Your tone of voice…
Have you spent much time thinking about your brand’s tone of voice? Really exploring how your content reads to people? Dwelling on your company’s “personality”?
If you haven’t, now’s the time. (Well, yesterday would’ve ideally been the time, but until we figure out the art of time travel, now is your next best option). Your tone of voice dictates how you come across online – acting, essentially, as your brand’s character. And if you want your target audience to “love you long time”, you want to create a voice they’ll really connect with: that’s unique to you, appealing to them, and makes your brand’s missions and values understandable to all.
We know – it sounds like a tall task. But with the five ingredients we’ve listed below, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a nifty tone of voice that’ll really resonate across the web. First of all, however, you should consider…
The character behind your tone of voice
Companies do not have voices. People have voices. Therefore, creating a tone of voice will depend on you either bringing your own voice to the fore, or by shaping your brand as a person that people can connect with.
It doesn’t matter what kind of brand you are, either. Even if the services you provide could be considered “dry”, that doesn’t mean your voice has to be. There are several types of business in the market ocean, and you don’t have to be informal, witty or warm (the three staples of many companies’ tones of voice) to be successful. You can be educational, considerate, honest, clear, creative, methodical or other. But you should have a voice, and your brand does need a character to match. Start this exercise by thinking of what you want your brand to represent, and write down some pointers (friendly, charismatic, knowledgeable, etc.).
Now that’s settled, let’s continue with the five ingredients.
1. A sprinkling of your origin story
Where did your brand come from?
Usually, companies are born from a specific mission or purpose. You spotted a gap in the market and wanted to fill it. You had a flash of inspiration, or an idea for a wild entrepreneurial experiment and just… went with it.
However your brand was conceived, your purpose is rooted in that. This is a crucial stepping stone to creating your tone of voice. This is the place from which all of your passion, direction and inspiration as a brand comes from – and this should be felt through your words, to persuade your target audience to focus on you.
Take action: Start shaping your tone of voice by revisiting your brand’s origins. Talk to the person or people you set up your business with (if applicable). Discuss what drove you to take this journey, and jot everything down. Don’t forget to note the feelings that came at each stage: your passion, ambition, excitement, fear, curiosity, and so on.
Not only will this jog your memory about why you made your brand in the first place, this exercise will also help you frame your story in a unique, emotional and authentic light – a surefire way to pique people’s interest in you, and a great basis from which to build your overall tone of voice.
2. A generous dose of your values
Continuing from the first point: beyond your purpose, your tone of voice should also reflect your values as a brand. Are you big on sustainability (as we all should be)? Ending world hunger? Addressing mental health? Or do you want more people to have access to great stories, clothes or music?
Whatever your brand’s values, make sure they’re reflected throughout your content, and inform how and where you use your brand’s voice. That way, your target audience (particularly the people within it who share similar values) will feel a stronger connection to you, solidifying their loyalty.
Take action: Again, turn to the power of the pen. Write down everything you believe in and what you hope to achieve as a brand. Similarly, again, to the previous point, couple these goals with “emotion words” you can use within your content when communicating your values (“dream”, “vision”, “passionate” etc.). You don’t have to have achieved every mission you’ve set out to achieve yet, but you want your intentions as a brand to be clear within the language you’re using, as this will, again, attract more like-minded folk to you.
3. A splash of inspiration
So, you’ve defined the themes that your tone of voice will revolve around. These are at the core of your voice, and now they’ve been established – rooting you to your brand’s truth – it’s time to consider how your favourite brands speak.
Discern which techniques they use in their language (metaphors, poetry, colloquialisms etc.), and the tone they take on to connect with their audiences (funny, warm, frank etc.). These are stylistic factors that you can reflect in your voice, while keeping it unique to you by underpinning it with your brand’s singular purpose and values.
Don’t skip to this step before you’ve completed the first two stages. It’s important to only bring in other brands once you’ve established your voice’s foundation, otherwise they might confuse your vision. By having a strong understanding of your brand’s voice before analysing anyone else’s, then, you run a better chance of ensuring your preferred brands only inspire your tone of voice, not shape it.
Take action: Write down all the brands whose voices you particularly like. Then, analyse what’s similar about them – whether they’re witty, warm, ultra-clear, metaphor-heavy or other. By discerning their commonalities (which will inform why you like them), you can come up with ways to infuse your own writing with similar techniques.
You might want to do this work in the form of a table, with one column for the brand’s name, another for the aspects of their tone of voice that you like, and a third for techniques you could use to master its style (use of certain language, grammar techniques and so on). As always, if you need a hand with this, you know who to call.
4. A dash of audience consideration
Before we get into this, I want to be clear. It’s always more important to be authentic to you and your brand than it is to try and “people please”. The more genuine you are, the more you’ll attract the right folk, and nurture a connection with them that benefits both parties.
That being said, you can’t completely disregard what your audience responds to, either. Then, you’ll run the risk of disinteresting them and losing out on the chance to build that wonderful connection in the first place. For example, if I wrote for Jammy Bear in the style I love to write in general – like a Victorian novelist, à la Dickens or a Brontë sister – I guarantee my content would have less appeal to its intended audience, as it would be harder to consume at a glance. It’s about balance, then: being “you”, but being a version of “you” that your audience can understand and should, therefore, connect with.
Take action: Learn your audience’s preferred language by analysing how they interact with your competitors. Just like you did with the previous exercise, create a table to chart your competitors to discern the similarities between their tones of voice, and see where they intersect with your own. Consider how your audience “talks” and the kinds of content they consume, too. In particular, what they engage with the most, content-wise: this will help you steer your voice in the right direction.
5. A pinch of personality
At this point, you should have a pretty excellent tone of voice coming together. It should draw on your purpose, values, the other “voices” you admire and your audience’s preferred use of language. But the final flourish depends on you, and revolves around your character.
By “character”, I either mean you directly (particularly if you’re a solopreneur) or your brand’s character (remember, as we’re envisioning your company as “a person” right now). How do you/they speak? What colloquialisms do you/they like? Are you/they funny, creative, open-minded?
The more personality you thread through your brand’s communications – presenting it as a human your audience can connect to, as opposed to a faceless business – the more likely you are to strike a chord. So, as long as it won’t alienate your audience (e.g. by writing in as lovely yet long-winded a manner as Dickens – who, let’s not forget, was paid by the word, so often said things far more verbosely than necessary) – be real.
Take action: If you’ve been trained to write in a corporate manner, you’ve got some unlearning to do. Have a go at writing a paragraph about your brand, and then tweak each sentence to add some character. You can do this in lots of ways: by using punctuation! By playing around with your sentence structure (writing elaborate, comma-filled prose or taking. Regular. Breaks). Taking liberties with language to make it sound more like you might speak (e.g., writing looooooooong instead of “long”). Using your favourite colloquialisms – “awesome”, “gnarly”, “hbu?”, and so on.
The finished product probably won’t be usable (if every single sentence has been reconstructed to add character, it could detract from the clarity of your message) but it’ll have been a good exercise in looking at your writing differently. Making it a bit more exciting, so that when you do sit down to write your brand’s content, writing with personality will be easy.