January 21, 2019 | Sean Foo
When it comes to copywriting and marketing in general, the term ‘tone of voice’ has been thrown around but not many people know it’s importance or even what it is!
A tone of voice doesn’t just convey your message to your audience in the most suitable manner, it shows the character of your business and the values your brand holds dear. It can turn a piece of copywriting into effortless persuasion with the right audience or doom it into the land of indifference.
Think about it. Each of us has a unique way about how we talk and the way we carry ourselves.
Some of us are more serious and professional in nature, while others are light-hearted and fun loving. Do you expect both these types of people to communicate in the same way?
No! In fact, if they do, you would not only find it weird, you probably won’t trust what they have to say.
Copywriting isn’t just persuasive writing to get your reader to take an action, it is also about creating the right impression and emotions when they read it.
While the tone of voice is definitely important for your prospect, it is actually just as critical for your own business.
It Is The Expression Of The Spirit Of Your Brand
Your business is not just an emotionless company, it is made up of people, their dreams and personalities. A tone of voice showcases to the world the values your business believes in, it reveals to your readers what truly drives it.
A good tone of voice not only helps to protect your brand but enhances it as time goes by.
It Makes Your Brand Unique And Memorable
Ever wonder why some brands that sell the same type of products vary so widely in their sales materials?
Some are sophisticated and professional, while others are just so downright wacky they leave a smile on your face. It’s because each brand is unique, distinctive and wants to set themselves apart from the rest. This is what tone of voice can do for you when used correctly.
It Builds Trust & Familiarity
There is a reason why big brands and established businesses tend to have a consistent tone of voice and not try anything too different, that’s because they are trying to maintain consistency.
It is this consistency in their copywriting and marketing that brings to their clients a sense of familiarity and that builds trust. Having a consistent style and tone of voice to your copywriting is crucial, deviate too far from that and you risk sounding like a totally different brand.
Better Persuade And Convert Your Target Audience
The aim of copywriting is not to sell to everyone, but to sell to your selected target audience. The same goes for your tone of voice, not everyone around will love what your brand stands for.
Maybe you are selling a software to small business owners, it is far more useless and effective to angle your tone of voice (and copy for that matter) to cater exclusively to them instead of trying to communicate to start-ups, big corporations and anyone with a business. If you are trying to target millennials, having a bright and upbeat tone of voice is ideal, if you are trying to sell a luxury watch to high-powered executives, your tone of voice has to reflect exclusivity and sophistication.
If you match your tone of voice to your audience, coupled together with a strong sales copy, you have a killer combination that will not only convert your audience but safeguard your brand as well.
While it might seem daunting to begin the process of discovering your brand’s tone of voice, it is actually quite easy & fun!
Firstly, it is important to understand that a tone of voice reflects the soul of your company.
It stems from what you believe in….the values you hold…the positioning you want to portray to the world.
In this section, we open the kimono for you to discover the top 3 questions to ask yourself to nail down your company’s tone of voice.
Why Did You Start Your Company?
A great way to begin this discovery is to journey all the way back to the beginning of the birth of your business.
Every great company started out with a mission, a clear reason why they exist and I’m very certain yours did too! (and no, earning money doesn’t count)
Everyone knows Harley Davidson, it is an iconic motorcycle company that stirs strong emotions from both onlookers and fans of the brand.
Harley riders have a famous saying ‘If I were to explain, you wouldn’t understand.’ It has created a strong bond with their customers that stems from their mission and brand experience of delivering freedom (the promise of an open road), rebellion and bad-boy exclusivity.
This maverick spirit is reflected perfectly in their copywriting’s tone of voice. They talk directly to the customer in a challenging tone, daring them to ‘Don’t just sit there. Ride it.’
Either you will be scared off or immediately click and get a test ride, and that is what the Harley Davidson spirit is about: ‘Either your fully one of us or your not.’
Conversely, another powerful rising brand of motorcycles, Arch Motorcycle (started by Matrix movie star, Keanu Reeves), started from their love of motorcycles and the search for creating the perfect motorcycle customised for each unique owner.
