A Simple Framework for Nailing Your Brand’s Voice and Tone. And Why You Need To.
Did you ever get into trouble as a kid? If so, you might still recall the sound of your parents’ voices when they reprimanded you. I know I do. Whether I was caught sneaking snacks without permission, or ducking outside to play before finishing my homework, I could easily tell whether my mom was slightly annoyed, disappointed or downright angry with me based on the tone of her voice.
Your audience gets similar vibes from your brand when they experience your content. Whether you’re promoting a sale, sharing a cheeky social post or making an urgent appeal to contribute to a worthy cause, your brand’s voice and tone will either resonate with your intended audience, fall flat or simply get lost among the hundreds of marketing messages people typically see every day. In a sea this noisy, your brand’s voice and tone are key components of bringing your content to life—and helping it make an impression with your audience.
We tend to relate to the same brand qualities we look for in people—kindness, honesty, authority, empathy. Brand voice and tone, when done well, give audiences a glimpse into a brand’s values and personality—and those characteristics help audiences determine whether or not they’re aligned.
And that’s become more important than ever. A recent survey found that 77% of respondents are skeptical of brands. Amidst all the noise in our many info channels, getting through to audiences—and winning their trust—is getting harder than ever.
A consistent and compelling brand voice can help you engage the right prospects, and it’s a critical part of an overall messaging roadmap and communications strategy. Here’s a simple framework we use within our content marketing agency to get brand voice and tone precisely nailed down and resonating with your audience.
First, describe your brand voice
Friendly. Down to earth. Professional. Authoritative. Helpful.
These are some of the common adjectives that come up when we work with clients on defining their brand voice. Whenever we get started with a new client, one of the first things we ask about is their brand guidelines. And if they haven’t yet defined their brand voice as part of those guidelines, that’s our number one step before any content is created.
Clearly defining your brand voice is essential for several reasons:
- It ensures your content accurately represents your brand
- It creates consistency in your content across your marketing assets and channels
- It addresses your audience in a way that shows recognition and understanding of their need
However you describe your brand voice, it should ultimately help your audience connect and engage with your brand by creating a connection that goes beyond the utility of your product or service and encompasses the entire customer experience.
Here are some of the core dimensions you’ll want to consider for your brand voice. We use this as an exercise with our clients:
|FORMAL VS CASUAL||FUNNY VS SERIOUS||RESPECTFUL VS IRREVERENT||MATTER-OF-FACT VS ENTHUSIASTIC|
|Should your brand voice be formal, neutral, or casual? Highlight up to 2 characteristics below.||Should your brand voice be serious, neutral, or funny? Highlight up to 2 characteristics below.||Should your brand voice be respectful, neutral, or irreverent? Highlight up to 2 characteristics below.||Should your brand voice be matter-of-fact, neutral, or enthusiastic? Highlight up to 2 characteristics below.|
Once you’ve selected the characteristics that best describe your brand voice (or what you want your brand voice to be), you can fill in the table below to begin exploring exactly what those characteristics mean (and don’t mean) when it comes to content.
For example, “funny” may mean that you tell family-friendly jokes on your channels from time to time, but it may not mean that you share content that could be construed as offensive in any way.
Similarly, “authoritative” could mean that you demonstrate authority by sharing knowledge and expertise, but it might not mean that you talk down to your audience.
|Your brand voice has these characteristics …||This means … (describe in your own words what that means for your brand)||But it’s NOT …||Do||Don’t|
Keep in mind that your brand’s voice should always align with your overall brand values and personality, and it also needs to jive with what your audience expects and responds to. To achieve this, it’s vital that you know exactly who you’re targeting with your messaging, and what your goals are for your content—on every channel.
Establish how and when you’ll vary your brand tone
It may be tempting to push the boundaries on your messaging—especially on your social channels. After all, literally thousands of posts are published every second on popular channels like Instagram and Facebook, and the chances of getting noticed organically have become slimmer over the last several years.
But if you search up “tone deaf marketing” you’ll find hundreds of examples of brands that have made bad judgment calls in their messaging just to get noticed, or that have jumped on a trend only to find that it doesn’t resonate with their audience—usually because the tone is so far off the mark.
While your brand’s tone can (and should) change based on the situation and the channel, it should never diverge from its core voice so much that it alienates audiences. You might, for example, address your email subscribers more casually than you would readers of your annual report, but you would likely never treat your audience like you would your best friend (unless that’s actually part of your brand voice).
The same goes for your social channels. Whether you’re building a following on TikTok or Threads, or sticking with more traditional channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn, you’ll need to have a solid understanding of where your content will end up and what tone people expect there. Social media captions on Instagram, for example, may take on a lighter, more casual tone than those written for LinkedIn.
This might all seem obvious, but truthfully, changing up your tone depending on the channel and the situation isn’t something that just happens naturally—especially if you have multiple people creating your content. Spelling out what tone goes where is essential for effective and cohesive messaging across the board.
Bringing voice and tone together
Once you’ve thoroughly defined your brand voice and tone, it’s important to capture all of the details in one central document, to ensure that anyone and everyone who creates content on behalf of your brand is clear on the distinctions they need to manifest in that content.
You can use this framework to capture all of the nuances. And be sure to add a column for every element of your voice and tone.
|Our voice is…||What this means…||But not …||Write like this…||But not like this…|
|<insert characteristic>||<explain how this will come across in your messaging>||<explain what not to do in your messaging>||<Provide an example of messaging that showcases this quality>||<Provide an example of messaging that misses the mark>|
More resources and inspiration
While you’ve likely come across many resources to help you develop your brand’s voice and tone, one of the best ways to get a handle on this is by following your favourite brands and observing their messaging. Make a note of what personality comes through, whether the voice is engaging and how their tone shifts channel by channel.
Some of the brands with the most well-known voice and tone include giants such as Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Redbull, Google and Coca-Cola. But smaller brands often do this well, too—especially those that have successfully carved their own niche and found a loyal following.
Reviewing others’ messaging—especially that of competitors in your industry—also serves as competitive analysis that can help you ensure your positioning is distinct and unique.
Some brands have made their voice and tone guidelines publicly available, and combing through them is a great way to get inspired and find an approach you can emulate and adapt. Some of our favourites include Mailchimp and Sprout Social.
Finally, before you get started on your own brand voice and tone guidelines, keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be set in stone. As your brand grows and evolves, you’ll want to review your voice and tone along the way—at least every year or so. That way, you can build on what works, and tweak what doesn’t based on what you learn through experimenting with content.
As you embark on defining your brand’s voice and tone, keep in mind that it’s not just about the words; it’s about creating an enduring impression that resonates with your audience—now and in the future.