3 ways you can develop your brand’s tone of voice

You may think that your brand’s tone of voice is something you only need to consider when first starting out, like a logo or a brand colour that can then be ticked off the list and shelved indefinitely. Yet your brand voice is an essential component of your daily strategy, particularly given the continued dominance of content across both digital and traditional channels. Something as seemingly simple as a direct mail campaign or a tweet needs to be in-line with your brand’s tone of voice, and needs to be developed as your strategy progresses and matures.

Here are three ways you can ensure that your tone of voice doesn’t get left behind and is utilised to its full potential as a core component of your marketing strategy. 

1. Use a sliding scale to develop specifics

According to an extensive whitepaper crafted by content optimisation software company Acrolinx (and distributed by Marketing Week) ‘when you read a company’s content, you understand it on two levels. The facts tell the analytical side of your brain what the company does, while the tone tells the creative side what they’d be like to deal with.’

Of course tone of voice is intricately linked to your brand values, and so conveying these values in the tone of your content is extremely important. Yet Acrolinx argues that even though most brands have highly specific values mapped out, they often fall into the trap of defining their tone of voice in generic terms like ‘human, warm, friendly, and approachable.’  

To avoid such generalisations, the whitepaper suggests that by using a sliding scale built around the different aspects of tone, you can better craft a specific set of criteria against which your content can be measured. For example, your scales could include low or high reading level, formal or informal, verbose or concise, inspirational or practical, at opposite ends of the spectrum to help you decide where to place your brand. Each of these scales gives your tone of voice a specific character and enables you to move away from broad and unhelpful criteria which can leave your content confused.

2. Create a chart that guides your writers

In an age when much of a brand’s content is outsourced to freelance writers who do not interact daily with your brand’s values, ensuring that your tone of voice is articulated in practical how-to guides will help ensure consistency across all the pieces of content which are created. This can even be applied to your in-house teams, who are responsible for everything from social media to answering client queries, thereby creating uniformity across all your customer touchpoints.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, illustrating how your brand’s tone of voice should appear with a brand voice chart is a helpful method to use. It suggests creating a row for each of the primary characteristics you have identified previously, providing a brief description of each one. Then you should add a ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ column for each, providing concrete steps for how this characteristic should be achieved.

For example, if you have identified that your tone of voice should be passionate, a ‘do’ would be to use strong verbs throughout the text that champion your brand’s role in the wider industry, and a ‘don’t’ would be use weak, indecisive language or rely on the passive voice. If you have decided to position your brand as quirky, a helpful ‘do’ would be to seek out unconventional examples in order to surprise and gain the attention of the customer, while a ‘don’t’ would be rely on buzzwords and often-quoted examples to emphasise your point.

3. Learn from examples that work

Your brand doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and so drawing inspiration from your competitors or brands in a different industry can be a helpful way to see which tone of voice has previously worked and which has proven weaker.  

According to an article by B2B Marketing, a good example of this is MailChimp. Even though MailChimp is itself a platform that facilitates other organisations’ content, it has cleverly developed its own tone of voice as a brand to ensure it is a leader in its industry. B2B Marketing contributor Michael King argues that MailChimp has ‘[struck] the perfect balance between chatty and professional,’ using specific cultural references like a Sherlock Holmes-inspired “missing page” graphic to ‘remind customers that it’s culture savvy and has a good sense of humour.’ 

King also emphasises that one of the keys to MailChimp’s success is that its tone of voice is used across all its channels and touchpoints, and not simply on its website. He explains that MailChimp’s quirky one-liners ‘aren’t just reserved for the website: they’re also part and parcel of the brand’s social presence,’ showing that the brand isn’t afraid to show some creative flair and painting it as more human than some of its competitors.  

By putting concrete steps in place to build and continually develop your tone of voice, you can ensure that your branding remains consistent across your content output and multiple channels and is utilised to its full potential as a core component of your marketing strategy.

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