What Is Tone of Voice?

What is tone of voice?

Speak in your customers’ language – and win their business!

It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.  When it comes to getting your message across, we all know the truth of that.  Even a dog knows, by your tone of voice, whether you’re pleased or angry with him.  So its importance in business communications is paramount.

The problem is, though, that tone of voice refers mainly to the spoken word, whilst most business communication, at least in the early stages of a relationship, is in writing, whether it be in the form of a website, email or print advertisement.

What is tone of voice?

Put simply, tone of voice in business communications has to do with presentation as opposed to content.  Information can be presented in a dry, factual way – and there are times when it is appropriate to do so – but generally speaking you want to appeal to, persuade and impress your clients, and that means putting some emotion into your message.

Content without tone of voice is like Stephen Hawkins using a throat mike.  You hear the words without any inflection – so it’s hard to tell whether he’s making a statement or telling a joke.  Similarly with the written word.

Why is tone of voice important?

You know the importance of building a brand.  Developing a distinctive tone of voice is a key part of that.  It reveals your brand personality, your commitment to and passion about what you do.  It shows you share your clients’ interests and concerns and helps builds a rapport with them.

It is perhaps no surprise that some of the most strongly branded companies have the stamp of their founder on them.  Think of Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.  Their personalities permeate and colour people’s perception of their companies They reflect their personal style and the tone of voice they use in their communications.  All of which leads to market differentiation in a competitive environment.

What should your tone of voice be?

The tone of voice you adopt should be appropriate to the nature of your business.  Do you go to the office in collar and tie or tee shirt and baseball cap?  If you’re a financial institution your tone of voice would likely be formal and authoritative.  If you’re a soft drink manufacturer, you’d probably be more informal or even humorous in your approach.

For example, take the legal statement that appears on every website.  A cookie notification.  Here are two examples:

This website uses cookies to improve the website and your experience.  By continuing to browse this website you are agreeing to our use of cookies.  If you require further information or do not wish to accept cookies when using this website, please visit our Policy on the Use of Cookies.

We use cookies on this website, OK?  They make for a smoother ride.  If you want to go right on browsing, tap the tab.  If not, don’t.  For more info on this follow the link.

Both say much the same thing, but each speaks in the language of its audience, one formal, the other informal.  Incidentally, don’t try to be something you’re not.  A financial institution that uses street slang to reach a young audience would be like dad dancing – embarrassing and counterproductive.

Having said that, it is possible to strike a balance between credibility and approachability.  One way to do that is to involve the customer in the conversation with the use of personal pronouns.  In recent ads, British Gas talk about ‘Looking after your world’ and Nationwide talk about being ‘On your side’.  Being customer focused takes away some of the remoteness of these institutions without sacrificing anything in the way of dignity or seriousness of purpose.

Tone of voice is not just words

As we’ve said already, tone of voice is just one element of a company’s brand personality, and one that a professional copywriter can help you perfect. We live, however, in an increasingly visual age where information – especially on the web – is more commonly presented in pictorial or graphic form. 

So the look of a website – plain and restrained or colourful and busy – is as much a part of a company’s tone of voice as its text.  The two need to be complementary, which is a good argument for employing a full service agency where copywriters, web developers and graphic designers work together as a team.

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