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How to Define Your Tone of Voice
Copywriting / 08 Nov 2021
Great copy is about so much more than words on a page. Ask anyone offering professional copywriting services to define tone of voice, and they’ll tell you that high performing copywriting isn’t about what you say but how you say it.
Take a website error message.
You could respond formally. ‘We apologise for any inconvenience. We are experiencing a technical problem.’
You could respond casually. ‘Oops. Sorry. We’re experiencing an issue on our end.’
Or you could go all out and use humour. ‘OMG, what did you do? Just kidding. We’re experiencing a problem.’
The appropriate choice would depend on your brand values, your target audience, and the purpose of your communication. Keeping these things in mind keeps your copy on point.
Tone of Voice: Where to Begin?
Messaging that misses the mark immediately alienates your audience. It’s something to be avoided at all costs. When considering your tone of voice, start with what you know and want to achieve, and then bridge the gap between the two.
Your Brand Values
You know your business best. You understand its underpinning values and its reason for being. Your tone of voice should complement and promote those values to ensure your message is received loud and clear.
Your Client Avatar
Knowing your audience is crucial to ensuring your message lands. Tongue-in-cheek mannerisms might undermine a serious message, and a perceived lack of a sense of humour might reduce your likeability factor.
Spending time learning about and understanding one (or several) client avatars focuses your copywriting attention on the right people.
A carefully considered client avatar tells you:
- whom you’re targeting
- what they like and dislike
- where they are online, and
- how to attract, engage, and convert them with your content.
Perform a Content Audit
World leaders in research-based user experience, the Nielson Norman Group, list 4 critical dimensions of a brand’s tone. They believe that every highly successful brand voice (think Innocent drinks) fluctuates between these four characteristics:
- Funny versus serious
- Formal versus casual
- Respectful versus disrespectful, and
- Enthusiastic versus matter of fact.
Gather a sample of your best-performing content from a variety of sources. Analyse your website copywriting, blog writing, and social media copywriting for similarities, differences and gauge where they sit within these dimensions.
The purpose of your audit is to work out what you sound like now and if it’s how you want to sound, bearing in mind your target audience and the purpose of the communication.
It’s an excellent opportunity to engage your audience in market research. Ask your existing clients to describe your brand using 3 words and see what they say. Their insights will be helpful when setting a future direction.
Tone of Voice: Bridging the Gap with Brand Guidelines
Tone of voice isn’t set entirely in stone. Because it’s about how you say things, it will always fluctuate depending on the purpose of the communication. Your Board of Directors’ Annual Report will always sound very different to a social media post or job advert.
As your business grows, more people will likely be writing for your brand. It’s helpful for everyone to codify your ‘house rules’ about what you expect from external communications and showcase your tone of voice in action.
Brand guidelines like these are a surefire way to keep things simple and of consistent quality. When writing yours, make sure to include:
- Your preferred pronouns: Second person pronouns like ‘you’ perform best because they’re conversational and speak directly to a reader.
- Plain English versus technical language: Plain English is readable. Inaccessible content can be a conversion-killer, but sometimes technical language is unavoidable. To keep our copy readable and engaging, we follow George Orwell’s famous advice, ‘never use a long word where a short one will do’.
- Use examples: A picture paints a thousand words. Sometimes the easiest way to explain a point is by demonstrating. Include a section on what you do and what you don’t do to avoid any doubt.
Need Some Support with Tone of Voice?
There we have it, a whistlestop tour of defining a business’s tone of voice.
We’re here to help, so please get in touch if we’ve highlighted that you need additional support. Before our team of writers get started blog writing on your behalf or website copywriting, we need to get clear on what you say and how you say it.
To that end, all our white label copywriting services include brand voice workshops and brand guideline creation.
Book your discovery call today to find out more.
Copywriting / 30 Nov 2022