What the f*ck is Tone of Voice?

“It’s not what you said, but how you said it!” Without meaning it to sound like a couple’s spat, this is just one of the ways we’d describe what ‘tone of voice’ really is.

No doubt you’ve probably seen the acronym ‘ToV’ before and sat there thinking WTF?! Yeah, you’re not alone. But once you get over that initial hurdle, you’ve got to understand what tone of voice really means.

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Quite simply, it’s how your businesses character comes through in written or spoken word. Tone of voice is to writing, what logo, colour and typeface are to branding. It’s what makes you… you. How you stand out amongst others doing the exact same thing as you, by using a tone that resonates with your brand values, your audience, and your product.

Why is it important?

Having a unique tone of voice is important when it comes to engaging your audience and spreading the message of YOU. If you’re the guys with the quirky, 80s-esque and slightly sassy (though we prefer the term ‘real’) tone of voice, then people are going to remember you and what you do because of it. When we meet people at events, there is almost always a comment on our ToV – that’s what you want to do, make lasting impressions.

Use your tone of voice to express not just what the company does, but who it is that does it. Let the tone embody the businesses personality and brand values. Make it about the people behind the scenes, give them a voice and let customers relate to that.

Having consistency with your tone of voice, especially important if more than one person manages your external marketing (which is almost always the case), opens up the opportunity to build links with familiarity and trust. You want a customer to feel at home with your brand, and a consistent tone of voice can help you here, providing them with a sense of comfort through familiarity and recognition.

How to define your tone of voice

Try not to get style and tone of voice confused. Style would be sentence construction, grammar, ordering etc. Whereas tone is all about the persuasive and emotional part of the copy.

Before you can define your tone, you need to know what your business stands for. In our content workshop, Head Boy Danny runs our learners through the following activity to help them verbalise it:

Grab a piece of paper and get a’scribblin’…

<A> brings <D1> and <D2> to <B> while helping customers <C>.

For example, at Giant Campus, ours is:

Giant Campus brings creativity and knowledge to business marketing whilst helping customers get seen online.”

Done it? Cool. Now let’s explore your tone based on these themes and goals.

If you’re not a brand new business, then we recommend collating a load of existing content to form a kind of… well, let’s call it an “accidental style guide”. Select the bits of content that you’re most happy represent how you want your company to ‘sound’. Then flip it, find some examples that don’t quite hit your undefined quota for your tone. From here, it’s a case of grabbing a load of post-it notes or a shiny Glass Wipe Board (#NotAnAd) and picking words to describe what you’re a fan of and what you’re not from your existing writing style.

It would be really beneficial too, to ask your readers/users how they’d define your ToV. You can even give them the same examples of content you were looking at and ask for words to describe the good and the bad. A lot of businesses won’t consider evaluating their tone with users, but hey – you aren’t your reader… they’re going to interpret things differently to you and ultimately, they’re your main target, aren’t they?

Just think back to tone of voice being that couples spat with the lesser-heard saying of “it’s not me, it’s you”. Always put your audience first.

You can go super top-level when defining your ToV, to begin with, but in order to narrow down and attempt a level of consistency in future content, we’d recommend exploring themes more in-depth. To get you started, answer yourself this, is your organisation’s tone:

Funny or serious?

Formal or casual?

Respectful or a bit sassy?

Enthusiastic or matter-of-fact?

It’s ok to sit strongly to one side, or maybe even straddling the fence! But these are a good start – now get digging! Need a bit of a kickstart with some detailed tone descriptors? Click me and we’ll give you some!

When you’re building a guide to your tone of voice for other members of your team to use, we recommend adding a section about vocabulary. For example, externally, would you refer to yourself as the acronym you use regularly internally? (e.g. GC/ Giant Campus) Do you want to ban the use of certain words? Is what you sell a ‘product’ or a ‘service’? You get the gist…

If you’re on the internet, which you clearly are, duh. Then you may be aware that Innocent Drinks (the ones who make the smoothies with the cute knitted hats) are pretty much a tone of voice role model. Our social media professor, Ben, is probably their biggest fan and you’ll often see us engaging with their social posts because they’re just GOOD. We’d describe them as unique with hints of wit, informalities, and playfulness. This makes them feel authentic, makes them memorable and it’s clear their tone comes from the core of their company.

You can find others approach inspiring, but don’t try and base your tone of voice on theirs because you can see it works for them – chances are your business is different and this won’t work. Uniqueness is important.

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The moral of this story (and the important thing to remember in any couples spat) is to be yourself and own it.

Coming soon, we’ll be introducing new workshops on writing online content. If you’d like to express an interest, use this form to let us know and we’ll keep you updated. If you’d like to get up to scratch with creating creative content that suits your tone of voice and brand values, then check out our content workshop.

Phone: 01303 765394
Giant Campus. Top Floor The Civic Centre Castle Hill Avenue
Folkestone Kent CT20 2QY