How to identify your brand’s tone of voice (Part 2)

If you haven’t done so already, make sure you’ve read Part 1 before diving into the information below. It takes you through what tone of voice is, and why it’s so important.

How do I identify my brand’s tone of voice?

If you’re not sure what your tone of voice is or should be, then engaging a creative agency or copywriter who specialises in branding can be very helpful. It’s not always an easy task to conduct on your own, and can take a lot of time, effort and research to arrive at the right outcome. For larger brands, it can often involve market research that looks at how your target audience evaluates your products, services or content by asking them to choose from a list of words to describe their perception of your brand. If you’re not in a position to engage a professional for your branding work, below is a quick overview of what to consider so you can identify your brand’s tone of voice yourself.

  • Get to know your audience: First and foremost, start with your audience. Who are they? Where do they hang out? How do they communicate with each other? What other brands do they use? What media do they consume? Tools such as Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics will help you gather data such as age, gender, location, education, preferences and job titles. Build these audience personas out by speaking to or surveying your target audience directly. Having a clear picture of who they are, and their preferences, will help you land on a tone of voice that’s appropriate, effective and fit-for-purpose.
  • Identify your brand’s purpose: Next, it’s time to think more about your brand and its purpose – why do you do what you do? How can your brand help your audience? Who exactly are you… and who are you not? What sets you apart from others in your industry? What values does your organisation have, and how do you display them? If you’re not 100% sure, that’s OK. A brand strategist or creative agency can help you take a step back and work out exactly what your brand stands for – which will have a direct impact on the words that you use.
  • Analyse your current communications: Consider your regular communications and content. What key messages do you need to communicate? What’s the purpose of each communication type – is it to inform, entertain, provoke or persuade? How are you driving your audience to your website, and what sort of content do they need when they get there? Are you communicating through lengthy blog articles and newsletters, or via short social media posts or videos? How are other players in your industry connecting with their audiences? Answering these questions and identifying your main messages, channels and content formats is helpful because you’ll need to adopt a tone of voice that’s suitable.

How does this look in practice?

As an example, if your audience falls within the Millennial demographic and you’ve determined (through audience research and persona building) that they’re tech-savvy and socially and environmentally conscious, then you don’t want to adopt a tone of voice that’s overly formally, stiff or old-fashioned. Instead, your tone should be casual, relaxed, friendly, self-aware and full of personality. Your tone and the references you use in your communications should never be cliché or condescending though. If you come across as inauthentic or cheesy, you’ll quickly lose customers and followers.

Assign a reviewer role to someone who is familiar with your brand guidelines and can pick up inconsistencies.

Can tone of voice vary?

While general consistency across all channels and formats is important, you should still flex and adjust your tone of voice to suit different activities and communication goals. Consider a press release vs. a social media post. A press release will require a more serious, professional tone as the goal is to provide stakeholders with important information. With a social media post, you can afford to be a little more lighthearted and entertaining, as it serves a completely different purpose. So, your brand will largely stay consistent, but your tone will vary to fit the topic, channel, audience and purpose of the communication.

How do I implement my tone of voice?

Once you’ve identified your brand’s tone of voice, it’s important to document it and share it with anyone in your team who is involved with marketing and communications, including external agencies and freelancers. This is the best way to ensure your tone of voice is applied consistently across your communications. A creative agency can help you create a Brand Guide or Style Guide, but if you don’t have the budget, you can document your own guidelines on Word or PowerPoint.

In your guidelines, include a list of your desired tone characteristics. Tone characteristics are simple adjectives that describe how your brand sounds (refer to the list of examples in Part 1 for ideas), as well as anything you’re not. Rules around grammar and word choice also vary across brands, so build a list of anything you think might be useful to ensure consistency. For example, will you use ‘adviser’ or ‘advisor’? Is your brand name one word or two words? What sort of verbs will you use to describe how your brand helps your target audience? Does your brand ‘champion’, ‘support’, ‘partner with’ or ‘solve’? When referring to your audience, should you use ‘customer’, ‘client’, ‘trailblazer’, ‘partner’ or ‘you’? Can you swear or use slang? Do you use technical jargon or avoid it? Different approaches will suit different brands, that’s why it’s important to document these ‘rules’, so they can be applied consistently across all touchpoints.

You can work with a copywriter or agency to help you flesh out the language that’s suitable for your brand. And make sure you consider who in your organisation will be accountable for ensuring a consistent tone of voice. Sometimes, if there’s a number of people or teams who produce content for your brand, the rules may not always be applied each time. Assign a reviewer role to someone who is familiar with your brand guidelines and can pick up inconsistencies. That way you can ensure that your tone of voice is embedded in your key content pieces, helping your brand stay authentic and memorable.

If you need help producing great content in your tone of voice, get in touch.

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