When working with a new client, one of our first questions is: “Do you have a tone of voice guide that you can send us?”. 

We’re often directed to existing blog content instead to “get an idea” of the tone of voice from there.

What we tend to discover is an inconsistent tone of voice – unsurprising really, as the writers who have penned the content to date will also have been told to infer what tone to adopt and come up with their own, differing, interpretations.   

A recipe for misunderstanding

A lack of a defined tone of voice doesn’t just lead to consistency issues – in our experience, it can leave things open to subjectivity and personal interpretation, making the approval process more painful than it needs to be.

Writers are unable to truly get into the ‘headspace’ of the brand they’re writing on behalf of, increasing the likelihood of producing content which falls short of the client’s expectations.

While there’s an understanding that it can take a short time for an agency and brand to get ‘in sync’ with each other, that’s reliant on reading from the same hymn sheet. When this hymn sheet doesn’t exist… well, you can imagine where that can lead. Sometimes things find a way of working out, but it’s a bit of a roll of a dice when it doesn’t need to be.

Don’t leave it to chance

If you want great content that works for your brand, you can’t leave anything to chance.

Most businesses understand that and go to the effort of honing well-thought-out brand guidelines, including everything from font size and logo positioning to colour palette wheels and iconography. But for some strange reason, they stop short of documenting the rules around how to communicate in written form.

Why is tone of voice often simply forgotten about? Perhaps because it can be difficult to define – especially if you’ve just allowed your tone of voice to drift and define itself.

Or it might be a lack of appreciation for what a strong tone of voice can do for a brand. 

Principally, it can help you cut through the noise and connect with your audience. Applying your unique tone of voice across all touchpoints in the customer journey ensures consistency, which contributes to brand recognition.  

In a Sprout Social Index survey, three key reasons came up as to why some brands stand out more than others: 40% claimed it was ‘memorable content’, 33% noted a ‘distinct personality’ and 32% said it was ‘compelling storytelling’ that did it for them. In all of these aspects, a distinct and consistent tone of voice plays a crucial role. 

Tone of voice develops with you

The new year is a great opportunity to take a fresh look at all elements of your marketing strategy, including your tone of voice guide.

If you think you’ve missed the boat somewhat, think again. Creating a content style guide is an open-ended exercise. It grows as your understanding, clients, and business do.

So, whether you’re defining your tone of voice from scratch or refining how you communicate, there’s no better time than the present to go through the process of distilling your brand’s identity.

Before you begin to pose some existential questions about your brand, it’s well worth looking at some examples of a strong tone of voice:

·       THIS – 

Choosing a pronoun for your company name is a little risky and it can see you get tied up in knots with your tone of voice and copy – but THIS really makes it work. The brand has a lot of fun – they clearly think they’re hilarious and, to be fair to them, they do a decent job of walking the tightrope that is humour. Example: “We will only sell your data if someone offers us a REALLY decent price.”

·       Starbucks 

While not everyone is a fan of the coffee house, Starbucks offers all marketers a lesson in restraint with how it presents itself. It could do over the top on describing its tasty beverages – instead it keeps it simple and lets the images and its reputation for producing great coffee speak for itself. Example: “Discover the vibrant mix of Strawberry & Vanilla Oat Latte, the uplifting blend of Honey & Hazelnut Latte, or our luxurious Dark Cocoa & Orange Oat Latte.”

·       Old Spice  

The American grooming brand has been going since 1937 and is a great example of how to move with the times. In 2010, Old Spice underwent a total rebrand in order to shake off its reputation for being an “old people smell”. Its approach since has been one of witty humour, almost poking fun at its former self but in a way that connects with its new, younger target audience. Example: “Smell like a man, man.”

Take a step back

Defining the voice and tone of your brand can feel like going back to the drawing board in many ways. But it’s such an important exercise – that should be repeated every few years – which ensures you’re communicating effectively and consistently with your audience.

As a place to start, then, you need to make sure you understand your audience AND your brand. Having taken clients through this exercise, we often discover they are too involved with their own idea of their brand, forgetting that it’s the perceptions of their target audience that matter.

It’s for this reason that it can pay to have someone objective take charge of the exercise. Here at Q Content, we can help you develop your tone of voice guide as part of our content planning & strategy service.

Your tone of voice guide won’t only help inform your written copy but all of your scripted video content, helping to drive consistency and distinctiveness into the execution of your omnichannel marketing strategy.

Ben Hollom

January 14, 2022