Tone of voice guidelines and why you need them

Isabella Wells | 27th March 2019 | Content

As consumers we are faced with a barrage of words on our screens all vying for our attention. Brands are desperately seeking something new to stand out; yet the thing that a brand really needs to be good at to attract attention is identity.

Brand identity isn’t how you see your business it’s how others see it. A crucial part of creating a brand identity is to use a consistent tone of voice which reflects your brand’s personality. The tone of voice shows consumers one of the most tangible and emotional aspects of your brand and this is how potential customers are influenced.  

The best way to think of tone of voice is as a language. Language is essential in communicating where images, design and video can’t but you need to get it right and it has to be consistent.

Why is tone of voice important?

When people have conversations in person, they don’t just use words; they use body language, tone, sound and volume. Therefore when you write web copy, tone of voice becomes more important.

Your company tone of voice will depend on the nature of your business and it will define how your company communicates. It is therefore considered to be one of the highest priorities when launching a business as it defines who you are whether you need to be formal, informative, factual and concise, authoritative, or reassuring  all the while providing unequivocal expertise. Tone of voice will draw customers to your business, and keep them coming back.

Tone of voice will also:

✔ Make your brand stand out

A successful tone of voice will make a personal connection to your customer. This is the difference that will set it apart from your competitors.

✔ Set out your brand’s personality and values

The tone of voice will reflect your brand’s personality.

✔ Instil your value propositions

The value propositions shouldn’t be a given they need to be specific to the customer’s needs. If you offer convenience and simplicity in your service or product, your tone of voice should reflect this with straightforward language.

✔ Build brand trust and expertise

Tone of voice provides the customer with an expert voice they can trust. 74% of consumers would boycott a company they don’t trust. If they trust your expertise they will come back and evangelise about your brand.

✔ Provide a connection

People don’t connect with brands. People connect with people. Developing a consistent tone of voice across all communications allows customers to connect with the brand personality, your customers feel at ease, and they know what to expect. Consistency is key.

✔  Influence people

Tone of voice is one of the most influential forms of communication. A company could have the same content but express it using a different tone of voice, which immediately changes the customer’s perspective about a product for the better. The best tone of voice flows without the consumer even realising it.

How does language affect tone?

The tone of voice should match your brand. The chosen language needs to be based on your customers, your potential customers, your brand research and your competitors. Get it wrong, and you could end up alienating your audience and putting them off your product.

A certain bed and sofa retailer makes every word of every sentence so quirky and sing-song in tone, it’s very hard to read and seems awkward and child-like alongside the high quality furniture. And after Innocent Smoothies shot to success with their friendly tone, others tried to copy it until there were too many casual voices wanting the customer to ‘swing by’. The language that you use needs to be spot-on to succeed.

To see this in action successfully, take a look at these two famous brands:

Before tech-led snack subscription service Graze came along, healthy snacking was boring and unappealing – how can dried fruit and seeds be anything but? Graze wanted to turn this image around and make healthy snacking exciting. This is reflected in the consistent tone of voice across their website and their packaging: positive and confident. ‘Delicious and wholesome, imagine that’ adds the conversational tone. Words like ‘reimagine’ get the potential customer to question their previous assumptions. Suddenly healthy snacks are varied, tasty, fun, desirable and most crucially more exciting.

If a bank used a chatty tone of voice like Graze’s, it would end up sounding fake and hollow at best, and deceptive at worst. Monzo is an app-based challenger bank looking to offer something different to traditional banks. Their chosen tone of voice feels open, honest and direct, reflecting their desire for banking with simplicity and convenience.

The website is benefit-led and cuts out the chit-chat. They use words deliberately and sparingly with short words and sentences. The language is simple, straightforward and reassuring ‘stay in control’ and ‘rest easy’. Everything can be done in ‘minutes’ or ‘seconds’. They talk as if they are working with the customer rather than for them that you can make banking easier ‘together’, as a ‘community’.

What are tone of voice guidelines?

How has the tone of voice that Graze and Monzo use become synonymous with their brand? You to make sure that all your communications from your social media posts to web copy match the same tone. When managing any team, you need a documented system to show everyone what is required for successful project management. This formal process will ensure consistency.

Tone of voice guidelines will:

  • Lay out all the rules so everyone can refer to the same instructions
  • Serve as a reference for anyone who wants to double-check something
  • Provide a document which will help inform those who are onboarding and training

When putting the guidelines together:

Give examples: If those who will be using the document are not professional writers, you need to make sure there are examples by each instruction. If writing in short sentences is an instruction (for readability and SEO purposes), you need to be specific with the word count.

Compile, communicate: Poorly compiled tone of voice documents can be unhelpful and patronising, over-wordy or too sparse, lacking helpful information. A tone of voice document needs to be referred to by everyone. Rather than file the guidelines away, approve them by the company Director or CEO and introduce them via training sessions so that everyone knows of their importance.

Be honest: When writing the guidelines you also need to be honest about the brand not just go for the tone of voice of your favourite retailer. Think about what the customers want.

Target: Tone of voice acts as the backbone for copy. It is an effective tool for engaging and attracting new and old customers. It is therefore crucial that your tone of voice resonates with your target audience.

Don’t get lost! If a company doesn’t develop a tone of voice, you run the risk of your content being lost in the vast depths of a saturated web. If you don’t have tone of voice guidelines for everyone in your company to adhere to, your copy will be diluted and confused. Don’t let your voice give out mixed signals.

Review: It takes attention to detail to maintain a tone of voice which is trusted, familiar and recognisable and so it is vital to constantly review all copy. The guidelines provide a tool, but the content will still need to be checked for consistency. The process of finding a tone of voice and writing the guidelines may open you to areas of your wider brand identity that you hadn’t considered before. Such attention to detail will lead to genuine interaction with the target audience and customer retention.

Looking ahead: the need for a consistent tone of voice will continue to grow exponentially as algorithms and AI match content to customer, product to user and company to client. Ensuring a consistent tone will allow your company to build a rapport with prospective customers into the future, by increasing client engagement with your content, and encouraging them to spread the word of your reputation.


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