Why is Tone of Voice Important?
So why is a consistent tone of voice important? As a business, your words have the power to make or break you. Your ability to build relationships, influence decisions and maintain your reputation rely on you being able to communicate effectively.
But it’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it. This is where tone of voice comes in.
In this post, we put tone of voice under the microscope. We define tone of voice and tell you why it’s important, explore tone of voice types, look at tone of voice branding examples; and finish with some top tips for creating your own tone of voice brand.
Let’s kick off by defining tone of voice.
What is tone of voice?
Put simply, tone of voice is how you ‘speak’ to your customers. It’s the words, language, and tone you use to express your brand personality and get your message across whether that’s in print, online, in person or broadcast.
It’s an important part of your brand identity, and can shape the way your brand is perceived.
Why is tone of voice important?
Imagine if Swiss watch brand Rolex started producing Lidl style ads, or adopted Paddy Power’s laddish, colloquial tone of voice. As well as confusing their target market, it would take away from their brand identity, which has been built on a sense of luxuriousness and prestige.
Successful brands put a lot of thought into their tone of voice branding to ensure their brand identities are coherent. They work hard to establish a unique tone of voice that reflects their product offering, target market, and the image they want to project. And they use it consistently across every communication channel.
Take Innocent Drinks. Since launching in 1998, the UK-based smoothie brand has grown from a three-person outfit to a multi-million-pound business. And it’s largely down to the brand’s distinctive tone of voice.
Playful, charming, knowingly naïve, and honest, it’s instantly recognisable, relatable, and expertly crafted to reflect the brand name and ethos. The brand shuns corporate speak in favour of witty quips; the language they use is simple and honest. And the style is replicated across every piece of communication, from press releases, to the copy on the bottom of their packaging.
Case in point: ‘You should probably try opening this carton at the other end. Not that we’re telling you how to run your life or anything, but it seems to work much easier when the drink comes out of the spout on the top’.
Made you smile, right? That’s the brand’s aim. And it’s bagged them an impressive following and a tasty 80% share of the UK smoothie market.
For more on the connection between tone of voice and a successful comms strategy, read: How to Create a Brand Communication Strategy.
Types of tone of voice
We’ve established that a distinctive and consistent tone of voice in marketing is crucial for effective messaging. Now let’s turn our attention to tone of voice types.
There are many different types of tone of voice. For example:
The tone you adopt will depend on the type of business you run, your target audience, and how you want your brand to be perceived.
Wondering how this translates to the real world? Let’s look at some brand tone of voice examples to find out.
Branding tone of voice examples
Factual & formal: Gov.co.uk
Sometimes things need to be said, or written, matter-of-factly. No bells, no whistles, no jokes or provocation.
Take government agencies, for example. If the DVLA started cracking jokes about speeding fines, would you take them seriously?
In fact, the UK government takes a considered approach to their comms. Recognising that people come to them from all walks of life, their communication guidelines say ‘one in five adults has a reading age of between nine and thirteen, so it’s crucial that our customer-facing communications are easy to understand.’
Their website ticks that box. The copy is concise, and they provide clear, simple instructions. The tone is impartial, and devoid of personality. Which for a government organisation is exactly what it should be.
Offbeat & cheeky: Paddy Power
We can all remember a clever line we’ve spotted on a billboard. Or a TV ad that’s provoked more laughs than the programme we were watching before the ad break. Remember the Old Spice Guy?
Comedy’s ability to help brand cut-through is strong. However, few brands can consistently pull it off without coming off as cringey, try-hard, or tone-deaf.
However, betting company, Paddy Power has nailed it.
They know what their audience likes. And they deliver it in bucketloads.
Gav Thompson, Paddy Power CMO, describes their approach to tone of voice as ‘something that our punters would say down the pub to make their friends laugh.’
Considering the typical sports betting customer is a bit laddish, loves banter, sport, and a few beers at the local, the tone of voice is pretty much spot on.
Check out this tweet for a prime example of Paddy Power humour: ‘Once again Pep Guardiola gets his tactics wrong in a big game. A scarf when it’s pissing it down? That’s just going to soak up the moisture; be dead heavy now. Overthinking it once again.’
Manchester City fans probably didn’t find it funny, but fans of the other 19 Premier League teams did.
Either way, Paddy Power is doing something right, as their comedic, relatable, positive tone of voice has bagged them 700,000+ Twitter followers.
Some sectors lend themselves to humour better than others. But if the product fits, and you’ve got a knack for clever, witty copy, you might be onto a winner.
Bold & rebellious: Harley Davidson
Taking a rebellious stance in your messaging and challenging the status quo can set you apart from the crowd and earn you a cult following – if you get it right. Just ask American motorcycle brand, Harley-Davidson.
The iconic brand knows its audience: riders who value freedom, independence, and individuality. And it knows how to connect with them. Using its daring and rebellious brand voice, the brand celebrates the freedom of the open road and showcases how its products complement and facilitate that lifestyle.
And the message is reinforced at every customer touchpoint, starting with the company mission: ‘More than building machines, we stand for the timeless pursuit of adventure. Freedom for the soul’.
