When people think about a business’s identity, they only think about the stuff they can see – but what they can hear is equally as important.
Tone of voice, or brand voice, is a term used to describe how a brand sounds.
It isn’t necessarily what the brand says, but how it says it.
It’s the distinct tonality of the language used, and it’s an effective way to differentiate a brand.
Remember when Virgin Blue first launched in Australia?
They disrupted the airline industry not only with cheaper flights, but they used a quirky, youthful and light-hearted tone of voice to grab people’s attention and give them a different experience to what they were used to.
With lines like “Size does matter!” to communicate carry-on luggage measurements and “Parting is such sweet sorrow” on the departure gate sign, this unique voice helped to differentiate the brand from the other ‘older’ airlines.
Why is tone of voice so important, and who does it well?
Most people revert to using a corporate tone, full of business jargon, when they write on behalf of a brand.
Using a more human language, with a unique personality, can be a key tool to really help a brand to stand out from the pack.
Take Go-To Skincare for instance.
Zoe Foster-Blake is both a writer and entrepreneur, so naturally when she developed her cult skincare brand, language played a huge role in it’s identity.
Not only do all the products have incredibly clever and catchy names like Exfoliating Swipeys, Exceptionoil and Very Useful Face Cream, but all the words, and even the fine-print, on the packaging and merchandise is hilarious to read.
Who wouldn’t be delighted to receive a mirror sticker in their purchase that reads: Holy Shit You Look Amazing!
Skincare is possibly the most crowded category there is and so Zoe has done well to use her talented writing abilities to make the brand stand-out.
And before you go, “Well that’s all very good for them, they sell to the public, we have a B2B brand so it could never work for us”, …well it does.
Although a business may primarily sell to other businesses, it’s still full of humans making the cogs of the engine turn – so it’s important that a B2B’s tone of voice reflects that.
A great example is MailChimp – a marketing automation brand with a very straightforward, practical and down-to-earth voice.
Everything they say is written in easy-to-understand language.
How to develop your brand’s tone of voice
Tone of voice is a way to communicate a brand’s personality – is the brand fun and hilarious or sincere and thoughtful – whatever it is, tone of voice communicates the personality and creates a human connection.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when developing and applying your tone of voice is to take your business too seriously.
Even if what you’re selling is of the most serious nature, you can still talk with a down-to-earth and human voice.
Think about the airline industry and the importance of getting people safely to their destination – Virgin Blue had a fun personality, made a light-hearted joke here and there, and still gained people’s trust.
If your brand was a person what would they be like and sound like? What famous person would they be similar to?
Simplicity and focus is best, so you only need three to four traits that best sum up your brand.
How to apply tone of voice to your writing
Your brand’s tone of voice should be applied across every piece of communication in your business.
Whether it’s on your website, posts on social media, on the packaging, or even in the terms and conditions, it needs to be applied consistently as possible and everywhere that your brand speaks.
However, just as it would be a bit odd for you personally to be using the same tone of voice at a house party than you would at a bookkeeper’s office, so too must a tone of voice be tweaked according to the context of the communication.
How your brand sounds on social media is going to be very different to how your brand sounds in a letter to suppliers.
However, Netflix has recently demonstrated that a tone of voice can bleed into all channels — even cease and desist letters.
Wait. I’m dead. This cease-and-desist letter from Netflix about a Stranger Things bar: pic.twitter.com/1S2n3CYXk3
— Candace Lowry (@TheCandaceLowry) September 20, 2017
Developing your tone of voice and, more importantly sticking to it, isn’t exactly easy.
But with increased competition and digital disruption, any way a brand can get people’s attention, truly connect with customers and stand out from the competition is an advantage