Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice….

There won’t be many of us who didn’t hear that phrase at some point in our childhood.

These days, the only tone most people are fixed on is their ring tone (mine is a dalek, thanks for asking) but there is another tone that we should think about whether we work in comms or not.  And that is tone of voice.

How many times have you been misunderstood because someone projected a tone of voice onto a text you’ve sent that wasn’t at all what you intended?

“Okay” is a good example.  Does it mean, “Okay, if I must”, “Okay, sure, that sounds nice” or maybe even “Okay! Brilliant! Can’t wait!”?

Face to face we have all the cues: we see the smile (or look of disappointment); we see the body language; we probably have the context of knowing the person we are talking to and what their response is likely to be.

And yet when we talk about ‘tone of voice’ from a branding point of view, we are talking about the often ambiguous written word. We are talking about your brand’s verbal identity: about positioning you in a way that people recognise you from a phrase you repeat, or a style you use, or the way you always sign off your emails. It is the final bit of the brand jigsaw, once you have your shiny new visual identity and your perfectly honed messaging.

It is not what you say, it is how you say it.

Why does your brand need an established tone of voice?

We want your supporters and service users to spot you in the overcrowded comms space. We want them to greet you like an old friend and not just scroll on by. We want them to recognise you (from a distance).

This wouldn’t be a blog about charity marketing without a mention of Macmillan (I heard you all groan then, but you have to confess they do a great job).

If you search for their tone of voice guidelines online you will find a fully downloadable manual.

But you don’t need to read it. You already know their tone of voice: they talk “as a friend would, with warmth and encouragement”. You know it because even if you have never needed this fabulous charity you have ‘seen’ their tone of voice everywhere. You would recognise it even without a logo.

If your brand tone of voice sounds like the people who represent your brand (as it should) and reflects your organisational values (which it must) then you will build trust, improve brand recall, increase the likeability of your brand and generate loyalty; the ultimate aim of any brand.

Tone of Voice checklist:

  • What words and phrases do your stakeholders use when they talk about you?
  • What sort of tone is set by your values? Is your brand upbeat, engaging and fun? Or perhaps your language needs to show empathy and care? Are you quick witted, serious, educational?
  • Should you use formal or informal language?
  • Is it okay to use jargon?
  • Do you need all those technical terms and pesky TLAs or can you unpack them into more easily understood language?
  • What emotions does your brand need to convey?
  • Should you write in the first person, or the third person?
  • Is there flexibility across different platforms and, if so, how far does that flexibility reach?

What else would you add to the list?

Tone of voice guidelines are not intended to be a straight-jacket. They should empower your teams to create their own content with confidence.

Still not convinced?
Whichever sector you work in, it is always good to look beyond it to find best practice in other areas (maybe areas with bigger budgets!)

If you want to be inspired, take a look at:

  • Innocent Drinks. They make smoothies but honestly you feel as though you know the entire team and could pop round for a cuppa with them (well, more likely a smoothie). They are friendly and informative, fun and engaging. They consistently use short punchy statements and they make you chuckle.
  • Greggs My heroes when it comes to brand tone of voice. Great British chat, with great British humour, about the great British sausage (or vegan) roll. Gentle banter that leaves you visualising the glint in the copywriter’s eye.
  • Monzo New to my list of great brand voices. I mean they are talking about banking. And they make it interesting. More to the point, they make it accessible. A fine example of talking technical but making it super clear and easy to understand.

Can you think of other brands that are rocking a great tone of voice in their communications at the moment? I would love to hear about them – get in touch here.

Andrea Holland
Strategic Communications Consultant
The Charity Academy