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Person with headphones looking at the sun - demonstrating a customer listening to a brand tone of voice

Brand tone of voice: how to use it effectively (part one)

Jan 13, 2021 | Branding, Content Marketing, Marketing best practices, Social media marketing

When businesses create their brand, more often than not tone of voice is an afterthought. Sometimes worse, it’s forgotten altogether. 

Here’s why we are obsessed with tone of voice

Here at Saltoria, we are a little bit obsessed with prioritising tone of voice.

  • It demonstrates your personality as a company in partnership with your visual assets.
  • When it’s done right, it can be extremely powerful. It can help build customer loyalty, soften negative situations and ultimately convince customers to engage and purchase. 

As consumers, we are good at recognising great tone of voice when we see it. ‘Innocent Drinks’ probably win the award for the most overused marketing case study in this area. But, you gotta admit it – their tone of voice is distinct, witty and original. Brands like ‘Uber’ and ‘AirBnB’ for example, are all about the customer and their lifestyle. They talk to you like a clever friend down the pub, they don’t patronise and their benefits are clear. 

How can you be inspired by these great examples? 

We get it – it’s tricky when you’re not a big brand or your product or service isn’t mainstream. However, we believe that every brand can (and deserves to) have a distinct and appropriate tone of voice that sets them apart. 

The main thing you need to consider is personality and consistency.

Even if your product or service isn’t unique, your people, your approach and your vision can be. Your visual identity is a priority, but this should always be matched by your verbal identity. To ensure you are clear and professional with your customers, it’s essential to have a consistent tone of voice across all client communications. Whether that be a marketing message or a one-on-one client email, your tone of voice should always represent your brand and your values.

Brand tone of voice values graphic -white text on red background. Text reads: your tone of voice essentially represents your brand and values

“TONE OF VOICE IS THE WAY A PERSON IS SPEAKING TO SOMEONE.”

MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY

In essence, tone of voice is how you should sound when you say words out loud. In Marketing terms, this can refer to how you speak to clients and how you communicate online to your audiences.

1. What is your brand personality?

Your brand isn’t just about your logo and your colour pallet. In fact, you should try to portrait your brand personality through all your written and verbal conversations. Every time you speak to your customer (in person, on a video, on a blog or through social media) you have the opportunity to demonstrate your brand and remind your customer of your uniqueness

Let’s consider Saltoria Marketing as an example. 

When creating new Saltoria Marketing communications and marketing materials, we always remember our 3 key personality traits.

  1. Smart – We definitely know our stuff, but we don’t like to boast. Our priority is to make things as simple as possible for you. 
  2. Straight-forward – We are straight-forward and approachable because we don’t cloud everything in jargon. We want to be clear and engaging.
  3. Fun  – We are fun because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re not stuffy and formal in our approach; instead we bring marketing to life.

Most importantly, we always ensure that our marketing messages and materials represent these 3 traits. Customers will learn to expect this tone as they become more familiar with us. 

Brand tone of voice graphic - white text on red background. Text reads: what are your top 3 personality traits?

So, what are your top 3 personality traits? If you’re struggling, think about this: imagine that your company was a person…how would you describe them? A security company could be safe-conscious, detail-oriented and a problem-solver. A video production company could be creative, efficient and passionate. 

If you’re really stuck, we suggest you do some market research or some competitor analysis to help you on your way. Alternatively, book a free consultation with us! We are always here for a brainstorming session if you need some clarity on this! 

So, once you’ve defined your personality traits, how do you use these in action? 

Let’s take a look at us again to showcase a working example. Our tone is friendly and simple. We want our customers to feel at ease, energised and in good company when they access our information. 

This is how we express our brand’s tone of voice in action. We do it by:

  1. Listening: When working with a client it is important to listen and imagine yourself in their shoes.
  2. Being curious: Listening per se is not enough! We listen with intent and ask open questions to our clients. 
  3. Having fun: Creating a positive and joyful environment massively helps the conversation. 

So, how would you demonstrate your personality traits through actions?

For instance, if your brand is safety-conscious, a good tip can be to summarise in a checklist style at the end of any written and verbal communications. Likewise, if your approach is quite formal, you can stick to more traditional mediums. For example, prestigious magazines and sponsoring award ceremonies. Alternatively, if you’re a creative brand, you might use lots of visuals and have a brainstorming approach to your conversations.

So far, our tone of voice has helped us become memorable in a very busy market. It’s enabled us to build trust, reputation AND connect with new people. Perhaps using the above framework you can consider how you express your tone of voice in action?

