Business owners often worry about what they say rather than how they say it, and that’s where they’re missing a trick.
What is tone of voice?
Tone of voice is the way you say something. It is your personality, your language, the rhythm and pace of your sentences.
I once read that tone of voice is to writing, what logo, colour and typeface is to branding. It is a representation of you.
Your organisation’s tone of voice should inform all of your communications, from your telephone greeting and social media posts, to staff newsletters and the way you respond to complaints. Every piece of written or verbal communication should be a reflection of your brand.
Why does tone of voice matter?
Unless you plan on positioning yourself as the cheapest product or service in your sector, then you’re going need to be different. Because why, oh, why would anyone choose you if there’s a cheaper alternative?
And maybe you’re thinking, can’t I just tell my audience what makes me different? Well, you could, but I guarantee it’ll be no way near as effective.
So, how do I come up with my tone of voice?
It’s actually very simple. Firstly, you need to know what you’re going to say. How is your company different? What do you represent? What is your brand’s personality?
Now for some this is a very easy process, whereas others find it immensely difficult. As an exercise, I want you to write down four or five key words or phrases about your brand. These can be adjectives or just words. For example, think of the brand Virgin. You could say the words that reflect the brand are: rebellious, cheeky, adrenalin, entrepreneur.
These key phrases will inform your tone of voice.
Like I said, for some businesses this is easy. But let’s say you’re a solicitor or a building contractor, then how the heck do you form your brand values?
For organisations such as these, it’s easy to ignore your brand. I’ve heard business owners say time and time again that their business is just not exciting enough to warrant it’s own personality.
And I always reply with the same thing. Rubbish.
Look at Compare the Market/Meerkat. Strip away everything and all you’re left with is a website that helps you compare insurance quotes. Boring right? If some bright spark hadn’t of thought of that meerkat, I guarantee Compare the Market’s sales would be nowhere near as impressive.
What about toilet paper? It all does the same job, but oh look! One brand has a cute puppy on the front and is all soft and luxurious. Another features some sweet kid and guarantees to plant eight new trees for every one they cut down. It’s environmentally friendly!
You get the picture.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not...
One thing I would say is don’t try to be someone (or something) you’re not, unless, you have the resources to pull it off. Let’s say you’re a website design agency, and you’ve decided you want your brand to be fun and geeky. That’s great! But are you naturally like that? Can your staff fit into this role? Are you willing to rebrand completely? Or, are you at more at ease with being corporate and formal.
There’s nothing wrong with being serious. A huge mistake business make is taking their brand values to the absolute extremes and struggling to keep up with it.
So, make sure it’s something your comfortable with. You don’t want to waste time and energy trying to be someone you’re not.
So, how you say it?
Once you’ve nailed down your brand values, you should have a pretty good idea what you’re going say about your brand. Now comes the tricky bit…how you say it.
Think about your audience...
By now, you should know who your audience is. If you don’t, I would strongly advise you take the time to figure it out. I won’t go into it here as there’s already so much great stuff on the web.
Once you’ve carved out your brand values and identified your target market, you can begin crafting your tone of voice.
Let’s take the example of two accountants. One accountant’s brand values are: approachable, relaxed and dependable. Their target market is sole traders and SMEs. Often, these businesses/individuals will not have their own dedicated accounts or finance department.
The next accountant’s brand values are: visionary, impressive and professional. Their target market is corporate clients – large businesses with over five hundred employees and their own financial departments.
Would you present yourself in the same way to separate audiences, even if, fundamentally, you’re selling the same thing?
The answer, of course, is no.
With the first example, you might want to be more direct and plain speaking. Like me, the businesses you are targeting may hate doing their accounts! You would want to be approachable, avoid jargon and make it clear what benefits you can offer. You might want to use humour to put me at ease. Your emails might need to be friendly, relaxed and conversational, before you ask for the dreaded spreadsheets.
For the second business you might consider being more formal. You could use your own lingo, as the likelihood is, the financial department you’re speaking to will know what you’re talking about.
Example one: 1st Accountant
Does the date January 31st cause sleepless nights and sweaty palms?
Don’t worry. Just drop in anytime this week to discuss how we can help you. Decent cuppa’ guaranteed.
Example two: 2nd Accountant
We are a commercially minded, award-winning accountancy firm with the experience and expertise to navigate the complex financial world.
Why this works
Ultimately it’s about familiarity. As humans, we love the familiar. If you speak to us on our level it puts us at ease, makes us feel comfortable. Makes us want to work with you.
Informal vs. Formal
One of the easiest ways to come up with your brand’s voice is by deciding how formal or informal you want to be. Your brand values and your audience will inform this, but it’s also worth noting that there are different levels of formality.
For example, look at the levels of formality in the email greetings below…
Dear Mrs. Cambridge
Hey there, Lyndsay!
Deciding how formal or informal you want to be is important. Formal language can make you appear professional and authoritative, however, you run the risk of coming across as stiff and unapproachable.
On the flip side, informal language can make you appear friendly and warm but you may also appear immature or silly.
It can also depend on the kind of service or product you offer. I would probably be uncomfortable with a solicitor greeting me with a ‘Howdy Lyndsay!’ but it certainly wouldn’t bother me if it came from a techie company.
The key is to find what you and you’re target market are most comfortable with. If you’re a formal person in real life, it can be quite difficult to pull off informal without sounding insincere or corny. Imagine David Cameron calling you mate. It kinda’ makes you cringe doesn’t it? So, do what you feel is right. There’s nothing wrong with either option or striking a balance between the two. The important thing is to make sure you stick with it, and that each piece of communications reflects the formality of your brand.
I recently spoke with a client who said that in order to find his voice, he records himself while on the phone to his customers. As passionate business owners, we can talk about our business/products/services all day! But it can sometimes be difficult to reflect this is our writing.
This genius idea of recording yourself will really help you find your tone of voice.
So, to summarise all you need to do is...
- Come up with four/five key words/phrases about your brand
- Consider your audience and how well they'd respond to different types of tone
- Look at how formal/informal you want to be
And that’s it! If you follow these simple rules, you'll be well on your way to crafting your own unique voice that appeals to your target market.
If you have anymore tips on how to create your tone, I would love to check them out in the comments below.
Join me again next week where I’ll be looking at Copy that Converts.