Tone of Voice — How you say, what you say. In our previous article, we explained what tone of voice means and why it matters. This time, we offer up some tips on how to establish your own tone of voice for your business.
To start off, here are a couple of examples of brands using their tone of voice effectively.
Netflix has built an industry-leading brand voice that is informal, conversational, and humorous, and it’s present in every internal and external communication. Netflix uses plain language that comes across as very ‘human’ and authentic, a personality their audience finds relatable. The company’s tone of voice aligns with its corporate ethos and demonstrates how well it grasps its target audience— made up mostly of Gen Z’s and Millenials. Read any internal Netflix document and you’ll spot obvious similarities between its tone of voice and the characteristics of its streaming audience. Both come across as relaxed with vocabulary, somewhat ‘chill’, and always thinking about the entertainment factor of their communications.
Apple’s tone of voice is assertive, credible, and focused. Much of its marketing content consists of simple and direct statements. For example, the advertising slogan of iPhone 11 Pro is “Pro cameras. Pro display. Pro performance.” With three short concise phrases, all of which boast the word ‘pro’, customers get a sense of self-assurance, quality experience, and product reliability – characteristics often associated with the Apple brand.
Fail to bring some continuity to your brand tone of voice and every communication you publish runs the risk of sounding like it came from a different source (and let’s be honest, in most companies, it probably does!). So what type of tone of voice is right for your brand? Get started by stepping through our guide below.
1. Set out your brand characteristics and don’t lose yourself in features and function detail
Your company brand values should linger in the minds of every person writing a business communication. Outlining missions and principles that are true to your brand and organizational culture will help to centre your voice; it will reinforce that sense of authenticity, consistency and originality you want to impart.
In an age where customer experience is everything—and every other business has a purpose—it can be difficult to separate brand values from your customer values. Particularly for tech-enabled business models, it’s easy to fall back on communications that promote features and functions at the cost of your tone of voice and brand personality.
It’s rare for businesses to fail because of any lack of understanding of their product. Normally, the knowledge they’re short on, and the biggest reason why so many companies fail lies in their shortfall in customer understanding.
Follow the logical path of this argument and it won’t surprise you that companies generally over-prioritize communications about their product value (what they say) over their tone of voice (how they say it). You need to think ‘customer first.’ You need to know who your customers are, and how they talk themselves, in order to frame your own brand tone of voice communications. These details matter.
Steve Jobs (Apple CEO, as was) got this. He once said, “One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and figure out how you’re going to sell it.”
This ‘think forwards, track backwards’ logic is a key weapon for clever tech marketers and they use it to great effect to develop an impactful tone of voice messaging that envelopes their customer value into their brand story.
2. Do the legwork and define your target audience first
Identify your target audience. Once you can picture the characteristics it cohorts, it becomes easier to design a tone of voice to communicate with. Remember, your style should mirror the customer’s own voice, as this will make your tone of voice more relatable and your messages resonate.
Extensive market research on your targets helps to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of what you’re saying, and how you say it. Ideally, your research should focus on demographic, psychographic, behaviouristic, and geographic variables, for a start. Of course, not every company has its own research team. For those without, the best and simplest means of engaging customers is to get out of the office and go speak to them—even small companies can do that.
3. Implement consistency across your communication channels with a tone of voice guide
Our Why does a Brand Need a Tone of Voice article emphasized the importance of building a consistent tone across different platforms to ensure customers experience a common voice. You should bear this in mind when implementing your communications so that ‘what you say’, and ‘how you say it’ is aligned.
It’s a good idea to publish a guidebook for internal teams and partners that describes your brand voice rules. Communications that benefit from sorting out your tone of voice include websites, emails, press releases, brochures, newsletters, and social media posts. Every aspect of your messaging agenda should wrap around the guidance detailed by your guide.
If you want to build a consistent tone of voice for your brand, where do you get the inspiration to get started?
Firstly, make decisions about how familiar or how mature you want the brand to appear, as well as how relaxed the brand messaging should be. Whiteboard sessions are a great way to bring these ideas together and hammer out the persona behind your brand voice. Ask your team to visualize the ‘personality’ that represents your brand in their minds. For instance, it’s a primitive example, but think about God and most people visualize Morgan Freeman. Once you have the personality in mind, it’s so much simpler to ask yourself the question, “Is that how they’d say it?”
Don’t forget to spare a thought for the differences in your audience cohorts, to make sure you’re not disenfranchising one group at the cost of better serving another. Look to understand how customers and other stakeholders see the value in your brand and use that as your North Star.
Following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to developing a tone of voice that works for your brand.
Marketing strategist and content writer
Currently working towards her bachelor degree in Marketing, Judy is always interested in the evolution of technology and how it impacts on society. She takes a particular interest in consumer brands and how they compare to business brands. Judy can be reached via LinkedIn.