As a result, Harley-Davidson fans understand exactly what the brand stands for and buy into the lifestyle experience it’s trying to sell.
Harley’s approach has earned them a passionate, hardcore group of two-wheel fanatics (known as HOGS) that have transformed Harley-Davidson into the iconic brand it is today.
How to define your tone of voice
These examples demonstrate that, when it comes to branding, tone of voice is crucial.
Now we’ve looked at some tone of voice brand examples, let’s turn our attention to yours. Here’s how to define tone of voice in four steps.
1. Do a deep dive on your brand
Your tone of voice should reflect your core values, ethos, and point of difference. Before you can define it, you need to know who you are as a brand.
Consider the following:
- What’s your company mission and vision?
- What are your core values?
- What makes your brand unique?
- How do you want to be seen by your customers.
2. Identify your brand personality
Your tone of voice should embody and express your brand personality.
To nail it down, think about where your brand sits on the brand archetype wheel.
The concept of brand archetypes was developed by author Carol S. Pearson in her book, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.
She outlines 12 brand archetypes: The Innocent, Everyman, Hero, Outlaw, Explorer, Creator, Ruler, Magician, Lover, Caregiver, Jester, and Sage.
Each archetype represents a unique personality type with its own characteristics and values.
For example, the Creator archetype is imaginative, inventive, and driven to build things of enduring meaning and value.
Brands that fit this mould include Lego, Crayola, and Adobe.
This short LinkedIn article by Nate Fineberg covers the characteristics of each archetype in more detail.
3. Know your audience
The way brands communicate with your customers is shaped by who they are.
The more you know about your customer base, the easier it’ll be to identify a tone of voice that resonates with them.
Take a deep dive and find out:
- Who are they
- What they like
- How they speak
- What inspires them.
You can use tools like surveys, focus groups, social media, and analytics to gather insights.
4. Choose your tone elements
Once you’ve completed steps 1 and 2, it’s time to nail down your tone elements.
Things to consider:
- Language: Will the language you use be straightforward and simple, or complex and technical?
- Voice: Will your marketing tone of voice be chatty or formal?
- Tone: Your tone should match your brand personality. Are you rebellious and edgy? Cheeky and fun?
A word of warning: If you opt for edgy and provocative, put a positive spin on it. You’ll come across as bitter and unapproachable if you’re overtly negative. Examples of negative tone of voice include apathetic, hostile, aggressive.
- Vocabulary: Are there any key words or phrases you want to reinforce, or avoid?
- Punctuation rules: Punctuation determines the rhythm of your voice and the piece you’re writing. Do you want to use short, punchy sentences for maximum impact, or longer sentences divided by commas for a softer flow to your copy?
Once you’ve pinned everything down, you need to document it.
This is where tone of voice brand guidelines come in.
Brand guidelines: tone of voice
Tone of voice guidelines are a tool to ensure every piece of communication you share with your customers sounds uniquely ‘you’.
A key branding document, it ensures everyone in the company is on the same page and uses your TofV consistently across all your communication channels.
Your guidelines should include:
- Your core values
- Your mission statement
- Information about your target audience
- A summary of your brand personality and tone of voice attributes
- Your message architecture (a set of words, terms, phrases, or statements arranged hierarchically to convey your messaging priorities and communication goals)
- Examples of tone of voice in action. It’s worth noting here that, while consistency is key, you’ll need to use a different tone of voice from time to time. For instance, if you’ve inadvertently offended a customer, apologising in your usual quirky, offbeat tone won’t cut it. Be sure to include guidance on handling customer complaints and crises
- A list of do’s and don’ts, such as words to use or avoid, punctuation and grammar preferences, and tone modifiers.
Tone of voice guidelines: Examples
Let’s look at a couple of tone of voice guidelines examples for inspiration.
Global environmental campaigners, Greenpeace have a comprehensive online content style guide to help its content creators ‘write clear and consistent content.’
The document provides comprehensive guidance on abbreviations and acronyms, capitalisation, active voice, language, style, and various other writing elements.
They also describe how to use and interpret tone of voice. These tone of voice guidelines clearly outline the do’s and don’ts of using Greenpeace’s brand tone of voice.
And that’s exactly what brand guidelines are for.
The popular fintech company describes its brand tone of voice as:
- Ambitious, positive and always focused on what matters to people
- Transparent about what they’re doing and why
- Open, inclusive, and welcoming to everyone.
In its tone of voice guide, Monzo says: ‘We use the language our audience uses, and make technical stuff as clear as we can.’
The guide is comprehensive, providing alternatives to make sure employees avoid ‘business-speak’. For example, using ‘help’ instead of ‘assistance’.
They also provide ‘real-life’ examples of tone of voice to be used in customer communication:
‘Hello ‘there’, thanks for your message! You don’t need to opt out. The basis of open banking is that you can choose which services you opt in to. In other words, you need to give explicit permission to those services to access your data, otherwise they can’t. You can find out more about how we use your data in our Privacy Notice’.
Finding your voice
When it comes to marketing and communication, tone of voice is a crucial part of the brand identity jigsaw. Get it right and it can make all the difference between engaging your customers or alienating them.