This article is part of our “Business Startup Guide” – a curated list of our articles that will get you up and running in no time!
Crafting and identifying your brand’s tone of voice is essential to engaging your customers in a meaningful way. In fact, it’s the foundation for all of your marketing communications.
Branding is essentially about building a relationship with your customers. Your tone of voice establishes who you are and why a customer should buy your product or service.
The more engaging your tone of voice is, the more customers will feel compelled to learn about your company. The more consistent your tone of voice is, the more customers will trust that you’ll continue to offer valuable products or services.
Listen to Peter and Jonathan talk about Palo Alto Software’s tone of voice on the sixth episode of The Bcast, Bplan’s official podcast:
Click here to subscribe to The Bcast on iTunes »
Let’s take a look at what a brand’s tone of voice actually is, why it matters, and how to craft it.
What is a brand’s tone of voice?
Your brand’s tone of voice is how you communicate with the outside world. It includes all of your written marketing materials—from a printed flyer to a website.
Tone of voice is a reflection of your company’s personality, just as tone of voice is a reflection of your individual personality. Think of someone you know who is friendly. Their tone of voice is inviting, personable, and warm. Now think of someone who is a daredevil. Their tone of voice is strong, confident, and slightly aggressive. These individuals’ tone of voice helps you understand how to relate to them.
This is why it’s so important to get your company’s tone of voice right—so that your customers can relate to you in the way you want them to.
A company’s tone of voice is just the same. Here are some examples. Let’s think of Apple. Their “friendly genius” tone of voice is engaging, informal, and smart.
Now think of Harley-Davidson. Their tone of voice is rebellious, bold, and fiercely independent. Just take a look at this promotional image:
See the difference?
Why does a brand’s tone of voice matter?
Imagine Harley-Davidson sent an e-blast to their loyal customers with the headline, “We cordially invite you to visit our showroom.” The stiff, formal, and overly polite tone of voice would confuse you, right?
Something like, “Claim your independence. Grab a Harley by the handle bars today,” would be much more in line with the tone of voice that you’d expect from Harley-Davidson.
So how do you determine the right tone of voice for your brand?
The first step in determining the right tone of voice for your brand is to know your origin story—basically the reason your company came into existence.
Knowing your origin story will help you find your brand’s tone of voice.
Let’s think about Nike:
Phil Knight was a track runner at the University of Oregon. He was frustrated by the lack of a running shoe that would support his feet and help him perform his best.
Together with Bill Bowerman, the track coach at the University of Oregon, they created the famous “waffle iron” sole. This sole dramatically enhanced a runner’s ability to run fast and avoid injury.
So, Nike’s origin story is about top athletic performance. No wonder the Nike tone of voice is competitive, inspiring, and confident. That’s the power of knowing your origin story.
Once you identify your origin story, think about your brand as an actual person. If your brand were to walk in the room, what celebrity would it be? Michael Jordan? Julia Child? George Clooney?
Now imagine your brand as a body of water. Would it be a rushing river? Or would it be an elegant marble fountain? If your brand were a shirt, would it be a plaid flannel shirt? Or would it be an Oxford button-down?
The more you can envision your brand in full Technicolor, the more you’ll have a clear sense of what tone of voice makes sense to have.
Once you have your brand’s tone of voice, then what?
Congratulations! You’ve identified your brand’s tone of voice. Now what?
Be consistent! If your brand’s tone of voice is nurturing, make sure all of your communications soothe and comfort your reader.
If your brand’s tone of voice is highly professional, make sure your marketing language is poised and polished.
If you need more help identifying your brand’s tone of voice, take the Brand Genie quiz. In just twelve questions the Brand Genie will reveal what brand, including your tone of voice, you should be.