Consistency in your branding is crucial — people will start to assign a personality to your brand, whether you like it or not, and the only way you can stay ahead of that is by projecting a personality of your choosing. That boils down to two major features: voice and tone.
Brands set themselves apart from other brands by establishing both a voice and a tone. Think about your favorite author or your favorite columnist. If you read a new piece by them, you’d probably think it sounds familiar, even if you’d never read it before, right? That’s because that writer has a unique voice — that voice is probably a big part of the reason you like them in the first place.
But just as important as having a voice is being consistent with that voice. If you’re not consistent across all your channels — your website, blog, social media, and print collateral — it will strike people as odd. It won’t “sound like” you, and that undercuts your message.
What Is Brand Voice?
If your brand were a person, how would they write? How would they talk? That’s the question you’re trying to answer when you establish a brand voice. Your tone can vary, just as a real person’s tone varies depending on the situation, but your voice has to be the bedrock of everything you put into the world.
Think about your brand’s personality. Are you friendly and inspiring? Are you cheeky and irreverent? Are you somber and professional? These questions will be informed by your product, your company culture, and the ideal customer you’re selling to — Wendy’s can be sassy and sarcastic, while it doesn’t benefit H&R Block to be the same way — but it’s worth trying to nail that voice down before you put too much content out into the world.
Think about rhythm and pace, too. Do your words come out quick and snappy? Or you do you use long, flowing sentences, employing longer words and flowery adjectives to conjure an atmosphere of relaxation and calm?
Finally, take your vocabulary in mind. Some brands use simple words and short sentences to show their customers that they’re casual, easy to understand, and easy to work with. Some brands try to appeal to a more specific clientele, using big words to convey intelligence or lurid prose to illustrate creativity and vision.
The choice is up to you, but be careful — it’s tempting to show off how smart you are with jargon-laden and ostentatious writing, but if your customers find you difficult to understand, you’ll find it difficult to keep them interested.
What Is Tone?
People often “voice and tone” together, but they’re not exactly the same thing. While voice conveys the personality and style of your brand, tone is more about your attitude in the moment. Tone can vary depending on context — just like a real person, you wouldn’t want to come off the same way when announcing a holiday sale as when apologizing for a slip-up.
Think about the type of content you’re creating. Are you joking back and forth with a customer on Twitter? Or writing a detailed whitepaper to educate people on how to use your product?
What about the style you’re employing? Snappy sentences generally come across as more humorous and witty, while longer, more careful sentences are more authoritative and informative.
Finally, think about your employees. If they were talking to your customers about the topic you’re writing on, what would you want them to say? Written words and spoken words are always going to vary a little bit, but the general principles are going to be similar.
Let’s say you run a data backup service. You back up huge amounts of data from your customers in case of a catastrophic failure in their servers, and you pride yourself on your ability to restore their data quickly in an emergency.
If this is the type of business you run, then being casual and witty probably isn’t the best approach. Data loss is serious business. You’ll want to be professional, but accessible — you want to show them that you’re an expert in your field, without confusing them with jargon. You’ll also want to be calm and assertive, indicating that there’s no need for panic because you have the situation under control. The way you communicate with your customers will have a substantial effect on how much they trust you with their data and their money.
The Bottom Line
It’s hard to wrap your head around how much this stuff really matters, but here’s another way to think about it. In the 21st century, your company’s presence is going to be mostly online. Even if you’re just one tiny business, the chances that you, the owner, are going to be able to personally communicate with a meaningful number of your customers are slim.
That means that most of their interaction with your company, especially at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, will be with your website or social media pages — text and images that can’t react or interact. When they read the text on your site, you want them to have the same feeling that they would if they talked to you directly — you want them to understand what you do, how you can solve their problem, why you’re the best choice, and why they should trust you.
That’s what voice and tone is all about. It’s a way to extend your vision for who you are, what you do, and why you do it to the broader audience that you’ll need to grow your business. You can’t be everywhere at once, but if you codify a voice and tone, your brand can be.