Everybody says you should be consistent and talk to your customers in your unique tone of voice. But how to find it? This is what we’ll talk about.

This guide will be useful for brand marketers, social media managers, copywriters, and, to some extent, content designers.

What Is Tone of Voice?

Before creating a marketing copy, landing page texts, localising your app’s interfaces, and coming up with support scripts, it’s worth developing how exactly those texts should sound.

Bet you agree that this is odd when a business sounds friendly and even cheeky on their Instagram and then replies using an official formal language in their customer support emails. The tone of voice defines the company’s values.

Consistent communication is vital – your customers should ‘hear’ the same voice when talking to your brand or product. This consistency should be seen not only in the brand’s visual communication, such as fonts or colours, but also in their copies.

💡Suggested read: Come up with appealing visuals for Instagram even if you're not a designer

Designers realise the importance of this consistency; this is why visual communication is often the first thing brands work on the right from the start, thinking about how the brand should look, yet forgetting about how the brand should sound.

What Influences Tone of Voice?

Multiple things influence how your product or brand sounds. From the linguistic perspective, here are to name a few:

  • Word choice. Depending on the words you select, your communication style can be formal, official, friendly, casual, ironic, funny, inspiring, admiring, respectful, flirting, or any other adjective you can think of.
  • Length of words and phrases.
  • Parts of speech. Do you want to use multiple adjectives, pronouns, or adverbs?

Take a look at Apple’s description of a new MacBook:

Apple uses loads of adjectives, creating an inspiring tone.
  • Grammar and syntax. Are these complex compound sentences or simple ones? Or are these just short phrases?

Voice & Tone: Difference

There’s typically confusion between the two terms. Yet these are not synonymous. If you see this distinction, this is undoubtedly a step toward your brand’s recognition and a pleasant customer experience.

Voice is a part of a brand’s personality that defines the mood or attitude that your customers get when interacting with your product. This is the gut feeling that your customers have about your company or product.

The voice is consistent throughout all channels and platforms, regardless of the subject matter or occasion.

Tone partly refers to the mood as well, but unlike the voice, it’s contextual. That said, it varies depending on what you’re writing about. Besides, depending on the emotion you’re trying to convey, your tone should and will be different.

Why Bother Creating Tone of Voice

Regardless of your company’s size, niche, industry, or product, the words you choose and the emotions you convey when your customers interact with your business are vital.

Here are the reasons why you should come up with your tone of voice.

1. Streamline the content creation process

Many people create content in companies. This typically happens in big corporations, but in smaller companies, there is usually more than one person who creates written content for blogs, social media, interfaces, help centres, and support emails. This is why those marketing assets may sound different.

Creating guidelines as a reference for writers would be an option to avoid inconsistencies in written communication.

⚡️Tip: To make your Instagram content planning and publishing more convenient, use Combin Scheduler, a free Instagram posts and stories planner. It allows you to automatically share feed posts, stories (even bulk upload is available), and reposts.

Scheduling your content in advance will also contribute to the building of your tone of voice. When you see all your posts in one place, you can easily estimate if they all look and sound consistent.

2. Boost brand recognition

A formal set of guidelines and rules around the way you talk to your customers helps you build consistency in your messaging and make your brand sound as, well, your brand.

3. Increase brand loyalty

When people see that your brand sounds similar all the time regardless of touchpoints and channels, it feels like your brand is a human, helping your audience feel connected to your company. This provides a more personal level of connection between the business and its clientele.

What Tones of Voice Are There at All? With Examples

Let’s start with these simple and obvious extremes of how your  tone of voice can be coloured.

Funny – Serious

Humour helps you remember the information and details from a message and makes your audience feel connected to the product, but it isn’t always the right choice for everyone. Some niches like medicine are not always tolerant of jokes. The trick is to know your audience well to be aware of what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Such niches as marketing are a perfect field for being funny. And Mailchimp exploits this a lot. This email marketing automatisation platform knows its audience loves this communication tone and isn’t scared to joke even in their error messages.

If you tap on the horse that is on the 404 page of Mailchimp, you’ll be redirected to the HorseSnake game. This is part of Mailchimp’s tone of voice. 

A serious tone gives your brand status but is weaker when it comes to emotions. Forbes is an example of a brand with a serious tone. Their tone helps them maintain the image of a credible information source, even if the topic is not entirely serious. And it pays off – many people trust Forbes and use their articles as credible references.

Formal – Casual

Formal tone focuses on the rational, not emotional. Brands that talk to their clients in a fomal tone, don't use slang words and often sound bookish.

An example of a formal tone is Bank of America.