Their mission statement “When passion meets inspiration an obsession is born. Our passion for motorcycling has inspired a unique blend of classic design and modern performance. Obsession is evident in the precision craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into each ARCH Motorcycle” clearly points out their search for technical perfection.
This is showcased in their tone of voice of their copy. Notice the way they focus more on features and the details of their bikes.
They are not exclusively marketing to rebels or thrill riders, but to bike enthusiasts who understand and appreciate every aspect of their machines.
What Are The Values That Drive Your Company & Team?
Knowing the reason why your company exists is just the first step.
Understanding the values that drive your company (and your team) is equally as important and also contributes massively to your tone of voice.
A luxury watch company that believes in exclusivity and experiencing the finer things in life will have a drastically different tone of voice in their copy compared to a hip-youth company that sells colorful electronic watches.
Twitter’s values of inclusivity and free expression shapes the way they craft their copy throughout their website.
Using a tone of voice that is primarily first person (we, our) as well as always referring to the group as a whole, anyone can clearly see that Twitter values diversity, group experiences and probably has a fun and family-type culture in their office.
Now, if conversely you are running an investment company and your values are more geared towards results and performance, your copy would be more towards the third person.
‘The fund has outperformed the industry standards by 300% growing investors money for more than five generations.’
Grammarly summarises the use of the first person, second person and third person tone of voice nicely in the chart below.
What Is Your Customer Type & How Would You Treat Them?
Customers are one of the core pillars that determine the tone of voice in your copywriting, after all, they are the ones who will be reading your marketing materials!
In our previous post covering the 4 main types of consumers, the type of consumer you are targeting affects your tone of voice to a large extent.
If you are looking to communicate with explorers (consumers who seek experiences, risks and discovery), your tone of voice will need to be daring, edgy, challenging without political correctness.
However if you are selling to mainstream people, the average joe down the street. Having a tone of voice that is friendly while relating to them works wonders.
McDonald’s that is perhaps the most mainstream company in the world uses the perfect tone of voice in their copy to connect with their audience.
By incorporating elements of simple ideas, value for money, freebies and a clear scarcity (For a limited time) offer, this call to action would no doubt be effective in driving the conversions they desire.
Now if your customer type are people looking to better their lives by chasing status and money (aspirers), the tone of voice for your copy has to be different. Very different.
Having a tone of voice that speaks directly to them, one by one, coupled together with descriptive words that paint a picture of paradise is key.
Digging a little deeper, the tone of voice doesn’t command the reader to take an action, but shares with them the benefits and leads them to the end goal through copywriting that focuses 100% on their goals and desires.
Now that we have defined your company’s story, values and the target customer, it is time to determine your brand’s personality.
While your company’s values are what you say, personality is how you say it.
From having a serious and formal style to a style filled with jovial excitement, it is this personality that sets businesses apart even though they might be selling the same kind of products or services.
Should You Choose A Formal Or Informal Language?
While choosing a formal tone can convey a sense of authority, professionalism, and seriousness, it could run into being rather boring and too emotionally detached.
In contrast, selecting an informal tone might connect better with your audience due to its warmth and fun-filled character but might be too casual for audiences to take it seriously.
Let’s say I am launching a new handphone next week, I could express the same offer in two drastically different tones:
The Formal Tone: The New X-Phone 7, Now In Metallic Black At Your Nearest Store.
The Informal Tone: Are You Ready For The New X-Phone 7? Dash Down To Your Favorite Store And Grab One Today!
The formal tone inspires a professional and polished feeling to readers, while the informal option is like what a game show might sound like, fun and refreshing but lacking professionalism and class.
Choosing the right formality for your tone is key to stay consistent with your branding.
Remember, it is consistency that builds trust with your audience and customers.
If you are selling classy $10,000 tuxedos, adopting the informal tone won’t be ideal and might even cheapen your brand in the long run. (Short term conversions won’t be fantastic either)
Similarly, if you are selling $5 ice-cream, trying to spin your advertisements in a formal manner will leave your audience scratching their heads.
