What is tone of voice (TOV)?

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What is tone of voice (TOV)?

Pete
June 2021
Public address system with three black speakers set against a grey background

Tone of voice is something every B2B brand needs to define. 

Tone of voice (or TOV) is about how you say something rather than what you are saying. In business, tone of voice covers both the spoken and the written word but, largely, it relates to the content a company produces – for face-to-face, online and offline. Content such as videos, podcasts, presentations and their scripts and storyboards are also included.

TOV is concerned with how you express your company’s values. For example, you might be a retailer of children’s clothes, but you are really selling your practicality, style and value.

Why is a consistent tone of voice important?

As the saying goes, it’s not what you do, but how you do it. For a good TOV, best practice dictates that, whatever your product or service, your tone of voice needs to communicate what you do and why you do it, consistently, and in such a way that your audience connects instantly with your values and culture. 

A consistent tone of voice builds trust with your audience. Having the same TOV across all touchpoints that your audience has with your brand reinforces your reliability. This builds a sense of familiarity – what they read and see makes them feel at ease as they know what to expect from you.

Brand tone of voice: why it needs to be unique

Brand consistency is essential. Your tone of voice must also be distinctive, recognisable, and unique. Why? Because the world of business is crowded with brands, all clamouring to be heard. But a unique tone of voice helps you stand out from the rest as it gives your brand its personality and identity. 

Construction industry buyers will purchase bricks from HeidelbergCement subsidiary, Hanson UK, because they are buying quality building materials from a company with a strong heritage – Hanson acquired the long-established London Brick Company in 1984. The value proposition sets Hanson apart and is likely to be a strong factor when the decision is made to buy its bricks in preference to another, possibly cheaper, competitor’s.

Innocent Drinks’ smoothie is more than a fruit juice; it represents a healthy food experience in a bottle. The brand’s cheeky yet authentic TOV has helped turn the company into a multi-million-pound business. They have their own YouTube channel, and keep their customers, who they converse with as friends, up to date with all-things Innocent. 

Tech products have a tone of voice, too

Mailchimp has a cute name and logo but, to most of us, it’s not the most exciting of services. It’s an email platform. What sells Mailchimp is its personality, which it conveys through a chatty TOV on social media that reinforces its friendly personality.

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly frivolous exterior, however; underlying the informal tone is a serious business offering. Mailchimp sends out colossal amounts of emails all day, every day. Handling high volumes of personal data is a big responsibility and Mailchimp’s chirpy TOV still shows that it does, in fact, take this very seriously.

At the click of one button with a shaky finger, a Mailchimp user is making the – if you were to stop and think about it – unnerving decision to hand all their business or personal contact data across to Mailchimp.

But, by providing a string of reassuring and informal instructions along the way, the company subtly uses its TOV to takes you painlessly through the (in reality very complex) system and reassures you that it understands your feelings of trepidation. 

Tone of voice guidelines: defining and developing yours

Mailchimp publishes its own TOV guidelines online. Though aimed at the company’s workforce, these guidelines allow Mailchimp users – and interested parties like ourselves – to see how they define TOV, and what it means for their brand and customers. 

Tone of voice guidelines are useful for every brand because they crystallise in one shareable document how a brand defines itself, how it wants to be recognised by its audience, and how to make itself understood by its audience. 

The process of creating guidelines for your brand can help your workforce to speak with one voice, strengthening your message and content, and making it more memorable in the minds of your audience. Only when a brand speaks in one, clear, unique tone of voice can it begin to build connections, relationships and trust with its users, customers, or clients.  

So how do you define and develop your tone of voice and compress it into a guidelines document?

Firstly, get to know your audience. If you think you already know your audience, get to know them better. Research who they are, what makes them tick, and what they are content they are consuming, and where. From here, you can learn how they talk and how they like to be spoken to. You could also ask existing customers to describe your brand for you. Conduct interviews and surveys to source this information. 

Secondly, identify your brand ethos and core values. From here, define your tone of voice. What do you want to say and how do you want to say it? Keep your audience in mind. 

Thirdly, audit your content across your website and all marketing channels. Are you speaking in this tone of voice? If you’re not, now is the time to create and develop a tone of voice guidelines document to keep everyone on the same page, especially those responsible for writing and promoting brand content. Once created, make sure the guidelines are enforced and include concrete examples to demystify any jargon – the guidelines won’t be used or understood if the explanations and arguments within it are too abstract. 

Copestone’s approach to tone of voice

Many of our clients are B2B, a sector where services, solutions, products and major capital projects are the proposition. Through our strategic development and writing process, we help to shape and clarify the TOV. 

A financial services client might look for our help in producing collateral to sell its offshore domiciliation services, but what it is really offering clients is expertise, reliability, security, and convenience. And, in this context, probably discretion as well. Similarly, a construction company, on the face of it, is all about heavy machinery or bricks and mortar. But the content it publishes needs to convey the planning, creativity, safety, time saving and technical expertise that supports every project.

Interweaving your TOV into your copy is usually a seamless process of which you, the client, may not be overly aware. From our existing sector and brand experience and expertise, then through interviewing your people, reading existing company information and researching the sector, our editorial team will create your TOV so that it really ‘says’ who you are.

Shaping your brand’s tone of voice

If you haven’t yet thought about the that message your TOV is sending to your audiences, then begin to think about it. We can review your existing TOV, or help you develop a unique TOV for your organisation that leaves your audiences in no doubt about what you do and why.

What can we do for you?

For a no obligation discussion about how we can help you meet your marketing and communication objectives call or email us.

+44 (0) 20 7100 4460 mail@copestone.uk.com

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