Voice and tone primer: what they are and how to use them to build your brand

I’ve written a couple blog posts now (here and here) that mention voice and tone, and I promised to explain what the heck I was talking about. Well, I’m finally going to explain it.

Oh, happy day! Aren’t you excited?

Settle down now. Voice and tone aren’t that exciting, but they are incredibly important. So let’s get to it.

What is voice?

The voice of your business and brand is best described as its personality. It’s how your written copy sounds to others. Does your business come across as traditional, stuffy or corporate? Or is it funny, upbeat and fresh? Maybe it’s friendly and warm.

When building your business brand, pay special attention to the voice you create. It shouldn’t happen by accident.

Several things can guide the creation of your brand’s voice:

  • Business owner’s personality
  • Target customer base
  • Products or services you sell
  • Type of industry

One way to figure out the voice that fits your business best is to see what your successful competition’s voice sounds like. If they’re killing it in your space, they’re probably using a voice that appeals to your market.

Don’t copy their voice. Use it as a base and infuse your personality and preferences into a voice all your own. You might use words or phrases you or your employees use when talking about your business or product. Be creative. Make it yours.

If you need help developing your voice, a good copywriter can help. They’ll listen to you talk about your business, learn about you as a person, and study your customer. Then they’ll write a sample or two in a voice they feel fits your brand. You’ll work together to tweak it and make it feel like a natural fit.

So, how does tone fit in?

Tone is the various moods of your voice. Remember your mom’s voice when you were young? When you were in trouble, her tone was stern. When you did something great, her tone turned high pitched and sing-song-y. (yes that’s a word, cause I said so)

Did you notice that? What I did just above was write in my particular voice. I tend to make up words in real life or add the “y” to the end of words (like thing-y). It’s part of who I am and therefore part of my writing voice. Do I always use it? No way. But when it works and fits the audience and brand, I do.

Back to tone. As a business, you can use different tones of voice in different situations to motivate customers. You might use a more urgent tone for a sale or promotion. Or, you might use a friendly, calming tone when helping a customer with a technical problem they’re having with your product.

If your voice is funny, you might vary it by using different tones of funny: dark humor, light humor, sarcastic humor and so on. Or, you could always use the same tone of funny to solidify your brand voice.

Underneath any changes in tone, your voice always remains the same.

A final step: create a guide

Once you get your voice nailed down, create a brand style guide for your business. This handy document keeps your marketing copy and other business writing consistently promoting your brand voice. I wrote a primer on brand style guides, which you can see here.

Don’t skip this step! Your employees and any freelance writers you use need to know how to recreate your voice and stay consistent with each other and content that’s already out there.

It all makes sense now

Aren’t you glad we did this? I know, riveting. But it really is an important part of building your brand, so don’t neglect it.

If you’re still unsure about how to create your brand voice, find someone you’re comfortable with to help you develop it. If I can help, give me a shout.

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