Watch your tone of voice

Branding is essentially about building a relationship with your customers. Your brand voice is the verbal part of your brand presentation: the words you use, the tone your copywriting takes, the way you answer the phone and the style of your letters. This helps establishes who you are and why a customer should buy your product or service.

Why voice and tone matter

Successful brands deliver on the needs of their target audience as opposed to convincing people they need a product or service they don’t. Put a face to your brand by consciously developing a tone of voice as part of your branding. This enables you to:

  • Connect and speak to your community including customers
  • Builds trust through familiarity
  • Sets your business apart from others
  • Create a happy community that can spread positively messages about your brand. These messages reach current and prospective customers, delivering your brand’s message for you.

Don’t treat your audience like robots. Humanise your brand. People like to talk about and connect with people, not just information. Your audience wants to see you, hear you and understand you. They want to be inspired to do better and be better. Creating a human connection can lead to building relationships, nurturing friendships, establishing and earning the respect of brand followers who will spread the word about how wonderful you and your brand are.

How to find your voice

1.    Define who your business is.

Come up with a list of words that best defines who your business is. To do this, ask yourself a series of key questions:

  • What are the core values of your business?
  • What is unique to your business?
  • What is special about your products/service? What are the benefits?
  • What is special about the way you do business?
  • How do you want to be regarded by both customers and your community? Are you a trusted source for high-level insight, or a go-to source for hands-on, practical advice?
  • What is the key message you are trying to tell the world? What is the core communications you wish to embed in your audience’s mind? For example, do you care for the community, are you trying to bring a little fun wherever you go? There are six important factors, when creating key messages, and these are:
      • Information should be believable and backed up by evidence.
      • The message should be distinctive and grab attention.
      • A key message needs a purpose behind it – mainly to generate further investigation by your audience.
      • Conciseness is crucial.
      • Language should be used simply to make it accessible to the broadest possible audience.
      • Language should also be positive. Key messages are first impressions and they should make positive lasting impressions.

2.    Create Buyer Personas

A good buyer’s persona is a composite of all of your core customers and will bring in elements from multiple real customer profiles. Don’t make assumptions about your customer persona’s interests and needs based on their age, gender, or location. When you truly know your ideal customer, you will create more compelling content that they’ll respond positively to.

A buyer persona may include the following details:

  • What does your target customer do for a living and where are they in their career?
  • Expand their background into a quick review of their persona’s hobbies, educational background, likes and dislikes.
  • Are they married?
  • What’s their annual household income?
  • Where do they live?
  • Are they male or female?
  • How old are they?
  • Do they have children?
  • What are their goals?
  • What do they want and/or need in order to reach these goals?
  • What job challenges are they facing?
  • What work-related problem/s do they have that needs solving today?
  • How have they solved their problems and achieved their goals in the past?
  • Who do they turn to for advice or information?
  • How much time do they spend on the internet?
  • During what hours do they most commonly use the internet?
  • Do they use social media and if so, which networks?
  • How do they talk with each other? E.g. relaxed, cheerful, friendly, clear and simple language
  • How would you talk to them face-to-face? E.g. jargon-free, with facts and descriptions, warm, formal

By developing your buyers’ persona, you will know better what language to use.


3.    Define your brand voice

When you’re looking to define your brand voice, you’re looking for adjectives. Find the adjectives that best describe your brand, and you will have found your voice.

If your brand was a person, how would you describe its personality to someone? Come up with at least three distinct characteristics/adjectives. For example:

  • Passionate
  • Quirky
  • Authentic

Define each one further. How do these characteristics show up in audience communication? How do they come across in the kind of content you’re creating? For example:

  • Passionate – expressive, enthusiastic, heartfelt, action-oriented – We are passionate about changing the way the world works
  • Quirky – irreverent, unexpected, contrarian – We are not afraid to challenge to status quo and be ourselves
  • Authentic – genuine, trustworthy, engaging, direct – We are going to give you the tools and insight you need to make your job easier. That may not always be through our product.


4.    Translating your voice to your tone

You can now proceed by setting helpful boundaries that will remind you what to say and what not to say.

Here’s an example in creating parameters:

  • Tone: Passionate, quirky and authentic
  • Do: Use strong verbs, be cheerleaders, use unexpected examples, express yourself, be playful, be honest and direct, own any issue or mistake, stick to your word
  • Don’t: Don’t be lukewarm, wishy-washy, use a passive voice, use to much slang or too many obscure references, be too casual, use marketing jargon or superlatives, over promise, oversell the product’s capabilities

To help make it clearer, answer a few more specific questions:

  • Should you use jargon? Jargon is special words or expressions used by a profession or group that others may not understand. Some examples of business jargon include actionable, secret sauce, unpack, value-added, due diligence, blue-sky thinking.
  • Should you use slag? Slang is usually associated with a particular group and plays a role in constructing our identities. Some examples are bee’s knees, DIY, chap, bits and bobs, dodgy, blimey, see ya.
  • Can you use u? By being a little silly, weird or clever, you can achieve something that every marketer dreams of: build charisma and develop a following of people who want to hear what you have to say. That being said, it’s not easy to be funny. The level of humour your brand adopts should be directly related to how personable you want your brand to seem; if you want your brand to seem very approachable and down-to-earth, include more humour.
  • How informal can you be? Where does your brand voice falls on the spectrum of formality and informality? Formality usually requires strict adherence to grammatical rules, full and detailed sentences, and a straightforward, logical structure. Informality has no such structure, allowing more colloquial phrases, swear words, and unconventional structures to convey messages. For example, in emails, do you address people with “dear,” “hello,” “hey”…?
  • What punctuation should you use?
  • What do you competitors sound like?


5.    Sum it all up

Write a simple one-page summary that sets down the essentials. Things to include are:

  • Examples of phases that are suitable. For example, write like this “This is great. Fred. Really practical suggestions for approaching a complex issue with the file security. We’ll be sure to pass it on to Sam.” not like this “Your response has been received and will be responded to by one of a team within 48 hours.” Demonstrating an open, responsive attitude towards a growing community shows respect for your users and personifies the values you are trying to communicate through your content.
  • A list of things to avoid. For example, “Don’t drown our audience with technical terms. Don’t scare them off with complicated information.”
  • Account for different contexts – Acknowledge that tone must shift slightly across different contexts and mediums. Give examples of copy at either ends of the scale, such as and email with a proposal versus a Twitter message.


Tone of voice can dictate the personality of everything your business communicates. It shouldn’t be tacked on at the end of the project through a few tweaks to the copy. It needs to be considered from the start so that it can be integrated through everything you do and communicated precisely at all times. You need a voice that is true to the culture and values of your business. It isn’t just what you say but how you say it.

Caroline Siassios

About Caroline Siassios

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