In our everyday interactions, everything we do and say leaves a certain impression on the person we communicate with. These impressions play a central role in forming our interpersonal relationships. Pretty much the same principle applies to the business world. Each impression a company makes on their audience of prospects and existing customers can either make or break a business relationship.
Much of this communication between businesses and customers happens in the written form. Here, how your company communicates makes all the difference to the impression it leaves. And by how, we mean the tone of your written voice.
In the following paragraphs we will examine the role tone of voice plays in a brand’s communication with prospects and offer a practical way to shape the desired tone.
Understanding the difference between voice and tone of voice
In order for all the brand’s communications to have a unified character, it is necessary to put some conscious effort into creating brand voice. A well-defined voice ensures that the content in various media sounds and feels like it’s coming from a common source and it enables you to create and consistently tell your brand’s story.
Honesty and consistency of brand voice inspire trust and give brands authority in the marketplace. Similarly, inconsistent voice makes brand messaging sound conflicting and self-contradictory, filling audiences’ minds with dissonance, even on a subconscious level.
While brand voice should remain constant among team members and in all media forms, your tone of voice can vary, depending on the context and purpose. Your voice communicates your brand’s character and mission statement, but your tone of voice conveys a variety of feelings – depending on who you’re talking to.
When and how does tone of voice change?
Throughout life, a person’s personality stays pretty much constant. In the same way, brand voice, which embodies a brand’s personality, also stays constant. However, the way a person communicates their personality often changes depending on different stages and events of life, as well as the persons they deal with.
Just think about how you might speak differently to a child than you would to a spouse. Your character is the same, but your audience is not, and this requires a change in the tone of voice. Pretty much the same principle applies to brand voice: it changes depending on the audience, the kind of relationship a brand has with a particular audience, and depending on the channel communication is being conducted through.
#1. Depending on the audience
Think about a company that sells children’s shoes, for example. Their purchasers and users are not the same person, but their products have to relate to both. To achieve this, they will use different tones when speaking to parents and when speaking to children.
A change in tone can also occur in response to the feelings of an audience. For instance, someone selling funeral services will want to avoid a bubbly, happy-go-lucky attitude while dealing with grieving families.
#2. Depending on the relationship
The tone of voice your company uses might depend on the relationship between the customer and the brand. A tone used with clients just beginning to learn about your brand will sound different from the tone used to communicate with customers who are in the middle and final stages of the sales cycle.
Moreover, a company providing service after the sale will likely choose to use different tones of voice when dealing with satisfied customers than when it deals with clients that have experienced problems.
#3. Depending on the channel
Different media require different ways of communicating. For example, your brand will communicate differently through social media outlets than it will through product manuals or advertisements.
How to practically approach defining tone of voice?
Now that you understand how your tone of voice changes, but your voice remains the same, you need to know how to manage the tone of voice of your brand.
#1. Begin with values:
There are many simple exercises that can help you define or discover your brand’s core values. Imagine for a moment that your brand is a person. What is this person like? Go ahead and try to define three keywords that would best describe your brand’s personality.
#2. Convert values to writing style:
Now take these keywords and think how you would translate them into a writing style that you would use to address a very particular audience. Here are some questions that can guide you:
- Are you going to use more formal or more informal language?
(A serious, important audience might appreciate formal language while vibrant, young people might respond better to everyday speech.)
- Which word choice will best reflect the brand personality?
- What type of words should and shouldn’t be used?
- Will everyone in your target audience understand the words you’re planning to use?
- Are there any complex words that you could substitute with more simple ones without losing nuances of meaning?
- How are you going to construct sentences?
- Are you going to use contractions?
- How are you going to use punctuation?
#3. Create a template:
After you address all these points, you’re ready to create a template your team members can use to gain a clear understanding of what you expect from them. Make sure the template contains a writing sample, rather than a bunch of rules that someone less grammar savvy might have trouble understanding.
You can repeat this process for each of your target audiences so you can consistently and appropriately address each one of them, based on relationship and context.
You must carefully make decisions about the tone of voice used by your brand because it reflects the values and personalities of your company. Now that you have a framework for shaping your brand’s tone of voice that will help you effectively communicate with your prospects and customers throughout the sales cycle and beyond.
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