It’s not just what you say but how you say it – developing your tone of voice

Creating a brand isn’t just about getting the visuals right. The words you use and the tone of voice in your copy should also reflect and complement your Your tone of voice can help you stand out from the crowdbrand identity, so that your customers are better able to pick your voice out from the crowd. Below, I’ve put together my top tips for creating a copywriting tone of voice:

1. Start with your brand

Before you can come up with a strong, effective tone of voice, it’s important to think about your brand. What does it stand for? What makes it different from other brands? What colours do you use? What does your logo say about you? How do you want to be viewed by your customers and your competitors?

At this stage, write everything down – brainstorm ideas and see if you can identify any patterns or key values you want to communicate.

If yours is an established business, read back through your marketing materials. Where are you chatty? Where are you more formal? What style better reflects your brand values? Can you find an example of a piece of marketing you’ve done that really struck a chord with your customers? What made it different?

Questions, questions!

2. Know your customers

Creating the right tone of voice, one that will resonate with your ideal customer, means getting to grips with who they are and what they expect.

Some audiences will want a traditional, even formal, approach – no sentences starting with ‘And’ or ‘But’, for example – while others will be comfortable with a much chattier tone of voice. Reading what your target audience reads, e.g. journals, magazines, print adverts, newspapers, etc. can give you a helpful steer on this.

If you’re writing for a market with less formal expectations, you can have fun breaking some grammatical rules – use fragments, start sentences with ‘And’, end them with prepositions, write paragraphs that are only one sentence long. Mix things up a bit. It’s all part of establishing your tone of voice.

3. Look at your competitors

Although I think it’s important to understand your competitors, it’s equally important that you retain some distance from them so that you create a tone of voice that is unique to your business. You don’t want to be a carbon copy of what someone else is already doing, even if they’re doing it well. It’s a fine line to walk.

That being said, it is worth taking a look at your main competitors. What and how do they write? How does it sound? What do they do well? What are they bad at? What makes them different from everyone else? How does their tone of voice compare to yours?

You can use all these questions within the context of how to differentiate your business or getting to grips with your customers’ expectations.

4. Talk about your tone of voice

Your tone of voice is partly what communicates your brand identity and personality, and you’re not just talking into the void (or you certainly shouldn’t be!). If you have other team members, ask them what the brand means to them and find out if the same words keep coming up.

You could always ask your customers too. Think about sending them a ‘Thank you for your custom’ email with a short survey asking, “Which adjective do you think best describes our brand?” You could give a short list of options (don’t overwhelm them with too many) and ask them to choose one.

5. Be inspired by your core values

Be adventurous with your tone of voiceIf you want to create a tone of voice that tells people yours is a bold, adventurous brand, then use strong, bold words with lots of pace, short sentences, daring grammatical moves. Appeal to your customers’ senses and make them feel exhilarated.

Perhaps you want to let your customers know that you provide a friendly, caring setting for your services? You should use words that are warm, reassuring, that communicate empathy and understanding. Try to steer clear of swear words, exclamation marks and colloquialisms – you want people to trust you that they’re in calm, safe hands.

Now, if yours is a premium brand, you can afford to use longer, flowing sentences with lots of descriptive words and less emphasis on action. After all, you don’t want your customers to feel rushed or harried in any way. When it comes to features, keep the details to a minimum. Instead, make the readers feel, invite them into an experience and show them how their life will look with your product or service in it.

6. A tone of voice evolves

A useful exercise is to take an existing piece of marketing copy and rewrite it with your tone of voice in mind. You could always put a crib sheet above your desk with three or four key reminders, e.g. Use ‘you’, then ‘we’ and ‘us’, or ‘use short, snappy sentences’ or so on.

The more you write and experiment with how you say what you have to say, the more a clear tone of voice will emerge. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Trust me, you’ll know it when you hear it.

7. Be authentic

I think the most important thing when creating a tone of voice for your copy is to be authentic. Don’t try to be too clever or feel that you have to pack tonal words into every sentence – it will just feel forced and contrived, which will turn your customers away in droves.

Be human, make a connection because it’s that connection – recognising something they like in your tone of voice – that will help you create a lasting relationship with your customers.


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Photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien via photopin cc

Photo credit: Zach Dischner via photopin cc

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