Finding your brand’s Tone of Voice and why bother

People depicting Tone of Voice having speech bubbles over their faces.

This blog was written by Lee McLean, Head of Client Services at Elevate Communication.

Whilst many organisations spend many well spent hours defining their goals, values and mission statement, and then transport that outcome to a lengthy Style Guide, many forget to define their brand’s tone. 

A brand’s Tone or Tone of Voice is essential to ensure the values, personality, and essence of the brand are carried through every communication situation. It is the way of communicating that differentiates the brand from its competitors. 

In its biggest role, the tone is what guides the words and phrases used to show the emotions and mood in a key message or brand. It is essential in giving the key audiences the correct perception. 

In essence: Tone Shapes Messages 

The power of good tone is in its ability to persuade and influence. The way a voice modulates, or a word is emphasised, impacts how it is received and how much impact it has. A strong and confident tone grows credibility, whilst an air of hesitation can take that credibility away. 

Amongst your own team a respectful, collaborative tone helps build teamwork and stronger outcomes, whilst we all know how a condescending or negative tone is received by staff. 

In the modern world of communication, tone is not just articulated through well spelt words.  Think about things like emojis, imagery, social media vocabulary and even abbreviated words and short cuts.  

By defining your tone, you have a brief for every staff member and consultant the communicates your brand. It offers a writer guidance and ensures consistency. And that guidance transcends every division, culture and geographical market. The spoken language may change, but a tone doesn’t. 

When illustrated, a tone becomes obvious – Nike is bold and motivational, Tiffany is elegant and sweet, whilst Harley Davidson is strong and aggressive. 

But defining your own organisation’s tone, and getting agreement on it across the management team, is not so obvious. 

 Elevate enjoys workshopping tone of voice with our clients and defining their brand’s unique tone. We have a suite of tools that help clients articulate their tone, but it is not as easy as grabbing a whiteboard and sticky notes. Inevitably staff see tone differently and it can be influenced by their own lifestyle experience and language. 

A great activity is to take two words with opposite meanings on a scale and invite your team to mark where on that scale they think your brand sits. Think of things like Formal to Casual; Cautious to Brave; Safe to Adventurous; Serious to Humorous. Throw in a few less obvious ones like Enthusiastic to Compassionate. You will be amazed how the staff vary on where your brand sits on the scale. 

To challenge you more, tone can vary when you are communicating with different stakeholders and at different times in the brand’s journey.   

But finding that underling tone that never changes is finding your brand’s rhythm.  

Of course, once you have the rhythm, you have to dance. And any dance needs to be practiced and repeated to be delivered with perfection. 

Developing the Tone of Voice guidelines is essential to ensuring everyone is communicating with consistency. What does it look like in social media, how does is sound in speeches and how is it expressed in photos? What words are in and what words are out? 

Whilst it might sound a bit daunting, finding your underlying Tone of Voice is a lot of fun and if done correctly, may never have to be changed.  

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