Defining your tone of voice

Friday, September 06, 2013

Here is the next in our collection of Digital Marketing for Professional Services blogs, this time we are talking about tone of voice and how to find yours.

The tone of your public voice is important because it drives your brand, your public image, and the types of people who connect with you. Defining it is not as difficult as it seems.

People get hung up on defining their tone of voice, because it is not only an abstract concept, but one that our teachers attempted to drill into us during English classes. So rather than talk about it in terms of tone necessarily, I’ll address it in terms of levels of formality.

The tone that you project will vary according to what you are doing. Your website as a whole will need to be more formal than your blog. Your email newsletters can be personal, and your quotes - depending on your clientele - may require a little more formal panache. In short, how you write depends on your purpose and your audience.

The golden rule to defining your tone of voice, is defining the personality of your corporate culture or business. If you have a look through different websites, you’ll find different things. Virgin is well-branded, independent, cheeky, but still with a sense of formal authority. And on the flipside, Innocent Drinks is fun, funky, informal, and direct.

Now, once you’ve nailed what sort of personality you think your business has, start brainstorming out some key words.

If your business’s personality is one of independence, then the key terms you are looking for are strong, independent, capable, happy, unique. Depending on your industry, you might go so far as to include ‘weird’ in your key words.

Next, think about your target audience. All audiences react differently. A retailer with a strong sense of independence might also be weird; it would not be so bad for a circus shop, but it would be the totally wrong impression for an accountant to make. Unless, maybe, the accountant works primarily in circus arts!

So, how does all of this relate to your tone of voice, you might be wondering. It seems rather odd. Well, it does until you sit down to write. What the above has forced you to do is to look at your key audience.

The trick to being consistent in what you write, and the tone in which you do so, comes down to having a very clear picture in your mind of the person to whom you are writing. Just one person. You are not writing for an entire market: select one reader to write to.

Now, from the perspective of your business (your key words above), write something that you need to write; let’s say, a blog for your website. Write it with your one person in mind, and write it to this person.

One of the greatest secrets to writing well is writing as though you and the one recipient are the only people who will ever see it. Your writing will naturally come to life, because it will not be hampered by all of your worries about ‘doing it right’.

When you read back over your piece, you will be surprised at what you have been able to achieve. When you are aware of your audience and the personality you wish to express, elements like appropriate word choice will come to you naturally.

The other key thing to remember is that cementing your tone of voice does not happen overnight. You need to write a lot to find that sometimes elusive space, and then use it consistently.