Let’s take Revolut as an example of a casual tone. Revolut is a UK fintech company and a bank that talks to their customers as friends, using simple words and casual language. Through their tone of voice, Revolut shares its mission and values – showing that banking is not necessarily complicated; it can be simple and even fun.

💡We have covered Revolut's Instagram marketing in our blog and talked more specifically about their ToV, so check it out if you're interested.

Respectful – Irreverent

We all love being respected. When you respect someone, they are more willing to interact with something you have to offer. What seems complicated about building a respectful tone of voice is not to become ingratiating.

One of the examples of these respectful brands is Uber. The company talks to its customers calmly and considerately at each touchpoint.

An irreverent tone of voice has the power to stand out from serious competitors. One of such brands that use an expressive and irreverent tone is Starbucks. The expressive voice is used to tell a passionate coffee story wherever it’s possible.

Enthusiastic – Matter-of-fact

An enthusiastic and engaging tone invokes emotions. Netflix exploits this tone to communicate with its audience within the applications and on social media channels. Netflix loves stories; they publish funny leads to TV series and movies, share engaging posts, and leverage real-time marketing and funny CTAs.

A matter-of-fact tone is something completely different. Banks and premium brands love to sound like this.

We’ve touched on Revolut earlier in this piece. Now let’s take the UBS bank as an example that sounds restrained. They use nothing extra in their messaging, barely an emotion at all.

The 404 page of the bank. They sound calm and restrained. Yet on top of the page, they used the casual ‘oops…’, which looks a bit inconsistent with the rest of the written communication.

How to Create a Tone of Voice for Your Brand

In an ideal world, tone of voice is built along with the product. Like, at the actual beginning – when you’re creating the brand platform.

The brand platform is the basics that you should start with when coming up with the product or company concept. In your brand platform (which can be a simple Google document or a Notion page), you define your brand’s values, missions, objectives, unique selling proposition, why it’s useful for your potential customers, communication guidelines, etc.

The idea is to be consistent (yes, we know this sounds annoying already) and to compare your further ideas with the platform as the main reference. If the new concept corresponds to the brand platform, it can be implemented. If not, it’s better to disregard it.

In other words, a brand platform is a strategic benchmark for marketers, brand managers, product managers, copywriters, and designers.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. And many brands don’t make the brand platform at the beginning. Which is fine. If you’ve realised the importance of making the tone of voice at whichever stage you’re currently at, it’s a step in the right direction.

So this is your practical guide on how to come up with the tone of voice.

We've taken the liberty of excluding the importance of knowing your target audience from this list because we believe it's obvious enough.

  1. Imagine your brand is a person

Here’s an exercise for you: describe your brand as though it’s a human. Humans do have both pleasant and unpleasant traits; they can be provocative, shy, categorical, stubborn, easy-going, cynical – this list can go on and on.

Simply put, think through which personality you want your brand to possess. This will help you create a unique hard-to-copy tone of voice.

Then describe your brand’s ‘personality’ in one sentence.

2. Use We’re…, but not… exercise

This old but gold trick helps you define the extremes of your brand’s personality. This exercise helps you define how you can and cannot sound. Come up with multiple sentences like these below, and you’ll have a base for your tone of voice.

An example of this approach

3. Create a glossary

Consistent voice and tone are often built when the same words or phrases are used. And though it’s especially important for interfaces microcopy, building a glossary with terms and phrases for marketing messaging is equally vital. With such a bank of words that will be available across your entire company, you will make sure that even if different writers create a copy, it will correspond to your brand’s other messages.

4. Create content guidelines

It can be a Notion page where all your specifics are stated. There, you list what you do and what you can’t do regarding your communication. You can include specific words to avoid, set punctuation and spelling rules, define the capitalisation standards, etc.

Here are the content guidelines that well-known brands create for their communications:

⚡️Mailchimp’s Content Style Guide

⚡️IKEA’s Tone of Voice

⚡️Apple's Style Guide

⚡️Emory University’s Voice and Tone Guide

Tone of Voice Guidelines Created. Now What?

After you create your guidelines, you can’t just place them on a shelf and call it a day. To make sure you haven't done this job in vain, share the guidelines with your team and explain why they are important. Or you can share this article instead 🙃

Include these guidelines in the onboarding for your new writers and those who will be responsible for brand messaging. You surely have some project management tools that your whole team uses – Slack, Notion, Confluence, or alike: publish the guidelines in your knowledge base so that all employees can access them whenever needed.

And don’t forget to keep them updated! Creating the guidelines is just part of the process; to ensure they work and match your current positioning, keep them up-to-date.