To get a better idea of what we mean by a brand’s tone of voice, let’s unpack a few examples from leading companies.
Apple tone of voice: minimalist, sleek, concise
Well here’s a trip down memory lane. Let’s take a closer look at Apple’s tone of voice in one of their old iPod ‘silhouette’ ads.
Welcome to the digital music revolution. 10,000 songs in your pocket. Works with Mac or PC. Over a million sold. The new iPod.
There’s not much copy here, but then again, that’s very much inline with Apple’s minimalist design ethos. This is a clear example of how a brand tone of voice can differentiate it from its competitors. Everything Apple do has minimalism at its heart - so why should their tone of voice be any different? It’s used as a tool to reinforce what makes them unique.
Let’s break down this copy bit-by-bit.
Welcome to the digital music revolution.
Apple immediately position themselves as pioneers, revolutionaries, changemakers. And they’re inviting you to be part of that. But what makes this little white box such a revolutionary product? Well, like all good copy, it leads nicely into the next sentence…
10,000 songs in your pocket.
Although we now take for granted having millions (not thousands) of songs in our pocket, back in the early noughties this was a big deal. Here, Apple are focusing on the benefits for the user - what they get from the iPod - rather than saying it has the most powerful processor of any MP3 player, for instance. Customers aren't interested in that.
Over a million sold.
In just four words, Apple instil confidence in the reader by giving the iPod some credibility. Again, this minimalist tone of voice goes hand-in-hand with their minimalist approach to product design. The language used here is simple, sleek and concise - just like their products.
Nike tone of voice: bold, ambitious, aspirational
Nike’s tone of voice is very different to Apple’s. They’re a big company, and they want you to know it. They have a grand mission statement which they back it up through an ambitious and assertive tone of voice. Let’s look at a few examples from their website:
Our mission is what drives us to do everything possible to expand human potential.
We dare to design the future of sport.
Learn how Nike is using the power of sport to move the world forward.
Yeah - it’s not quite IKEA’s ‘the wonderful everyday’ tagline, is it? Nike are global, their ambitions are global and their tone of voice projects this. But if this all sounds a bit too grand for your liking (it does me), it’s interesting how Nike try to connect this vision with everyday people (that's you):
Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*
*If you have a body, you are an athlete.
This isn’t your average polo—it’s the Nike Polo.
I think Nike’s message is clear. They are on a mission to change the world. If you’re a Nike customer, you’re part of that mission. It’s very aspirational. Their tone of voice implies that they’re above the norm and doing something extraordinary in the world. They do this not just by using grand language, but connecting the reader with those ambitions. They make you feel part of that journey.
IKEA tone of voice: homely, active, helpful
So,what do you notice in the image above?
Shopping online couldn’t be easier
…collect at the time and location of your choice
Streamline your shopping experience
…make your everyday life at home easier
IKEA want you to know that it’s easy, simple and stress-free to order from them. They reinforce this at every opportunity by using phrases like easy, streamline and your choice.
IKEA also use active verb constructions to reinforce the fact that they’re the ones facilitating all of this (an example of an active construction would be using the phrase ‘we help’ rather than ‘you will be helped’). Here are some examples of when IKEA use the active voice in their copy:
We’ll round up everything
We want you to have the home you dream of
Lastly, and much like Apple, IKEA's tone of voice focuses on how their products directly benefits you (the customer):
Save some time
Return items within 365 days for a refund
Have your order delivered to your home or business
IKEA have a subtle tone of voice, but it’s no less effective at projecting their message than Nike. They focus on the small, everyday things, which is in total contrast to Nike’s messages of global empowerment and improvement. Both are effective.
LIDL tone of voice: irreverent, cheeky, sarcastic
LIDL have made big efforts in recent years to move away from the perception that they’re a low price, low quality supermarket. They started with the #LidlSurprises campaign, which encouraged customers to share their surprise at how good Lidl products were - considering the low price.
But the Lidl Surprises thing started six years ago now, and other supermarkets are starting to price match them and their closest competitor Aldi. So if you take away one of Lidl’s main USPs - being 'Lidl' on price - how else do they differentiate themselves from competitors?
They’ve chosen to deploy a cheeky, sarcastic and irreverent tone of voice to try and do this. You can see this most clearly in their social media posts:
This digital tone of voice comes full circle back to their supermarkets. The middle aisle of Lidl - dubbed 'Middle Lidl' - is often packed with the most random stuff you could expect to find in a shop. And they play on that in their social media posts:
A brand tone of voice is most effective when it communicates what makes you unique. Lidl's odd tone of voice is backed up by a slightly strange middle aisle of their supermarket. It all adds to their image as being a bit different from their competitors.
Revolut tone of voice: young, conversational, cool
It’s always interesting to study the tone of voice of a company like Revolut - they would probably label themselves ‘disruptors’, so let’s go with that name to describe them.
Revolut are one of awave of new digital banks (along with the likes of N26, Monzo and Starling) that are shaking up the banking industry. The company was only founded in 2015, but they've already amassed more than 15 million users/customers/clients around the world.
Because their approach is radically different to traditional companies within their sector, we can expect them to use their tone of voice to reinforce that. Let’s take a look.
Revolut really like their emojis, which we assume is because they’re down with the kids and all that. But also because your high street bank (probably) don’t use emojis in their communications. It’s another way to differentiate themselves from traditional banks - both through their service and their tone of voice.
Revolut’s tone of voice is very conversational. You can see this in examples such as…
Yeah, us too.
…but c’mon, just look at it.
They write as they speak, basically. It’s sometimes a little bit jarring to see a bank communicate like this, and some of it sails pretty close to cringe-territory, but it is a pretty effective way of setting themselves apart from the competition. You only have to scan their copy to know they do things a little differently - and that’s the mark of an effective tone of voice.
In fact, it’s one of the most compelling reasons for creating a distinctive tone of voice. We’re not saying that these companies are successful because they have a unique tone of voice, but it undoubtedly helps to differentiate them from their competitors. And often, their tone of voice is totally in-sync with the company ethos - Apple is probably the best example of this from the list.
Although these are all brand tone of voice examples from huge companies, it doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who need a tone of voice. Creating your own company tone of voice is a useful tool for businesses of all shapes and sizes. It helps you clearly define your message, stand out from the competition and ultimately win more business.
If you need some help shaping your own tone of voice, feel free to get in touch to learn how we can help you out.