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Guide to Building a Tone of Voice

09/06/2015 11:53:37


Guide to Building a Tone of Voice

Just as you can expect a letter from the bank to read very differently to one from an old friend, a business should clearly set out the way it speaks to existing and prospective customers using what’s called tone of voice. Having your own distinct tone of voice is one of the ways you can effectively engage with your customers, and is the surest way to communicate your core values and beliefs.

Whether it’s through the messaging on your posters or the cheeky descriptions of your meals on the menu, a good tone of voice is the result of having a firm understanding of your audience.

From language and sentence structure to grammar and personality, you need a consistent and recognisable written ‘voice’. Not only will it make it easier when it comes to customising and personalising your marketing material, but it will make your products and services much more professional, credible and trustworthy.

Here we bring you a step-by-step guide on how to create a tone of voice.


1. Carry out a content audit

It’s easy to say you need a tone of voice, but how do you develop the right one? Your stakeholders (customers, employees and other interest groups) will be able to help you. Draw up a simple survey, asking them what words and associations they think reflects your brand and its products or services.

If you have already created content, whether that be for a website, social media or offline promotional literature such as your business card and flyers, take a more critical look –

  • Do you consistently use the same ‘voice’ and language across all mediums? 
  • What does, and what does not work?
  • Are there any anomalies you would like to remove as they no longer ‘fit’?

2. Define where you’ve been and where you’re going

You need a brand identity, so make sure your company has a clearly defined and agreed vision for the future. You will need to create a:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision for the future
  • Strong set of core values

Consider these alongside your logo, website, products and services and check that the tone and messaging is reflective of who you are, who you want to be, and where you want to go.


3. Question your personality

Not yours personally, but your company’s. Ask yourself – what would my brand be like if it was a person?

First, draw up three broad-brush characteristics or values, for example:

  • A building society – reliable, honest and professional
  • A wine merchant – knowledgeable, established and sophisticated
  • A children’s charity – caring, informative and trustworthy

 
Now consider where on the scale of extreme styles set out below, you want your company to be:

  • Traditional or Contemporary
  • Professional or Casual
  • Informative or Conversational
  • Cool or Warm
  • Serious or Fun
  • Relaxed or Energetic

 
4. Pinpoint your style

The characteristics and personality of your brand should influence your writing style consistently across all products and stationery, such as the language you use, which even in its simplest form will be formal or informal. Consider the wording used here, the first word being more informal than the second:

  • Find out or Discover
  • Enjoy or Experience
  • Join or Sign up
  • Needed or Required 
  • Allow or Enable
  • Book or Reserve

Whichever style and language you choose, just remember to keep your tone of voice simple as at the end of the day you want your message to be clear.


5. Set your tone

The length of the sentences and words you use will create different degrees of tone and pace. In simplistic terms, punchier language combined with shorter sentences appear chatty and lively, while more elaborate word usage and longer sentences sound more formal and relaxed.

Be careful though, if you get this wrong you could come across as blunt and aggressive or rambling and directionless.


6. Make a decision on ‘which grammar?’

When it comes to marketing material, such as an advertising campaign, brochure or personalised posters, your content needs to be free from mistakes. However you might want to relax the rules when it comes to grammar, depending how you want your brand to come across. Here are some points to consider:

  • If you want livelier sentences, try starting them with conjunctions such as ‘And’ or ‘But’, or prepositions such as ‘For’ or ‘With’
  • Try removing the word ‘that’ as it often adds nothing to the meaning, only clutter
  • Forget the rule, never use a preposition to end a sentence ‘with’, otherwise you will end up writing like this: ‘Never use a preposition with which to end a sentence’


7. Be consistent

The choices you make on all elements of your tone of voice guide will be with you for as long as your brand is, so make sure you’re happy with your decision. 

Consider ahead of time, and ask yourself – will this choice of grammar or style suit my brand down the line? Will it allow me expand and grow?

Outline your general tone of voice in a style guide, such as:

  • Company Name and Job Titles to be capped up, or write everything but people and place names in lower case
  • Drop the www from websites, such as instantprint.co.uk
  • Never use semi-colons where commas will do
  • Anglicised foreign words such as cafe do not need accents when writing for an English-speaking website

Whatever you decide to do, the trick is to stick with it.

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