Word to the wise: tone matters. The way you speak has the power to distil your core message, clarify your vision, and communicate effectively with your target audience. Words have power, and words have personality. Choosing the right ones is central to the construction of your tone of voice. And it’s tone that offers you the presence you need to remain memorable and distinctive – it makes you someone, rather than something.
Squarebird is a digital marketing agency based near Bristol with years of experience helping brands craft compelling copy. Our comprehensive content team comprises SEO experts and creative copywriters. Together, we create unique and distinctive brand voices with content that performs online.
In this blog, we break down what we mean by brand tone of voice and take you through our approach.
What is tone of voice?
Brand tone of voice is the way a business speaks, and it’s more than just ‘nice to have’ – it’s a fundamental element of brand identity. A brand with a successful tone of voice will use characteristic words and techniques within their written content to evoke a particular feeling or connect with a specific audience.
Despite the value of a good brand voice, many businesses don’t have a consistent style and have multiple writers creating content at any one time, resulting in a feeling of disunity. More than that, many businesses shy away from changing their established corporate tone, fearing they won’t be taken seriously.
But this isn’t a case of having to choose between chatty and corporate – language can be intricately controlled to create a vast spectrum of unique voices, styles, and formalities. Through it’s easy to slip into corporate lingo and industry cliches, your tone of voice can and should be as unique and nuanced as you are.
Why is tone of voice important?
We think tone of voice is invaluable, but we won’t talk your ear off about it. Instead, we’ve distilled the advantages it offers down to three core points of note.
Makes copy precise
When we don’t know what we want to say or how we want to say it, we talk around the subject. We hedge, we repeat ourselves, we don’t quite get our message across.
Working out your business’ tone of voice means clarifying exactly who you are and what your vision is. Then, with all the tools and techniques at your fingertips, you can write about it the right way. Precise writing = powerful writing.
Connects with audience
Writing is about communicating and connecting with your reader. A unique brand voice should be created with your target demographic in mind. That way, you can create a tone that resonates with their values. Whether it’s proving your professional expertise or reminding everyone you care and are here to help, tone of voice bridges the gap between people and businesses – opening up a dialogue and making them choose you over your competitors.
Builds memorable brand
You might not love them all, but brands with distinctive voices stick in the mind. Think Innocent. Think Brewdog. Think MailChimp. These are very different businesses, but what they all have in common is a consistent and well-considered tone. Even if you know nothing about brand tone of voice or don’t engage with these businesses regularly, it’s likely you’ll have some idea of what they do, who they are, and what they stand for. Tone of voice gets you remembered.
How to create a tone of voice for your brand.
Have a word with yourself
To begin, it’s important to define several things about you, your business, and your people. Have internal discussions, consider other brands whose copy you love, and establish if you haven’t already your core values, vision, and mission. Essentially, to enable you to identify your desired tone of voice, you’re going to need the answers to the following questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you want to say?
- Who do you want to say it to?
- What are you not?
That last point is an important one. Sometimes it can be difficult to say what you are, but it’s rarely tricky to establish what you’re not. Take the words ‘rebellious’ or ‘playful’. These are the sort of traits you’re probably going to respond to with an emphatic yes or no. And, if you’re really struggling to pinpoint who you are, don’t be afraid to reach out for help!
Have a word with your competitors
In any industry, there will be certain clichés, conventions, and trends that are informing and even restricting brand voice. To gain an insight into what these are for you (some might be operating subconsciously!) it’s time to take a deep dive into your competitor’s copy.
Compare how you currently write with how your competitors sound. Are they similar, or vastly different, and why do you think that is? Look at common phrases, structures, and bits of jargon that come up, and consider if you could use different words to describe the same things. Doing so is likely to contribute to a tone of voice that is nuanced and fresh.
For any form of writing, not just copy, breaking out of the ‘comfort zone’ and writing past the point of safety is critical to saying something true and authentic. That’s why, to discover a truly unique tone of voice for your brand, determining the parameters of your brand’s comfort zone is key.
Write, right now
Time to put it all into practice. When formulating a tone of voice, it’s easy to spend too long thinking and talking and not enough time writing. Once you have a feeling of where you want to go with your style and how you want to sound, get typing! A great way to kick things off is to do some short writing exercises to get those creative juices flowing.
Try timing yourself for a few minutes at a time and write as fast as you can in your desired tone – this is called freewriting. Often, it can flush out the stopper that is holding you back from expressing yourself the way you really want to. It may also lead to those accidental ideas that turn out to be golden – your signature, even!
You could also try rewriting an existing section of your copy in your chosen tone (or a range of different voices if you’re struggling to decide!). Once complete, read it back and see what you think – share it with the rest of your team too. If people within your organisation are connecting with the new tone, you know you’re onto a winner.
Tone of voice guidelines
When your style is distinct, and your character is so true to life it hurts – only then is it time to set the tone of voice in stone. Starting with guidelines is a roadmap to a stilted and restrictive tone of voice – so don’t do it!
Your tone of voice guidelines can be as brief or as comprehensive as necessary. Essentially, this valuable document is about enabling all the different writers inside and outside the business who will write content for you to utilise the tone effectively and consistently.
Ready to write your guidelines? Make sure you include:
- Voice statement – this is essentially the tone of voice in action; a short paragraph that provides an immediate flavour of the style, energy, formality, and personality your copy needs to channel.
- Specific techniques and examples – don’t just say ‘sounds purposeful’ because some people might not know how to achieve this. Instead, you should describe specific techniques like declarative sentences, clear, concrete language, or lists of three. Simply put, describe the desired effect, but describe the components of that effect too.
- Approaches for each communications channel – you would probably speak in a different way when talking to a lawyer than to your closest friend. It’s exactly the same here! Terms and conditions documents might sound slightly different to your social media, but they should still have the same core tone. That’s why establishing this fine-grained control over your voice is not a stage to skip.
- Style guide – this makes sure the rules are applied uniformly. Though not everyone might notice the use of an Oxford comma in your blogs that is absent on your homepage, some will, and consistency is a good habit to get into.
Creating a tone of voice - our final tips.
Ready to start writing? Here are a few of our final tips for a successful tone of voice:
- Tone of voice is about style, but style can never cover a lack of substance. Have something worth saying.
- Use specific, concrete language and avoid abstraction. That’s important whatever your tone of voice – readers can spot this veneer a mile off.
- Is there a piece of copy in your brand’s past that everyone went on about? Dig it out and figure out why – maybe it perfectly reflects who you are.
- Lawyers don’t have to stick to legalese and toy shops don’t have to be silly. Don’t be afraid to defy expectations and think bigger than your niche.
- It’s not just about the words you use – punctuation and structure can make a massive difference to how you sound. Play around with it and see what happens!
- Make decisions for a reason. Three. Short. Sentences. Why? Loads of questions? What for? Don’t just do things to look pretty or sound cool. Establish why, then proceed.
Discover your brand tone of voice with Bristol copywriting agency.
From dynamic websites to eye-catching graphic design, Squarebird offer the full spectrum of digital marketing services. If you want help working out how to spread your message the right way, our creative content team can help. Drop us a line or pop into our studio! We can’t wait to tell your story.