2. How do you want to come across verbally? What’s your brand’s tone of voice?

Tone is also relevant to when you’re on the phone, in a virtual meeting or face to face with customers. Think about the questions that you want to answer as a brand. You might be an IT support company and your aim is to inform, educate and reassure. If you are a dance school, you want to teach, guide and inspire. Try to define what your priorities are and then create your verbal framework around this.

For example, here at Saltoria we aim to be supportive, helpful and inspiring. Therefore, whenever we are in conversations or in meetings, we always make sure we remember the following: 

  1. How can I support this person? 
  2. How can I make this conversation memorable? 
  3. What would I want to know if I was in their situation? (How can I help solve their problem?)
Brand tone of voice graphic - white text on red background. Text reads: what are your top 3 personality traits?

3. How do you want to come across in written content?

How Saltoria Marketing wants to come across

So, we’ve been thinking a lot about how we want and we DON’T want to come across as a brand. This is a really easy and quick way to define your brand’s tone of voice. 

For Saltoria the following applies:

  • Our copy should be: Positive and helpful / Professional yet friendly / Inclusive, accessible and welcoming / Clear, concise, informative and in Plain English 
  • Our copy should not be: Pushy or repetitive / Over-using industry jargon / Too wordy or over-complicated / Too relaxed, colloquial or informal
White text on red background. Text reads: how don't you want to come across?

What words can you use to describe how your copy should and shouldn’t be?

Firstly, consider how these approaches could be actively used in your copy. Some examples from our tone of voice guidelines include: 

  1. Content should be short, simple and smart. Consider your audience and the best format in which to present your message to them. Be concise where possible. Use short words and sentences. Always prioritise clarity over ‘sounding good’. 
  2. Create messages that are warm and engaging. Try to reflect our approachable personality and the warmth of our staff throughout. 
  3. Be clear and straightforward. Some of the information we deal with is complex but the way we communicate it doesn’t have to be.

Secondly, use plain English and avoid jargon and unnecessarily technical language. Use everyday words wherever possible and always write with an international audience in mind.

We also recommend you use examples to demonstrate your ToV to your staff where possible. This will help them identify how to approach this and it’ll inspire them to follow the guidelines more closely. 

Examples of our key messages:

  • Together Sally and Vittoria can enhance your marketing strategy, streamline your communication channels and bring clarity to your approach to winning over customers.
  • We want to use our skills for meaningful impact and to create inspiring and results-based marketing campaigns.
  • We believe marketing needs to be lived and breathed across a whole organisation not just with the marketing staff.

4. What are your style guidelines?

Your house style

Your house style outlines your choices when it comes to formatting your language and your grammar and punctuation. The purpose of a house style is to make sure language is clear and consistent. This is an essential part of your tone of voice guidelines. 

The best content is easy to read, easy to navigate and helps the user meet their objective. So, remember to: 

  • Use clear language, think about your audience.
  • Break up information and define next steps with clear links.

You may also want to consider how you use ampersands, apostrophes/contractions and dates/times. Likewise, review your use of exclamation marks, numbers formatand capitalisation (especially in headings). Think about how to display websites addresses and phone numbers, how to format text using bold, underline and italics and how you showcase quotes/speech. Remember that mixed approaches across your channels will look sloppy. 

An extract from Saltoria’s ‘style section’ in our ToV guidelines:

  • Ampersands: Always use ‘and’ rather than an ampersand (&). Only use ampersands when referring to a company name that includes one, for example Marks & Spencer. 
  • Apostrophes: While contractions might not always be suitable in formal communications, you might choose a conversational tone in more informal situations. Contractions can help make content snappy and more informal, which is great. However, we suggest using these sparingly, when the content is highly informative. 
  • Dates: Write your dates without the ‘th’, ‘rd’ or ‘st’. If you include the day of the week it should appear like this: Tuesday 23 March 2021.
  • Exclamation marks: Don’t overuse exclamation marks. Use them sparingly to emphasise a positive statement. Never use more than one at a time.

ALWAYS use standard British English spelling and grammar. There are free resources at oxforddictionaries.com and thesaurus.com that give useful guidance on British English spelling.

Whilst this area may seem boring or unnecessary, it’s essential to create consistency and professionality across your communication. This will aid both inexperienced and experienced copywriters and customer service staff.

Let’s have a virtual meeting!

Do you need to define your tone of voice? Do you need to evolve your current approach? Or maybe you’d just like to brainstorm some new messaging? Book a free consultation with us today to chat about your next project. 

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