7 min read
Voice and tone may sound like those abstract concepts you vaguely remember from 8th-grade English that you thought you’d never have to learn about again. But, believe it or not, they are carefully laced into every successful business strategy. Voice and tone tactics are used everywhere, and when done correctly, we, as consumers, don’t notice the game plan, just the successful result.
So, let’s start with voice. . It is the “character” that your brand wants to portray. Think Voice is how your company expresses itself to the publicThe Breakfast Club: each character held their own unique voice through the way they spoke, how they dressed, their actions, their posture, and even simple word choices. Voice lets your company decide if you want to be seen as the “Jock,” the “Nerd,” the “Beauty,” the “Rebel,” or any other non-breakfast club character you can think of (ideally not a stereotype).
Tone is a bit different—it changes. It generates a uniquely catered zest to your brand voice for your specific audience or situation. Your brand should have one defined voice, but can have many tones depending on what situation you are in, what platform you are using, and who you are communicating with. Your voice makes a promise of who your brand is, while your tone delivers on that promise through the choice of language.
Every business has at least one competitor. Even if you are the first one of your kind, offering your unprecedented product, you are still competing with whatever the old traditional way of providing your service is. The biggest and free-est way to beat your competition is through developing your brand’s voice and tone.
Maybe your company can’t offer the same low prices, or high-tech features as your competitor, or maybe you are the one offering better prices and features. Either way, the customer isn’t looking just at the price tag, but at the company as a whole. They are looking at the entire experience your company is capable of offering to them—from your customer values, to your self-service features, to your reliability and how much you can be trusted. In order to build that trust and be the one that your customers choose and return to, you need to provide a clearly defined voice they can rely on. This means delivering a consistent tone of voice across all of your customer-facing experiences, including your self-help content, which is often overlooked.
This may seem abstract and unimportant, so let’s put it into perspective. If we look at the most quintessential modern-day business example, The Office, we can see that, time and time again, they use their unique brand voice to win over a client. In the show, Dunder Mifflin sells their product at a higher price than the lead competitors since they are a smaller business. Yet, they always succeed in winning over their clients by promising to be personable, friendly, human, easy-to-reach, and connectable. This is Dunder Mifflin’s voice, and it creates trust in their clients.
If a TV show isn’t working for you, let’s look at some real-life examples:
BarkBox is winning over its customers by choosing to put the dog first in their self-service experiences. The best way to describe their voice is the same way you would describe your own dog—friendly, lovable, simple, and enthusiastic. They portray this in everything from their simple word choices, cartoon-like images, playful font and color palette, and most importantly, the self-service journeys their website provides that puts your dog first. This shows their audience that they care about their success with their product, or really, their dog’s success with their product, not just the sale they are making. This allows customers to feel like they are being taken on a personal journey, building their trust.
Apple does a great job defining their voice as innovative, clean, simple, and confident. But, they do an even better job bringing these ideas into practice with the different ways they present their tone of voice. A perfect example is in their slogan, urging their community to “Think Different.” These simple and clean two words present their confidence in their product and their value of innovation. It doesn’t stop there, either. They reflect this tone across everything their company produces, from commercials, to knowledge base articles, to newsroom updates, and even their social media accounts.
Across all of these different platforms, Apple remains true to their voice and brand promises, while delivering various tones that are uniquely crafted for each situation.
The first step in defining your brand's voice is figuring out who you are as a company and who you want to be. Imagine your company is a young adult—they must figure out who they are, what they want in life, how they want to be seen by others, and what they want other people to think of them. These are all important foundational things you must decide for your business as well in order to grow up into a successful company.
To start, try asking some of these questions:
When answering these questions, or any variety of ones you come up with, remember that specificity is key. Saying your company is “friendly” doesn’t exactly mean anything. How are you friendly, and how will you show you are friendly through your tone? Make sure any adjectives you choose to present your company with are specific and try describing why your company chose them in a sentence. So if your company wants a “friendly” voice, make sure to include an explanation as to why being friendly is important to you, and how you will provide on that promise.
Another good practice when defining your brand voice is looking at your company’s foundations. Sit down and have a conversation with the company founder, or dig into some of their founding resources. Look into things like why the company was started, and what values they hold. If the company’s core values have been defined, that is a great launching point for determining a voice. If they have not, use this as an opportunity to decide what your company’s core values will be. Understanding these basic principals of your company is how you get a rounded image of how you want to be represented.
Once you have clearly defined your company’s voice and what it is promising, it is time to plan how exactly you will deliver on that promise. To do this, you should first look into your target audience. Your company will present itself in a ton of ways: social media, your website, self-help center, email outreach, advertising, etc. So, you must research who your audience is in these different scenarios to figure out how you can cater your tone for their specific needs.
There are a few different ways to do this. A strong start is developing buyer personas for your company or researching existing ones if you already have them. This will give you key insights into who your customers are, what they need from your company, and how they like to communicate. Understanding this will help you communicate effectively for the customer, while still conveying your promised voice.
Another good idea is researching which of your different audience groups, or buyer personas, are using your company in different places. This means targeting who exactly is following your social media posts, or reading your knowledge base content, or subscribing to your emails. These will all be different groups of people, and understanding these key differences will allow you to see how to cater to their unique needs. A tweet your company sends out should be different than an article on how to use your product, or a newsletter email. But, all of these things should speak to your brand’s voice.
A helpful strategy in unifying your different tones is creating a slogan, like Apple’s “Think Different.” Creating a simple and brief promise like this one is an effective way to always keep your voice in mind regardless of the platform. This way, no matter what audience you are writing for, you can ensure that your tone follows that one rule.
So, you have defined your specific and unique voice, explained how you will deliver on that promise, and researched how to portray it across different audiences in your tone. But, this is all quite abstract, and you may be struggling with seeing how it is actually going to improve your company, or frankly, how you will bring on these changes. Choosing a tone that accurately displays your brand's voice in your self-help content is crucial to engaging your audience. And when your audience can engage with your content, it becomes an overall more educational experience, making it easier for the audience to absorb all of the great information you provide and successfully self-serve. So let’s look at some real tangible ways you can adopt your tone of voice in your self-help content.
Once you have outlined your brand’s values, voice, tone, and how these things should be portrayed in practice, it should all be explicitly outlined in one place. This is called a style guide. It should describe everything you have created here, so you can have a written guide to refer back to when creating content. This ensures consistency, and guarantees that anyone who creates content, at any time, for your company, will always follow these same voice and tone definitions you have outlined.
Find out more details on how to create a style guide, and what your style guide should include.
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