Take Swatch, for example, their tone of voice matches their range of $100-$300 watches and brand personality perfectly.
Adopting an informal tone of voice that connects with the youth of today connects better than trying to sound serious and professional about their brand.
When it comes to luxury watches that cost anywhere from $20,000 to millions, Vacheron Constantin ranks near the top of the pack.
Vacheron Constantin’s tone of voice, however, is completely different from Swatch.
By using a formal tone of voice packed with complex vocabulary, Vacheron inspires a sense of aspiration, luxury and professionalism.
Using The Right Pronouns To Establish The Right Tone & Meaning
Proper use of pronouns (I, you, this, her, it etc) can make the difference in setting up the right relationship between your brand and your customer.
For example, traditionally, banks tend to speak professionally using pronouns such as ‘the’, ‘this’ or ‘our’ making the brand sound over self-interested and detached from customers.
To connect better with their customers and move the focus to the needs of their clients, pronouns such as ‘you’ or ‘your’ are frequently used.
Citibank uses pronouns effectively to suggest their products exists to fulfill their customers’ needs.
While choosing the right pronouns is important, their order also affects your brand’s personality and the copy’s persuasive power.
Let’s compare these two sentences:
While both sentences are selling the exact same idea, the meaning, however, is different when the customer reads it.
The first suggests the company reacts to the customer (after feedback or surveys) while the second portrays the company as pro-active and thinking in the shoes of their customer making them superior to the first.
How Should Technical You Go?
Depending on your industry and business type, there might be times where including technical terms and jargons might be tempting for a whole host of reasons:
Except…chances are unless you are selling to a very niche audience made up of experts, it is much better to use simple language that your audience will understand.
Clarity is key.
While there might be a strong temptation to showcase all that your product/service has to offer, it is best to do it in a simple and straightforward manner.
As a business or marketer, it is your job to ensure your copy is digestible, understandable quickly to your prospects.
Using technical terms that are alien to your customers not only hurts conversions in direct marketing but also adversely affects your tone of voice, harming your brand in the long run.
Kissmetrics is a business that uses behavioral analytics and email marketing automation to help businesses analyze, segment and engage their customers all in a single platform.
Even to me, this explanation sounds just complex and overwhelming. Even though the product might be useful, explaining it that way is enough to make even the most open-minded of prospects click away.
Thankfully, the team at Kissmetrics understands that and tunes their tone of voice to ensure they keep their explanation simple and focus on the everyday benefits that business owners want and understand: growing & keeping their customers.
Laughter might be the best medicine, but does that also apply to your business and brand?
In this section, we take you through two wonderful companies that have correctly used humor to supercharge their brand personality and transform their tone of voice into an irresistible magnet.
Dollar Shave Club
To be a business that gets acquired by Unilever for $1 Billion, Dollar Shave Club has a tremendous business model and marketing it is a unique tone of voice.
Using a tone of voice that is supremely confident, humorous and sometimes almost vulgar, Dollar Shave Club talks to their customer like none of their competitors.
Here are 3 things to learn from Dollar Shave Club’s tone of voice.
1. Evoke Feelings Through Words (and video)
Using everyday and simple language, Dollar Shave Club focuses on the end benefit of their service letting their customers ‘feel like a million bucks’.
Just like a friend or buddy talking to you in the bar, they use an informal tone to better connect with their customers.
Their video shot in a warehouse combines wacky humor together with a simple explanation of how their service works is pure comedy gold and instantly turns a traditionally boring business into something hip, fun and even rebellious.
2. Stay Consistent With The Humor
While a humorous tone of voice might be a big step, keeping it consistent throughout your marketing copy is key to build trust in your brand.
Dollar Shave Club does just that.
Even their checkout page has a humorous reminder for customers to buy something instead of your standard: your cart is empty.
3. Be Funny & Informational At The Same Time
While humor can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal, you are running a business and not a comedy or joke website.
Instead of sprinkling random jokes around your website copy, take the opportunity to integrate humor into your sales copy and content.
Dollar Shave Club does this in spades with their content blog.
