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Setting The Tone: How To Create Brand Tone Of Voice Guidelines

Ever wondered why some brands sound like they know you personally, while others read like a robot manual? It's all about that elusive brand tone of voice. In this blog, we're getting into the nuts and bolts of creating a brand’s tone of voice. We sat down with Mina, our Senior Copywriter, to gather insights on how she creates guidelines for different brands. Spoiler: it’s not as straightforward as simply writing a set of rules!

Ever wondered why some brands sound like they know you personally, while others read like a robot manual? It's all about that elusive brand tone of voice. In this blog, we're getting into the nuts and bolts of creating a brand’s tone of voice. We sat down with Mina, our Senior Copywriter, to gather insights on how she creates guidelines for different brands. Spoiler: it’s not as straightforward as simply writing a set of rules!

Let’s explore how words conjure up personality and Mina will spill the tea on how to keep your tone of voice cool, current and true to the brand.

What Is Meant By Tone Of Voice?

Before we get into what makes a solid tone of voice and how to create guidelines for it, Mina first needs us to understand exactly what is meant by a brand tone of voice.

“Brand tone of voice is how the brand speaks, all the time. That’s whether it’s in public (speaking to consumers) or internally (speaking to staff). It’s whether the business is B2B or B2C. Tone of voice appears on everything from websites to printed leaflets, TV ads and internal emails. A good tone of voice uses language to create a mood and personality. These should shine through in any kind of written content you produce”.

So where do you start figuring out how your brand should speak?

“A good tone of voice is always aligned to your missions and values as a brand. If you don’t have these clearly articulated, it’s whatever you consider your north star to be. This should have a strong influence on how your brand sounds and will avoid communications that are conflicting or confused. Of course, your tone will vary depending on the channel you’re using and the seriousness of the message, but there should be a baseline that remains consistent throughout”.

Key Elements Of A Solid Tone Of Voice?

“I have produced countless tone of voice books and guidelines over the years. Brands often contract an agency to do them, and pay a lot of money for these to be created. But if the agency doesn’t take the time, they’ll produce a beautiful deck that just gathers dust and people go about their business as they always have. The single most important thing for tone of voice guidelines? That they’re actually useful and usable.”

Creating good tone of voice guidelines requires understanding the brand, its audience, and how people at the company work to bring it to life. That’s why a good set of guidelines need to be:

  1. Understandable and practical – Flowery language is nice, but this should be a living document that’s easy to reference and provides clear guidance.

  2. Succinct and actionable – You don’t want employees to spend hours trying to memorise your document. It should be easily laid out with quick insights and good examples that they can return to, again and again.

  3. Reflective of what the brand already does well – There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If your brand's already communicating with its audience every day, the tone of voice should help amplify what you’re already doing really well, and identify and fix areas that need improvement.

  4. Knows its audience – How does your intended audience speak? What language resonates most with them? What are their pain points and how can you help with them? This is absolutely key. You want to meet them where they’re at.

  5. Specific – Don’t be too generic! Most guidelines include approachability and professionalism, and for good reason. But ideally, you want to dig a bit deeper, in order to differentiate yourself from everyone operating in the same ecosystem.

  6. Includes clear guidance for every channel – This allows everyone in your team, from customer service advisors and marketing directors to third-party agencies, to understand the relevance of tone of voice to their job.

For better organisational buy-in, Mina recommends including a style guide, and cheat sheets for briefing and publishing assets.

“A great way to ensure you have a solid brand tone of voice is to not only include general guidelines, but to also have a style guide. This is the tone of voice broken down into clear instructions on the sentence and word level, useful when tone of voice inevitably differs across platforms”.

“Cheat sheets or checklists are a great way to see the information you need at a glance, and ensure everyone has ticked off the most important bits before pressing publish!”

How To Create Tone Of Voice Guidelines For A Brand?

Mina outlines her own personal process:

“The first thing I do is review the brand’s values, vision, mission and core personality and ensure these things are closely aligned. It’s really about getting into the heart of the brand and understanding them. Knowing these key pillars of the brand are the blueprints of building out its voice. We want to be able to communicate these things so they shine through in the way the brand speaks”.

“The main thing, for me, is to immerse myself into the brand, their product and their target audience. I look at every single bit of copy I can to build out this wider picture. I will also audit website and social, and make a matrix of what is working well and what isn’t. Then I try to work out why: I sketch out some assumptions and principles. I also like to see how potential consumers speak online – forum chat and social media are great resources to draw on”.

“From there, I create a series of suggestions. If there’s scope, I’d test options with audiences. These are the learnings you need to produce a stellar tone of voice, unique to that individual brand”.

Give Us Some Good Brand Tone Of Voice Examples

“A classic example of a great tone of voice in the FMCG market is Innocent Smoothies. They’ve set a gold standard on how to bring a brand personality to life. They’re informal and friendly, witty and never too serious, and they make you excited to try their smoothies. The tone works just as well now as ten years ago and has done wonders for them. It probably started with one gifted member of staff. However, many other brands have tried to replicate it and failed, to the point that it becomes a cautionary tale in the challenger food space”.

“Just because it works for Innocent doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. The brands who have tried to imitate it have fallen short because it’s uniquely Innocent’s, and using it dilutes their own brand. That’s the key thing about tone of voice, it needs to be yours only. People can always tell when you’re trying to be something you’re not. So hats off to Innocent”.

“Another great tone of voice brand example is Monzo. A lot of banks and financial companies can come across as frosty or downright confusing. Monzo has really nailed a friendly tone that simplifies tricky subjects whilst not being condescending. The way they speak to their audience really builds trust, which should be a crucial goal for a bank!”

Innocent homepage

How Can You Tell If A Brand’s Tone Of Voice Resonates With The Audience?

“The best way to know if the tone of voice is working for your brand is by testing it. Collect user feedback and use A/B testing when you can. You also know it’s working when it’s embraced by your employees! After all, they’re the brand experts”.

“A tone of voice should also be a living document. It’s not a case of crafting it once and that's it. Over time, the brand's target audience’s needs and pain points will change. The same goes for language. The way we talk changes constantly and adapts in response to new technology and trends”.

“Doing a yearly review of your tone of voice is a great way to keep up to date and ensure you’re consistently resonating with your audience. You don’t need to have a complete overhaul and start again from zero. Just review the guidelines to make sure they still reflect the reality of your brand’s day-to-day”.

Conclusion

In a world full of brand chatter, the secret ingredient is authenticity. A tone of voice should reflect your brand’s DNA. It can reach audiences better but also create focus and a common goal for the people working with the brand.

Tone of voice is the heartbeat of how your brand communicates across all platforms. We discovered the key elements to producing a strong tone of voice and also discussed some real-world examples and Mina’s recommendation of an annual review.

Crucially, a strong tone of voice isn’t a final document, it is something that needs to be refined and kept up to date. In a nutshell, the crux of a successful brand tone of voice is resonating with your audience while staying true to the essence of your brand. To quote Mina: “Your brand isn’t going to always be for everyone. Your tone of voice is not only helping people understand if you’re the right fit for them. You’re also helping people understand if you’re not for them”.

Is your brand feeling a bit lost in the noise? Let us help you find its voice! Crafting a unique tone of voice is our speciality at Together Agency. If you're ready to make your brand speak volumes and resonate with your audience, get in touch.

Contact us today, and let's give your brand a voice that truly stands out.

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Images:

Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

Taken from the Innocent website homepage

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