How to define your tone of voice in 4 simple steps (even if you don’t know where to start)

A couple of weeks ago (add a few if you’re reading this after November ‘19!) I shared a short definition of ‘tone of voice’. Mainly because I get asked about it regularly but also because it’s super important to your business.

If the likes of brands such as Innocent, Nike and Apple are doing it, then surely it must make sound business sense? The short answer is YES!

Assuming, of course, you want to…

  • Engage your ideal  client
  • Set your business apart from others in a crowded marketplace
  • Make your brand more memorable
  • Build trust

Your brand tone of voice helps you grow sales and build brand loyalty.

What is tone of voice? Let’s recap…

Put simply, it’s what you say and how you say it. And it influences how your brand is perceived.

Brand tone of voice accounts for around 40% of the message we’re sharing so it’s a significant factor in how people perceive our business, what they think about our services/products and how they feel about our brand.

The takeaway: It’s worth investing in.

Your brand’s tone of voice expresses the character of your business and its personality – it’s the thing that puts a person behind your brand to make it more relatable. So, yes, it’s kind of a big deal!

So how does tone of voice help grow sales and build brand loyalty?

Through creating a connection between your brand and your audience.

We’re drawn to brands that mirror our values, reflect who we are or what we aspire to – brands we relate to on some level.

Think about your favourite clothing or skincare brand. Or your car of choice. Chances are you’re drawn to them for more reasons than the cut of the jeans, wrinkle-busting promises or how quickly the car goes from 0 to 30mph…

When a brand resonates with us, we begin to form an emotional connection.

Why are connected customers more valuable customers?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that fully connected customers are, on average, 52% more valuable than highly satisfied customers.

They say that when companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge. And they back this up with a powerful example: A leading household cleaning brand turned market share losses into double-digit growth within a year of launching products and messaging to maximise emotional connection.

When people understand your business and what your brand stands for, either they’re drawn to it or they’re not. And that’s fine. Because your tone of voice shouldn’t appeal to everyone.

Like all good marketing, it’ll appeal to those who are ‘right’ for your business – those who are most likely to become connected customers.

And more good news, according to HBR, customers who purchase more of your goods and services are less price-sensitive too.

Ready to grow sales and build brand loyalty? 

4 steps to defining your tone of voice

Step 1:

First up is your brand personality.

And it starts with looking inward to define your business and distil your message to the world…

  • Pin down your brand values – the beliefs that guide how the business thinks and behaves. What are those core values?
  • Go right back to the beginning and define why the business was established in the first place. Most businesses are set up to meet a human need or solve a problem. What’s the true purpose of your business?
  • Dig deep and determine what sets you apart from others. How do you things differently? What makes your business unique in a space jampacked with businesses like yours?

…then look outward to guide how you want the brand to be perceived and help set the tone

  • Which words do you want people to think of when they think about your brand?
  • How would you like them to describe your brand to others?
  • What do you want customers to feel after interacting with your brand?

You’ll see several similar words and themes popping up. While they might be similar, it can be difficult to be clear and concise with so many words and ideas floating around.

Step 2: 

Group them into themes and assign each group a human personality trait. Choose just four or five words that create a sense of the business. Examples include:

Adventurous, Ambitious, Caring, Compassionate, Disruptive, Energetic, Focused, Hedonistic, Indulgent, Knowledge, Loyal, Mature, Old-fashioned, Playful, Purposeful, Quirky, Responsible, Stylish, Surprising, Transparent, Understanding, Whimsical, Youthful

(You’ll find hundreds more with a quick Google!)

Now you’ve established the character of your business, how should it sound?

The Neilson Norman Group identified 4 primary tone of voice dimensions – and it makes the whole process much easier to navigate!

Step 3:

Begin by choosing the combination of dimensions below which best suit your brand and audience. You’ll likely be somewhere between one end of the scale and the other – that’s fine, and you’ll tend to lean more towards one.

  • Funny v Serious
  • Formal v Casual
  • Respectful v Irreverent
  • Enthusiastic v Matter of fact

Here’s an example of the tone dimensions at play. Let’s assume we’re letting visitors to our website know that they can get in touch with us.

Serious, formal = “Please contact us at…”

More casual, matter of fact = “Get in touch at…”

Enthusiastic, respectful = “We’d love to hear from you…”

More enthusiastic, casual = “Fancy a chat? We love a good chinwag…”

See how it works? Pretty straightforward once you know how it’s done. But we’re not there yet!

Step 4:

The final step is to refine your tone by considering your tone target words – the four or five adjectives you picked earlier to describe your brand personality.

Of course, your tone of voice might move on the scale slightly depending on whether you’re writing a board paper, for example, or an email to a long-term customer. However, consistency is key. So, while your tone of voice can shift, be wary of making it unrecognisable. After all, that’s one of the end goals of creating and adopting a tone of voice.

Bring it all together

Tone of voice guidelines will help bring it to life and make it easier for everyone to adopt.

A typical guide might include voice guidelines, brand personality, content examples, content best practice, words to use and words to avoid, grammar rules and quick checklists.

Think of it as more of a guide to steer everyone towards better communications with a more consistent tone. And of course, write it in the brand tone of voice.

A classic example of tone of voice

Here’s an example of tone of voice at its absolute best – by Apple. Yes, it’s an obvious one, but there’s so much we can learn from them. Their brand personality is often linked to the words innovateinspiredream. Here’s a snippet from their website where they’re talking about the features of the new iPad Pro…

The all-screen design means iPad Pro is a magical piece of glass that does everything you need, any way you hold it.

And there’s more…

The Liquid Retina display goes from edge to edge. True-to-life colour and ProMotion technology make everything look gorgeous and feel responsive. You’ve got to see it — and touch it — to believe it.

Now it’s your turn…

Need help finding your tone of voice?

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