your brand voice is defined by your company’s core values and how you want to come across.
A consistent brand voice can be found in your products and services, in your human resources policy and also in your tone of voice. So, a tone of voice is just one of the means available for expressing your brand voice.
Why is tone of voice important for my brand?
For control, for trust, for standing out and for great first impressions. Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Look at me
A solid tone of voice puts you in the driver’s seat. If you have a consistent and well-considered tone of voice, your audience will view you the way you want them to view your organization and brand.
If you want them to think of you as a solid and trustworthy services provider, you’d probably use a more serious tone of voice than if you want to be perceived more as a friend.
A strong and identifiable tone of voice makes you recognizable, which creates trust. And trust is important. People don’t like to spend their money on brands they don’t trust.
Trust is even the new brand equity: according to PR company Edelman, 88 percent of consumers say that trust is critical when deciding which brands to buy or use.
A great first impression
A strong tone of voice helps you create a great first impression. And, yeah, we probably all know how important that first impression is, and that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Your tone of voice will differentiate you from your competition. If your competitors have a serious and strict tone of voice, your casual and relaxed tone will help you stand out.Back to top ↑
Why is consistency important when it comes to your tone of voice?
With a consistent tone of voice, you create a strong personality. While there may be small differences in your tone on LinkedIn versus your TikTok feed or website’s FAQ page, in the end, there should be a common denominator across all your channels.
Your audiences must be able to connect each tone of voice to you.
Why? Because inconsistency detracts from your image. Suppose you’ve just launched a great, inspiring commercial, capitalizing on a viewer’s warmth towards you. If your visitor later finds a website full that’s written in a very formal and distant tone, he or she will be confused. And confusion damages trust.
Or let’s say someone applies for a vacancy that presents your organization as a very accessible, friendly place, complete with Friday afternoon drinks and lots of table tennis during office hours. The application procedure and onboarding process should mimic that same informal tone of voice. If the job candidate instead receives an overly formal interview invitation, it might not fit in with his or her expectations. Should she suit up for the job interview or not?Back to top ↑
How do you find your tone of voice?
Your tone of voice depends partly on the types of products or services you offer. A funny, tongue-in-cheek tone of voice probably wouldn’t fit well with a funeral home, just as a strict and formal tone of voice would be inappropriate for a toy company.
We say “probably” because there is no law stating that a funeral home can’t use a tongue-in-cheek tone of voice. As mentioned earlier, using a totally different tone of voice from your competitors could help you stand out. But you do want your tone of voice to fit your products or services.
Your tone of voice should be:
- what you want it to be
- what you think is best for your organization
- what you think suits your audience
There are thousands upon thousands of adjectives to describe tone of voice: formal, humorous, tongue-in-cheek, witty, inspirational, motivating, assertive, serious, strategic, frank, edgy, romantic and so on and so on….
That is why we like the approach of the Nielsen Norman Group. Based on extensive research, these UX specialists have established four dimensions for tone of voice:
- funny versus serious
- formal versus casual
- respectful versus irreverent
- enthusiastic versus matter-of-fact
Find a place on the scale of each of these dimensions and you’re ready to go. Try writing some responses to complaints about your company you’ve seen on social media. Create a draft for your website’s ‘working at company XYZ’ page. And set up a few lines for a new marketing campaign.
Do the messages sound consistent? Great! The next step is to find a few focus groups and test them. What do they think? How do they look at the company after reading your messages? Use their feedback to tweak your tone.
Who decides my company’s tone of voice?
Your tone of voice is not something the marketing department can—or should—define on its own.
If you want to have a consistent tone of voice, you must create support for the one you have established throughout your entire organization. The tone of voice must be in accordance with your corporate values, and every department must be able to use it.
If you want account managers, helpdesk employees and your Chief Inspiration Officer at his TED Talk to use the same tone of voice, team up with some of your organization’s key stakeholders and start the search for a fitting tone of voice.
An in-house or external brand specialist—this might be you—can lead this process. It should be someone who knows your brand’s voice, values and audiences. This person should also be someone who, using the input of key stakeholders, can translate your tone of voice into a style guide.Back to top ↑
A style guide?
A style guide is a guide in which you describe which tone of voice you want your co-workers to use and how they should use it. Just saying that you want to sound “a bit funny, but not too funny,” or “rather casual, but not like we’re best friends with the audience,” might be a bit vague for most.
A style guide describes what your tone of voice looks like in practice. It is filled with all sorts of examples: addressing customers in a direct mail, descriptions for new product pages and Tweets and other social media posts.
Every employee in your organization must have access to this style guide. In an ideal world, they should all be trained how to use your new, consistent and fabulous tone of voice.
But embedding this new tone of voice might prove a challenge. You need to win over the skeptics: colleagues, for example, who are used to writing in a certain way and don’t feel they need to change. Listen to them and explain that a consistent tone of voice benefits the entire organization. You might even want to show them this blog.
And remember: your style guide is not a fixed product. It can be adjusted based on new insights or trends. A style guide is also not obligation-free: you need proper governance to maintain a consistent tone of voice throughout your organization.Back to top ↑
What are the best examples of style guides?
The above example is from the Mailchimp Content Style Guide. It is completely public and available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. This means that you can use and adapt the style guide to suit your own needs; Mailchimp just asks that you credit them.
Skype’s style guide, The World According to Skype, not only looks great, but also offers some superb inspiration for your own style guide. “If your mum couldn’t understand what is being written, then it’s not the Skype voice,” reads one page. We believe this advice can benefit more companies than just Skype.
The Dutch chain store HEMA is another good example of a company sticking with a consistent tone of voice. Even its 404 page fits its other content, as you can see below. Mispoes is a funny Dutch word for “wrong” and sounds a bit like tompouce, the pastry HEMA is famous for. Even if customers can’t find a webpage or a certain product is sold out, they will probably chuckle at HEMA’s clever wordplay.Back to top ↑
Is there another tool for maintaining a consistent tone of voice?
Yes, there is. We’ve noticed that, for many organizations, it is quite challenging to create and maintain high-quality and consistent content at scale. Organizations likely have several different CMSs and tools for publishing content depending on the department, making it difficult to protect the company’s overall tone of voice.
That is why we have built Engatta, software that can help you—among many other things—create a consistent tone of voice throughout your organization. Engatta offers a collaborative workspace for planning, streamlining, creating and publishing content on all of your channels—with a consistent tone of voice. So, after you have developed a tone of voice, and translated it into a style guide, the next step might just be to request a demo.
In the coming months, we will dive a bit deeper into the topic of tone of voice. In the meantime, if you have any questions on how to create one or about Engatta, please don’t hesitate to contact us.Back to top ↑