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Tone of Voice 101 – How to Establish the Right Tone of Voice for your Audience

With 61% of marketers reporting that businesses are struggling to keep their language interesting and engaging, we ask our Network specialists how to establish a brand tone of voice that resonates.

The GO! Network

Brand tone of voice allows an audience to get to know and understand a brand as it creates a dialogue. It gives the chance for business leaders to express their brand's unique persona and seamlessly build up relationships with the audience.

However, a recent report found that 61% of marketers believe organisations are struggling to keep customers engaged through their language across different channels and touch points.

In this latest of our ‘Marketing 101’ series, our agency specialists discuss how to establish a tone of voice that connects with your audience.

In this article:

  • Common TOV mistakes to watch out for
  • What a great tone of voice should actually look like
  • Tips for keeping a consistent voice across  your channels and platforms
  • External support for your brand messaging

What are some of the most common mistakes brands make in their Tone of Voice?

As the common mantra goes, we learn from our mistakes. We can also learn from others’ mistakes, which is why we asked our experts to share some of the most common ones they’ve seen when it comes to establishing your tone of voice.

Mistake #1 – Not thinking about the target audience

For Laura Weldon, Founder/Creative Director at Studio LWD, one of the most common mistakes she sees when it comes to brands establishing/re-establishing their voice is the failure to think about their target audience and how they would want to be spoken to.

“Brands need to ensure they first map out who their target audience is to then be able to craft how to speak to them.”

Mistake #2 – Failure to differentiate

“If your brand persona consists of nothing but words like ‘connect,’ ‘tailored to your needs,’ or ‘professionals you can trust,' you might need to go back to the drawing board,” says David Gilligan, Creative Director at WeThree Creative.

“Most brands want to embody these traits, so you might struggle to stand out. It's the same as using Royalty Free generic images, they serve no purpose, you’re just adding more noise.

Think about why you are different, be brave, and tell that story.

David Gilligan on how to establish the right tone of voice to connect with your audience

Mistake #3 – Inconsistency

Luke Burnett, Senior Project Manager at Relative Marketing emphasises one word – inconsistency.

“There is often a big difference between how you would like your brand to be seen and how your brand is actually seen.

I’ve also seen a difference between how brands talk internally versus how they talk externally. You should hold focus groups with your customers to get their honest perspective.

Once this has been established, you need a definitive ‘Tone of Voice’ guide to keep consistency.”

Mistakes #5,#6, #7 & #8

Ross Francis, Creative Director at Present Works gives not one, but four common mistakes to look for that can really devalue the process. These are:

#5 - Not addressing the audience’s need first and foremost.

#6 - Lack of leadership and direction in the process, creating a desaturated and 'by committee' end-result.

#7 - Not capitalising on current gaps in the market or forecasting how things may change.

#8 - Trying to articulate new concepts and ideas while holding on to old ones.

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What should an ideal tone of voice look like?

Your tone of voice is unique to your own business, but there are some generalisations that apply across the board when attempting to establish what that is.

Here, our specialists give advice on what an ‘ideal’ tone of voice should look like.

It should be authentic and match the style of the brand

“It’s no good having a friendly and relaxed tone of voice if your branding is corporate and traditional,” says Luke.

“The Tone of Voice guide itself should be thorough and include things like values, messaging, tense, formatting, style, and examples of what to do and what not to do.

Luke Burnett on how to establish the right tone of voice to connect with your audience

Authenticity is something also echoed by Ross. “It’s less about how it looks, and more about how it feels. The verbal tone of voice should feel authentic, and exemplary of the brand's true purpose at every touch point.

It should be distinctive, recognisable, and unique

For Laura, an ideal tone of voice should be “distinctive, recognisable, and unique, whilst talking to your target audience on their level and in their language.  

Both written and spoken form need to be considered and how it will work across different channels.”

It should inspire and excite

“Less is more,” is the message from David. “Your tone of voice should inspire and excite, and it must resonate some sort of emotion, e.g., happiness (Coca Cola).  

Try to make your tone of voice more about your consumers, and how your product or business can help them. Try writing more along the lines of ‘All about you' than 'All about us'. And keep it short and sweet.”

How to keep your Tone of Voice consistent across different channels and platforms

When it comes to keeping consistent with your brand tone of voice across multiple channels and platforms, all four of our agency specialists had one thing to say – clear guidelines are key.

#1 – Have clear guidelines in the form of a Tone of Voice document

“The key to consistency,” says Laura, “is to have clear guidelines that go into detail on the brand's tone of voice.

Laura Weldon on how to establish the right tone of voice to connect with your audience

These guidelines should cover off everything from multiple channels to the spoken word, and their success relies on all team members fully understanding them and using them to implement content and output.”

Luke continues by saying “anyone that is writing anything where they represent the brand should have access to and use a ‘Tone of Voice guide’ for consistency and to stay on-brand and on-message.”

At Present Works, they refer to these guidelines as a ‘Verbal Brand Guide’ document.

Ross tells us that this document, “outlines the elements of the tone of voice, a messaging framework for all key products and services, and usage examples across a range of appropriate channels and format appropriate to them."

#2 - Create the 'big idea' that defines the brand essence

The second thing, from David, was that brands should create “a big idea that defines the brand essence, and one that can flex across different channels (e.g., Uber’s 'Where to...’)

When writing, you should be audience-first, authentic, and most importantly, be simple and direct. Finally, after you have written something, ask yourself a few questions like, 'Does that sound like us?' or 'Does this have the right feeling?’”

Where can external branding specialists help your tone of voice?

If you think that your current tone of voice isn’t striking the right chord with your audience, or you would like to adapt your messaging to reflect the current economic and social climate, there are plenty of external resources available to support this shift in strategy.

Here, we asked our Network specialists to list some of the ways marketing agencies specifically can help when it comes to establishing your brand’s tone of voice.

Marketing agencies can guide businesses through the process

“Engaging with a marketing/creative agency is vital for a brand when developing their tone of voice.

They can guide the brand through the process and develop them a tone of voice that performs for their brand, resonates with their audience, and works across multiple channels. Laura, Studio LWD

Marketing agencies will understand your brand values

“It's all about working together to push a brand’s tone of voice in the right direction. Design and marketing agencies will know and understand your brand values, your brand personality, and style so that all communications are consistent - from Annual Reports to answering phone calls and emails.

Leave it to the 'professionals you can trust' who can help you 'connect to your audience’, with Tone of Voice Guidelines 'tailored to your needs.’” – David, WeThree

Marketing agencies have the knowledge and experience

“When establishing your brand or tone of voice, it can be hard to know where to start or what the process is.

A marketing agency will have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the process and steps needed.

They can also take the time and hassle out of things like research, focus groups, testing, and putting together the finalised documents. Luke, Relative Marketing

Marketing agencies will give you objectivity

“Ultimately, working with a marketing agency allows for an objective bird’s eye view of the current situation. This is often hard to have when you're in the thick of your company and industry's day-to-day complexities.

Ross Francis on how to establish the right tone of voice to connect with your audience

We recommend any scheme of work aligns to the broader business goals and the company's vision for the future, and while our Verbal Brand process is a key part of every major re-brand that we undertake, improving tone of voice, strategising how you position your products/services, or updating your messaging framework can all be undertaken as discrete projects in the right circumstances.” – Ross, Present Works

Start 2023 with confidence! If you’re starting to assess your marketing needs for the new year, let us know  your requirements and one of our senior team will be in touch to offer free, impartial advice.

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