Tone Deaf: What is tone of voice?

21 February 2018

Tone of voice (TOV) is an important part of your brand’s identity: its linguistic identity.  Many business owners find visual identity a bit easier to crack because creating a brand’s logo, website, packaging and marketing materials demand decisions on colour and shapes.  

But applying the same attention to what words are (or aren’t) used as part of a brand’s identity is something that often gets a little lost in translation.  At Brandality it’s not uncommon for clients to come to us with a brand that has a strong visual identity, but is missing a matching uniqueness in how it sounds.

We may live in an increasingly visual world, but the abundance of screens in our lives has, somewhat paradoxically, also increased the amount of text in front of us every day.  Transactions and interactions which were once mostly (or completely) verbal are now conducted over websites, apps, and self-scan terminals – think shopping, banking, choosing a holiday villa in Spain.  These platforms, and our brains, often don’t have the space for lots of words – choose them wisely!

The way a brand sounds is just as important as what it looks like.  There are a few major considerations when you’re getting started; if you’d like to know more, we’re only an email away.

Say the magic words…

What words apply to your brand?  Is it polite, a little bit “stiff upper lip”, very British?  Is it laid back, easygoing, relaxed and unconventional?  Or is it edgy and sarcastic?  When people read in silence, they might still hear the words in their minds – how do you want your brand to sound?

The descriptions you end up with for your brand will apply to everything that comes under its name.      When you’re engaging third parties to work with, a style guide that includes instruction on language, values and TOV as well as visual guidelines allows them to make sure everything they produce is an authentic fit with a brand.

Consistency = reassurance

Dates, times, numbers, sums of money…there are various ways to write these, but all equally correct.  It’s important to pick a style, and stick to it.  

Flipping between different styles is a bit like flipping between different fonts in the middle of a paragraph.  It’s visually and mentally jarring, looks unprofessional, and this discord won’t encourage trust.  It can also make your communications look like spam, rather than the real deal – little inconsistencies around brand names, email addresses, grammar and fonts are often what give spam emails away.

If your bank kept switching between “£1,000” and “£1000”, would this inspire you to trust them with your money?

Words to use

These aren’t just the things you say about your brand.  TOV develops by selecting the right kind of language across a range of synonyms, depending on what matches your brand’s identity.  

“Happy”, “elated”, “delighted” and “exceptionally pleased” all mean similar things, but they are all very different words.  What makes sense for your brand – sophisticated language, or accessible words?

Words to avoid

Just as important, a list of “what not to say” is invaluable to anyone who works on material for your brand.  For example, a very scientifically-driven pet food brand whose USP is the extensive clinical research behind the product would probably avoid twee language and the infantilisms that people often apply to pets – like “pussycats” or “puppers”.

Still not completely sure on your brand’s tone of voice? Contact us for a little more clarity.