Using the right tone of voice to set your business apart

What is your tone of voice (TOV)?

In simple terms, your company’s tone of voice is a direct expression of the person who is running the show: you!

It’s your own distinctive way of talking and sharing information that’s heavily based on your personality and your values.

It’s your own way of wording things that makes your fans, followers, customers and behind-the-curtain lurkers go ‘ah! That’s definitely so-and-so!’

Why is it important?

Developing – and sticking to – the right tone of voice in all your marketing communications will help you:

  • Become immediately recognisable through the language style you use
  • Control how you are perceived
  • Reach the right kind of customers – ie, the people who resonate with what you’re saying
  • Achieve a sense of familiarity with your followers
  • Gain more trust and credibility from your network

How do you even begin to nail down your TOV?

There are SO many different TOV models out there that will help you define your brand’s unique communication style. I couldn’t possibly go through them all here! But in my experience, it’s best to keep it simple by following this easy 4 step method:

1. Review what you’ve already got

What copy are you already using to help you promote your business and lock in those all-important sales?

Dig out everything you have, including sales emails, proposal documents, website content and recent social media posts. Try to review the text objectively and think about how it might ‘feel’ to the people who are on the receiving end of it. Do you think it’s giving them that warm, fuzzy feeling that’s going to make them want to buy from you? Or is it too cold, too clinical, or, dare I say it, even too off-the-wall?

Make a list of the phrases that crop up a lot, too, as these will have some steer on your final style.

2. Analyse how your competitors are coming across

It’s always handy to know what your competitors are up to – and it’s just as useful to get a handle on the way they’re communicating, too. Taking a closer look at the TOV other companies in your industry are using will help you identify what kind of language is going down well with your audience, and, on the flip side, what approaches might not quite be hitting the mark.

3. Describe how you want your brand’s voice to come across – in just three words

You’ve worked out where you’re at, and you know what not to do – so now it’s time to think about where you’d like to go.

Which three words would you love your customers and competitors to use when they are describing your business?

(I know, I know. It’s tricky to whittle everything down to just three terms. But focus is the name of the game here, otherwise you’ll end up sounding just like everybody else.)

Here are a couple of contrasting examples. If you’re a local swimming school, you’ll probably want to come across as friendly, fun and approachable. If you’re an established insurance firm, you might prefer to be known as professional, competent and diligent.

The more creative you can get with your choices, the more distinctive your tone of voice will be!

4. Create a brand voice chart for guidance on the more technical stuff

Once you’ve settled on three terms that you think sum up your brand voice, think about how you can use language to get these traits across to your audience, and note down all of your TOV dos and don’ts in your very own brand voice chart.

There’s no set way to produce a brand voice chart, but lots of businesses like to work with the following headings:

  • Voice characteristic

Let’s go with ‘confident’, as an example.

  • How this characteristic applies to the business

“We’re true leaders in our field, and we offer the best expertise in the industry.”

  • What you should do to communicate this characteristic

Speak with authority; challenge opinions or perceptions if you need to; don’t be afraid to introduce new concepts.

  • What you shouldn’t do to communicate this characteristic

Let your audience know you are uncertain about something; speak passively; shy away from conversation.

Still struggling to perfect your brand’s tone of voice? Let me help! I touch on the topic in my Social Strategy Workbook, and I can deliver expert advice on TOV development as part of my personalised social media management services.