By using humorous cartoon pictures and rather whacky headlines, their blog combines awesome informative content with humorous copy that adds a fun and casual atmosphere to their website.
Perhaps the best example of a humor-infused tone of voice, Old Spice is a brand that is iconic for its wacky & out of this world advertisements.
While their parent company P&G is a serious multi-national, they have preserved Old Spice’s uniquely crazy tone of voice that turned the brand into a household name.
So what can we learn from Old Spice’s strategic tone of voice?
1. Be Bold, Very Bold
While many brands just dabble in humor and leave the rest of their copy serious and professional, Old Spice embraces their craziness and turns it up a notch.
Instead of the usual advertisement showing a handsome buff man spraying a scent on himself, Old Spice decided to go an entirely different route to emphasize the strength of their collection.
By using a ‘weight-lifting bear’ (its weird I know), they immediately capture your attention with two symbols of strength.
Their copy is just as equally wacky. A scent that is comparable to a nice yummy burrito? Not only does this capture your attention, but also compares their product to an all-American favorite food.
2. Have Fun, Humor Can Be Found Anywhere
When injecting humor into your brand, it pays to look at all your marketing channels for sources of inspiration to draw out the fun side of your company.
From showcasing their Youtube channel to giving away discount coupons, Old Spice spares no avenue in trying to infuse humor into almost every aspect of their communication.
Whether your brand has a website, an Instagram account or a podcast, spin humor around each of those channels.
Not only do you make your tone of voice more consistent, you will also connect better with your audience and building trust more easily.
Remember, consistency builds trust.
3. Create A Theme Around Your Humor
While random humor works, it is even better to wrap a joke or humorous copy around a theme.
Selling a holiday package to South America? Take the chance to spin it as an Indiana Jones-esq adventure finding lost treasure!
Instead of showcasing their Youtube Channel as yet another self-help channel, Old Spice turns this into a fantastic sea voyage by using commonly recognizable words such as ‘Ahoy’ and ‘Swagger’ into a rather humorous piece of copy.
Now that you have decided on your tone of voice, the next step is to ensure every piece of copy is standardized.
While your current content might be more familiar with your new tone of voice, chances are new hires and marketing agencies might not be on the same page with you.
Create A Tone Of Voice Guide
Creating a tone of voice guide isn’t as complex as you think it is.
While you definitely need to include all the important aspects that we have mentioned above (from humor to formality), creating an effective tone of voice guide can be accomplished with the following 3 tips:
1) Write In The Tone Of Voice Itself
As your reader digests your guide, take this opportunity to passively immerse them in the tone itself.
Practice what you preach.
2) Make It Interesting & Memorable
Giving instructions to your team to follow a certain way to write could not only be a challenge, but it could very well descend into boredom.
The key is to make the guide simple, to the point and interesting.
Skype does a wonderful job with their tone of voice guide by including simple and humorous copy that leaves an impression on their readers.
A good tone of voice guide, like Skype’s, will include a short phrase that captures the full essence of their tone of voice that allows their brand personality to shine.
3) Cover All Your Bases
It is good to prepare your tone of voice guide as though your reader has totally no idea about what your brand is about.
Here is a quick snapshot of some of the more important aspects your tone of voice guide should capture and showcase:
Share Your Tone Of Voice Guide
While it is highly likely your tone of voice guide will be to guide your own content team, there might other partners who could benefit greatly from the guide.
Have a marketing agency that runs your Facebook ad campaign? Share it with them!
Have a creative team in charge of your website redesign? Pass it to them!
MailChimp runs a content blog that relies on contributing writers and in order to keep their tone of voice consistent, they have dedicated a whole website for their guest bloggers to learn about their tone of voice (or risk their articles getting rejected).
Wow, what a long article eh. Now that you have everything to discover your brand’s tone of voice, the most important step is to get started!
Reflect back on why your company was started, the values you treasure and what you want to say to the world (and your customers).
A consistent tone of voice throughout your copywriting will not only help serve your conversions in the short-term but help build long-term loyalty and trust in your brand.
Isn’t that just lovely?