Tone of Voice: The new level of branding

Branding is so much more than a logo or a name; it’s the combination of visual elements and communication methods that create a whole identity. One element and communication method that has become quite relevant in the last years is Tone of Voice, which communicates how your brand feels about its message to the client.

Understanding Tone of Voice

In common literature, tone of voice is defined as the expression through the writing of someone’s feelings towards something or someone. In a marketing and product design context, the concept refers to how you communicate your brand’s personality to your users, which will influence how they feel about your message.

Tone of voice is how your brand comes through in words, both written and spoken. It’s not exactly what you say, but rather how you say it and its impression on the receiver. It’s about using language to give your brand its own distinct and recognizable presence. (The Acrolinx Team, February 2015)

A brand’s tone of voice needs to embody and express its personality, product values, and, finally, product positioning. And it should be included in all your business content, including your website, social media, emails, and even packaging. It’s also important that all of these pieces of communication have a similar tone of voice to help with your brand’s consistency.


The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice

Despite the concept of ‘tone of voice’ being relevant in the current Marketing world, the information about it tends to be vague and superficial. To get a deeper insight, a study by Kate Moran from the Nielsen Norman Group reduced the complex world of tone of voice to 4 dimensions: humor, formality, respectfulness, and enthusiasm. Any brand’s tone of voice could fall at either extreme of each dimension or somewhere between and can be varied to create different effects.

  • Humour (funny vs. serious): delivering a brand’s message can be done with a humorous tone or done more seriously.
  • Formality (formal vs. casual): formal language can convey a sense of professionalism, while an informal tone can more easily portrait a brand’s personality.
  • Respectfulness (respectful vs. irreverent): the writer needs to decide if they will approach a subject respectfully or take a more irreverent approach.
  • Enthusiasm (enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact): the writer can be enthusiastic about the product or service, but they can also deliver a message in a more dry and matter-of-fact way.

Develop your brand’s tone of voice

Working on a tone of voice can be an excellent exercise to think about your brand and product design process since you’ll need to have a clear vision about its purpose, position, and target to develop your tone.

It’s critical to understand who is speaking and what viewpoint you want to portray to the world. It will then help if you decide what combination makes more sense for your brand from the dimensions already described. Then, the final result should be a tone of voice distinctive, recognizable, and unique.

But no matter what tone of voice you end up choosing for your brand, the most important factor is that it needs to connect with the audience. You need to study your target and figure out what type of communication would be the most effective to create a relationship.

Unlike the brand’s message, which should remain fairly consistent, your tone of voice can be changeable. This means that you need to keep your brand’s personality as consistent as possible, but the delivery of it should vary to fit a specific target or communication medium. By doing this, it adds value to your brand and also keeps your content new and interesting.


Tone of Voice and Content Strategy

Your tone of voice should be a part of your content strategy and be used when creating any communication asset. Like any part of the content strategy, tone of voice should be planned out with guidelines and rules. To do this, it’s recommended to create a type of tone of voice guide with:

  • An overview of your brand’s personality as well as the tone of voice(s);
  • A description of the type of language and grammar to use;
  • Good and bad examples of words or phrases;
  • And show a few examples of copy across a selection of mediums.

As for any content strategy, the more detail you go into, the higher your team's chances are of being on the same page communication-wise, which ultimately contributes to the brand’s consistency. You are dealing with communication; choosing the right dialogue can make or break your chance to connect with the user and a possible transaction. So, when defining your tone of voice, you really need to think from language and grammar to even the choice of pronoun.

Tone of Voice as a tool of engagement

Nowadays, more businesses are using tone of voice to engage with their customers. Customers like to deal with real people, and a tone of voice can give a brand that human feeling. Using your tone of voice to show authenticity and honesty can make your audience more invested in your content and eventually bond with your brand. And when your tone of voice is consistent, your audience will more easily recognize your brand and message.

Tone of voice can help you build trust with your audience, laying the foundation for a strong relationship. Developing your brand’s personality shows that you have confidence in your message and its real value, making it easier for people to trust your brand. Tone of voice plays a crucial part in showing that your brand is reliable, building a trusting relationship with your customer.