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Tone Of Voice: Why, How, What

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We like to think about tone of voice (TOV) as the way we talk to one another – but for a brand, tone of voice is how you portray yourself to the public. Your distinct tone sets the stage for the key messages and a visual identity to match your brand’s personality. 

Solely reading something can make it difficult to interpret the tone. Think about receiving a dreaded “Can you talk?” text. Maybe your mom just has some free time and wants to chat about her lovely Sunday OR maybe you’ve committed an unspeakable sin and are about to be reprimanded. In person you could easily decipher her intentions based on the inflection in her voice, but with only words, it’s impossible to tell. 

The above is a lighthearted example of how tone of voice comes into play. For any brand, you want to ensure not only are you delivering the right messages, but delivering them in the right way.

A quirky photo of a man holding up lemons over his eyes is textured with film grain with text "Why is it important"

Why is it so important for your brand?

Your TOV’s first and most important role is to establish who your target audience is. This chosen audience should be at the forefront when deciding how to speak to them. It’s human nature to talk to people in different ways. Imagine trying to describe how to record a TikTok video to your millennial cousin versus your grandma. These distinctions are essential to keep in mind when establishing a brand TOV. Think about your target audience and ask these questions:

1. Is there a specific way your audience likes to be spoken to? 2. Is there information/background that can assumed they have? Do they need details or do they already know? 3. What type of relationship does my target audience have with my brand? Is it playful, or strictly business?

Having a strong, established voice helps create consistency and credibility in your brand. Take social media captions as an example. People want a sense of illusion. If you have different voices for each caption, it draws back the curtain and highlights the individual entities behind the brand. You want your audience to see you as one cohesive unit, which provides a sense of trust. You don’t want to know there is a team of 30 employees behind the scenes on an account like Duolingo, you just want to know you can rely on them to always dish up funny content.

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How do you find it?

One of the most effective ways to transform vague ideas into concrete ones is through visuals. A moodboard serves as an excellent base for the feelings you want your brand to elicit. They are full of visual inspiration showcasing colors, fonts, photography and general aesthetics.

Next, generate adjectives to capture what you see on the moodboard in front of you. Are the images colorful and bright? Does it feel serious and technical? Or ornate or simple? At ST8MNT, we call these brand attributes. These descriptors serve as your true north when thinking about tone of voice. Consider them as you think about how your brand sounds when talking to it’s audience. From there, you will develop a distinct tone. Every subsequent tagline, headline, caption, etc., should always reflect the core brand attributes and be in the brand’s distinct tone.

A vintage looking photo is textured with film grain with example brand attributes written in various fonts. The examples are "Welcoming, Personal, Regal, Romantic, Formal, Direct, Gritty, Authentic, Ornate, Technical, Industrial, Playful"

Speaking of messaging…a crucial step in maintaining consistency in TOV is through a set of key phrases. Naturally, you want to avoid repeating the same verbiage over and over, but having a bank to reference is a great place for inspiration. This also encourages ease of use for others to quickly pick up the tone of voice. For example, if one of your key attributes is “adventurous” then phrases to reference could include: “For those who seek it”, “Be bold and never look back”, or “If you dare.” Messaging like this is clear in direction, but general enough to adapt for many uses.

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What do you do with it now?

So you’ve figured out your tone of voice; now what? The key is making sure your TOV is fully fleshed out and written down. Establish a messaging guide on how your brand communicates. This could include word choice dos and don’ts, a concise elevator pitch, a boilerplate, short to long form business activity descriptions and more, depending on the brand need. The written representations work out any inconsistencies and serves as a reference to others when needed. Be concise, be descriptive and include your brand attributes to reference.

A photo of a vintage typewriter is textured with film grain with writing "Be Concise, Descriptive, and True to Attributes"

Before writing any material using your new tone of voice, always reference the established messaging guide. This will guarantee the right frame of mind for new material and consistency across every brand interaction. This extends to social media captions, community engagement, website copy, advertising campaigns… EVERYTHING.