‘On brand’ – what does that even mean? Get your message across online by clarifying your tone of voice.
Your brand’s personality is your biggest asset. Think about the last time walked down the high street – which brands stood out? Personality helps people remember you and come back to you time and time again, and it’s helped some brands, like Boots, to become household names.
So, you develop a fitting writing style and you create a load of blogs, but what about when a team of 20 is trying to convey the same personality? Not so easy. Hence the need for a consistent tone of voice and content strategy – to show (not tell) the world who your business is.
What is tone of voice?
Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, famously quoted that tone of voice and body language account for 93% of a person’s overall message. So what we say doesn’t really make much of an impact – it’s more about how we say it. Tone of voice is essentially the ‘how’; it’s the method you use to express your identity as a brand and convey your values.
But consistency in tone of voice is key. If your tone of voice differs between departments and communications, you will confuse your customers. However, if you establish a distinct tone of voice and roll it out across every communication, you can build a consistent relationship with your customers, turning them into brand champions. And when we say every communication, we mean every communication: customer letters, online content, brochures, reports, emails and even phone calls.
How to develop your tone of voice
If your company’s brand is its personality, then look to the people around you to find your tone of voice. Think about your customers, what they want from you and how they want to be addressed. Consider the people you employ and why you chose them – you will, no doubt, realise analogous values. These insights will give you a picture of what makes your customers and team tick.
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is especially useful for travel, leisure and retail brands, as you need to connect on an emotional level to evoke the feeling of enjoyment that awaits. Airbnb, for example, consistently uses words like ‘home’, ‘living’ and ‘belonging’. These words appeal to the emotions and bring to mind a sense of community, showing that it offers a unique comfort and convenience-focused travel experience, rather than simply a fun holiday. Look at the pictures on its website and you will find a selection of glowing pictures with a warming yellowish tone. By consistently focusing on warmth and hospitality, Airbnb makes you feel welcome as a customer, giving you an insight into the experience you can expect on your trip.
The popular retailers on our high street use similar tactics to create a consistent tone of voice. Take Waitrose; it embodies quality and indulgence, and you can see this in the way it describes its products. Rich, sweet and crumbly all butter shortbread, anyone? Yes please, if I’m going to push the boat out. ASDA, however, is well-known for being easy on the wallet and have a range called ‘Smartprice’. It’s quite far removed from Waitrose’s ‘Essential’ range that mentions nothing of a lower price.
How to keep your tone of voice consistent
For businesses, it’s important that every communication sounds like it comes from the same person. This consistency is what brand is all about, and why some companies are seen as better than others – because people know who they are and trust in what they do.
Look at Booking.com, for example, which is based in Amsterdam and represents over 925,000 hotels around the world. It still manages to convey the same strong message that attracts people across the globe, across dozens of local languages. And its tone of voice is its ace card. It’s simple, fun and conversational, drawing on what people can experience at each destination.
Every company needs a tone of voice document so the whole team is singing from the same hymn book. Outline the do’s and don’ts and how these reflect your mission statement and purpose. Go further than simply ‘conversational’ or ‘formal’ and think about what words you should use, whether you want contractions, and how frequently well-known phrases can be employed.
Why you need a content strategy
Once your tone of voice is established, you need to create a content strategy so you can weave your consistent message through every communication over time. A comprehensive strategy enables you to control and target your communications so your brand values are consistently reinforced.
Start with your marketing objectives (i.e. what you want to achieve and who you want to target), and then work backwards. Think who, what, why, when and how, unpicking the different messages you want to put across. It needs to be thorough yet to the point, like a jam-packed road map where everyone knows exactly what you are doing, when and how. This structure helps to create unity in your team so you can all follow the same path and think constructively about whether work is on point or ‘on brand’.
Regular workshops should be integrated into the plan to keep everyone on track and to teach your team not only how they should write, but what language to use when speaking to clients or customers. By frequently gathering the team together to discuss tone of voice, you can reiterate the importance of maintaining a consistent tone and train new staff.
Consumers are shrewder than ever. They can see a sales quip a mile off and it can make them tighten up their belt. Keep this in mind while planning your strategy. Yes, you want your customer to spend money with you, but be subtle and encourage them to make that decision on their own by focussing on your values.
Busy times ahead? Get the support you need
When times are busy and you find yourself running from meeting to meeting, it’s time to get some extra help. Putting your online communications to the bottom of your list can damage your brand. You need professionals who can understand your tone of voice and get it across, no matter what the content. Plan ahead and get additional writers on board now. By acting in advance, your writers have the time to familiarise themselves with your tone of voice and review their work with you. This practice means that when you need work done fast, you can rely on your team and external sources to get it right first time.
Need help with your tone of voice, content strategy and writing? Get in touch with the team.