Creating the right tone of voice for your business
Tone of voice is the personality of your brand
A clear tone of voice helps your audience relate to you and tells people what kind of business you are. To create your tone of voice, you need to listen to your audience, your employees, and think about what your business stands for.
In this guide, we run through how to research and develop your tone of voice. We look at creating a tone of voice document and what sections to include. There are no fixed rules. It helps to think about your tone of voice as a process rather than an output. You are exploring what makes your business different and how best to communicate this to people.
Start with how people speak about your business already:
- Survey your employees and find out how they describe what you do
- Survey your current customers and find out how they perceive you
- Explore the reasons for your business existing and its aims*
*Your aims don’t need to be revolutionary! They might be as simple as solving an everyday problem for your customers, making people smile, or supporting your local area.
The information you get from this exercise might surprise you. No single response needs to represent you, but they are all authentic excerpts of your business’s voice. The process helps you pinpoint the things that make your business unique and the values that run through it.
The different ‘types’ of voice
The next step is to start thinking about your business’s external voice and how it needs to come across to others. It helps to think about different voice ‘types’ and which apply to you. Most businesses draw on a few different types of voice.
Playful; purposeful; energetic; rebellious; sensual; warm and friendly; these are examples* of ‘types’ of voice your brand might fall into. Select two or three that apply. Having more than one accounts for variance, for instance, how your tone of voice applies to a blog compared to a formal letter.
*There are loads more! And loads more you could come up with yourself.
Turn ideas into clear rules
Your business’s values and the specifics of what you do need to factor into your tone of voice. Say your business has a straight-talking approach. You always tell your clients what can be achieved in clear terms, without sugar coating, and your clients respect this.
This approach needs to come across in your writing. It might translate in the structured way you describe your products. It might mean you steer clear of aspirational language or limit the use of superlatives. Set out these rules within your tone of voice.
For another example, let’s say your brand is playful and curious. You might start every blog with a personal anecdote and use storytelling in your emails. Your tone of voice cements these practices as consistent features of your written communication, rather than just nice ideas to use here and there!
How to structure a tone of voice document
When it comes to writing and presenting your tone of voice, there’s no set formula. But there are some useful ways of structuring the document to make it clear for the user. Most businesses use a landscape PDF, similar to a brand guidelines document.
Some useful sections to include:
Who we are – An intro explaining who your brand is and what your business does. Use language that reflects how you’d speak it to a client (think back to the employee survey responses!).
Point of difference – Like a USP but not salesy. Define what makes your business different from others. Acknowledge the thing that sets you apart from competitors (think back to the customer survey responses!).
Values – The values your business lives by. Explain the common beliefs and aspirations that run through your business and how these influence the way you work.
Our voice – Using the types of voice you choose, set out three clear definitions. Describe the way you communicate and instruct people on the way the writing should come across.
What we say – Set out the expressions and terminology associated with your brand. Include brand names, straplines, product names, naming conventions and any other ‘set in stone’ terms.
What we don’t say – Set out any expressions and terminology to avoid. Include the reasons why you wouldn’t use this language, so people internalise the rationale behind it.
Examples – Include a few before and after examples where your tone of voice has been applied. These show someone how to put your tone of voice into practice.
Grammar and formatting – Create a clear reference point for the grammar conventions you follow, and those you break. Any formatting techniques your brand uses should be explained here.
Simple checks – List the key questions a person should ask after creating a piece of writing in your tone of voice. These are designed to test the clarity and purpose of the writing.
Your tone of voice is a working document
When you’ve created your tone of voice document, don’t file it away never to be looked at again. It’s instructive and a reference guide. Gather people’s feedback and ask if they have any further questions. Get people to use it and see if the results you get are consistent and recognisably on brand.
Remember, it’s not set in stone, and if you need to add to or edit the sections then do so. The point of a tone of voice document is that it accurately captures how your business should speak to the outside world and this may well evolve over time.
Think your business could communicate better with its target audience? Get in touch for a digital marketing review and we’ll let you know how we think you’re doing.
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