We have never been so inundated by written copy, which means it’s never been so difficult for companies to cut through the copywriting noise.
For a lot of businesses, the only way to do this is by carving out their own tone of voice. Think about it. When you’re walking down the street, why might you remember one café over the other five that you passed? It’s likely to be because of an eye-catching name, an interesting tagline or perhaps how a special offer was presented. You only need to take a look at the funniest bar & café signs to see how those businesses are differentiating themselves through witty copy.
When you’re processing literally thousands of pieces of writing like this every day, the ones that stand out are the unique ones. Establishing your brand tone of voice is all about establishing the way in which you want to communicate, and sticking to it. And by reinforcing your tone of voice, your company starts to become unique.
What is a tone of voice?
A brand tone of voice defines the way in which your company communicates - both internally and externally. When you establish a brand of tone of voice you are establishing the formality of your text, the spelling conventions, the writing style and much more. Take a look at these examples to see how similar information can be communicated in different tones of voice.
Keto Drinks is a Detroit-based soft drinks manufacturer with a portfolio of products that includes 8up, Banta and Sgt. Pepper.
Keto Drinks is a family firm that has been selling natural, homemade and healthy soft drinks from its Detroit base since 1965.
Hello there! We’re Keto Drinks. We’ve been making tasty soft drinks that you can enjoy guilt-free since 1965. We'd love for you to read a little more about us and what we do.
Established in 1965, Keto Drinks now produces 30 million soft drinks that are sold across five continents and 98 countries every year. We are constantly expanding into more territories and more markets. We are Keto, and we are global.
In 1965, Arnold Keto had a dream. He wanted to create the perfect-tasting soft drink that would put smiles on people’s faces all over the world. We’ve still not fully realised our founder’s dream, but every day we come one step closer to doing so.
As you can see, each introductory sentence about Keto Drinks communicates similar information but in a vastly different way. It all depends on how you want to be perceived by onlookers, and why you want to be perceived that way. For instance, you might promote yourself as a global brand in order to target larger clients who feel you have the resources to work with them. Similarly, that same tone of voice can instil confidence in consumers that you are a legitimate and trustworthy company.
How to find your tone of voice
Now that we know a little more about what constitutes a brand's tone of voice, let’s look at how you can find your own.
The first thing you should do is think about how you want to be perceived. Do you want people to think you’re a multinational company, or would you rather be seen as a local, family-friendly firm? Who is your target audience? How do you think they should perceive you? Think about how you differ from your competitors and use your tone of voice to reinforce that difference.
Keywords & inspiration
Once you have a rough idea of your tone of voice - at this stage it will probably just be a few keywords - you can start to crystallise it. Start with those keywords and draft some example sentences, like the ones we wrote for Keto Drinks. Then look at how other companies present themselves and take inspiration from them. Highlight one or two other companies that you want to replicate, and put your own spin on their tone of voice.
By now you should be starting to have a clear idea in your head of how you want your business to sound. Now, it’s time to commit it to paper. Some companies choose to put together a comprehensive style guide for your business, which would include spelling conventions, do’s and don’ts, use of grammar and much more besides. This document creates uniformity across a brand’s communications. They can range from a heavily detailed document, like The Guardian’s style guide, to a lite version such as MailChimp’s. Regardless of how detailed you want your own style guide to be, it's always useful to get something written down to refer to.
Reinforcing your tone of voice
Finally, it’s time to reinforce your tone of voice. Stick to it rigidly and in almost* every piece of written communication your company puts out. Taglines. Emails. Menus. Website copy. Social media posts. Posters. By communicating in a clear and consistent way you grab people’s attention, gain the trust of customers and mark yourself out from competitors. And that’s the way to start winning more business.
*There are certain bits of writing where you might have to discard your brand tone of voice just for a second - think legal documents, terms & conditions and certain customer service interactions, for instance. If your customer is pissed off at something and you’re employing a cheery, chirpy tone with them then it’s only going to piss them off further (says somebody with plenty of experience of this).