What is tone of voice?

Consider the following passage of marketing text:

‘XYZ’ Copywriting delivers professional, premium-quality business writing services to corporations and organisations around the world. We’re a cheerful lot and we’re always chuffed to chinwag, so if you want to chat about your project, grab the rap-rod and give us a tinkle. With ten years’ experience of developing content for clients of all types, we are ideally placed to meet your copywriting needs. Our copy’s too bootylicious for ya baby!

The problem here is not quality, but consistency. While any of the ideas here might work in isolation, they are too different in terms of their ‘personality’ to gel. In other words, this text has no single, recognisable tone of voice – and this makes the communication almost totally ineffective.

Then what is the actual tone?

Written tone of voice is simply the ‘personality’ of your brand or company as expressed through the written word. Tone of voice governs what you say in writing, and how you say it – the content and style of textual communications, in any setting and in any medium. Just as it’s desirable to have a consistent look and feel in design terms across stationery, signage, advertising and online marketing, it’s also worthwhile ensuring that the content of all these media feels like it’s coming from a single source.

Giving a brand or company a proper ‘voice’ gives an impression of solidity, trustworthiness and honesty; in NLP terms, it makes communication congruent. Conversely, inconsistent tone of voice (or graphic style) gives a dissonant, self-contradictory impression that readers will find discomfiting, even if only on an unconscious level. As in normal life, we find it reassuring when people stay more or less the same over time – if their style of communication changes radically from one day to the next, we might trust them less, or even become concerned for their mental health.

Defining tone of voice

The easiest way to consider tone of voice is in terms of the personality of the brand, company or product. If it was a person, what would they be like? To keep things simple, three values are probably enough. More than that risks duplicating values, or obsessing over minor details. Three broad-brush statements of personality should be plenty to pin down the essence of a brand. Here are some examples:

Product

Value 1

Value 2

Value 3

Organic yoghurt

Honest

Friendly

Principled

Children’s shoes

Fun

Practical

Economical

IT support company

Knowledgeable

Reliable

Proactive

If you want to liven things up a bit, you could try asking what type of car your brand would be, or what type of biscuit, or whatever. But beware of being led astray by your chosen metaphor. Inanimate objects only have the personality we project on them; this type of thinking can take you into a hall of mirrors where you’re just playing with ideas, not talking in terms of business reality. Human values are always the key to strong marketing.

The problem with B2B

The last example in the table above illustrates the problem for many B2B companies: finding values that are genuinely unique. While knowledge is a key attribute of a good IT support provider, in another way it’s just the least one would expect. What differentiates one provider from another is the depth and nature of the knowledge and its application. But that kind of nitty-gritty detail doesn’t translate very well to broad-brush statements. The values listed above could just as easily apply to any other IT support provider – or indeed, any professional support firm of any type whatsoever. And this results in broadly similar tones of voice across the B2B sector. To wriggle out of this straitjacket, some B2B firms pretend to have values that they actually don’t. This leads to self-consciously friendly or funky text, probably embellished with bright orange graphics and rounded corners. Personally, I think this is a mistake. Believable brand values and tone of voice can’t be a work of fiction. Your tone of voice should be consistent with reality, as well as with itself. It’s far easier to stick to a tone of voice if it’s in harmony with the way you habitually write or speak. So if your IT support company is bluff, masculine and ‘all business’, make that your tone. Some people will want a partner like that, so focus on converting your most promising prospects. If you put on a mask, people will see through it soon enough anyway.

Choose an honest and factual tone of voice and stick with it. If you have not yet determined what tone of voice you are using then you’re probably driving you’re business right off the bridge. To make sure your presence in the market is steady you need to be sure of the image you portray and the language you speak in a consistent manner so that your target audience can understand what you are trying to say to them. You also need this tone to create recognition of your brand so consumers can start to associate themselves with it. Not having a tone of voice will portray uncertainty in your own product. In business time is priceless so click the ‘Contact’ tab above now and drop us a line . Let us give you a voice today!