Voice vs. Tone and Your Brand
You’ve read the first part of the series on why you should create a brand narrative and what it can help you achieve. In that article I presented a series of questions that every brand should answer:
- Who founded the company and why?
- At what point did the idea strike him or her that they could market the product or service you sell?
- What problem within the marketplace did they think your brand could solve?
- Who were they trying to help?
- What trials and tribulations did they overcome to bring the business idea to fruition and how have they developed and grown that business to what it is today?
- Off the back of that, what does the business stand for today and how is it putting the weight of that history and the original mission to work for its current customers and what it wants to do in the future?
Hopefully, you have clear and concise answers to those questions, but conveying those answers in a way that captivates your audience will take a bit more finesse than just putting words to screen.
Getting the tone of voice right
In order to connect with the right audience, you need to communicate with them in a way that feels natural to them and also engenders the emotional response you want - and projects your brand values. Nothing is more off-putting than a lifestyle brand that tells you it's fun and ‘edgy’ while using heavily corporate language. Nobody would trust a bank that tried to convince you your money was safe in its hands while speaking to you in the voice of a 16-year-old YouTube star using emoticons and abbreviations.
Clearly, the tone of voice you use to tell your brand story is crucial, and to get it right you first need to define your voice, which will convey your brand personality.
Start by answering a set of questions about the people to whom you’re speaking:
- what is your current audience?
- what is your desired audience?
- what do they need you to be in order to trust you?
- what do they need you to be in order to notice you in a crowded marketplace?
Once you understand what your brand needs to be in order to reach the right market, you want to create guidelines to define your brand voice. The Gather Content site provides a handy tool to help you create those guidelines:
You need to begin by brainstorming a series of words that you feel describe your brand, and a series of words that you feel definitely do not describe your brand.
For example, if you are a recruitment firm, you may want to be ‘helpful, approachable, hard-working, expert, professional, confident and motivated.’ You might say you are never ‘corporate, unsure, insincere, cold or pushy’. Making use of the model you might then say:
- Our voice is approachable, never cold. We want to people to understand that we genuinely care about them and their next career move.
- Write like this “We want to understand exactly what you want to get from your next job - what excites you and what motivates you to get out of bed.”
- Not like this “When you upload your CV and job requirements we will match you with what we feel are the most relevant positions on our database.”
- Why? Because at its heart, our business is about helping people and the work we do can make a real difference in their quality of life, so it’s important that we let them know that’s the thing that motivates us to do a great job.
Once you have your voice guidelines you need to think about tone - which is the ‘mood’ of your content.
You will likely need to alter your tone to match the requirements of the platform. For example, your website and LinkedIn tone may be serious, whereas your tone on Facebook and Twitter might be outgoing and upbeat. You might want to be fairly formal on your website, but conversational on your blog. You may want to keep your website professional, with no abbreviations or contractions, but use them on social media, where the tone is less formal.
When you start to shape your brand story you need to think about the different platforms you use and the different ways you intend to tell your story - from your About Us page, to the content you write on your blog, to the testimonials and case studies you promote, to your PR activities - and ensure that you have a singular voice, no matter the tone of the content.
You also need to ensure that the tone is consistent and correct for the platform. You wouldn’t want to be formal at times and then light-hearted and conversational at times, depending on who is posting to your Facebook page - it will confuse people.
An Example - Chipotle
At the moment, Chipotle may be making headlines for all the wrong reasons (an E Coli outbreak in the U.S.), but its brand voice will go a long way to helping the company overcome the negative media and to recovering its faithful audience.
Chipotle has built a brand voice around being community-focused and people-focused, using healthy ingredients that have been ethically sourced. Its website’s About Us page is called “Food with Integrity” and showcases bold, bright, colourful imagery of ingredients, of farms, of people.
When it comes to itswebsite, the content is simple, to the point, friendly, and jargon-free.
Its social profile, although it still focuses on food, on people and on the freshness, is a lot more playful. The imagery remains bright and colourful and focused on the ingredients:
Your tone of voice guidelines should be clear about both your voice and the different mood you want to convey depending on the platform and the type of content.
Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to begin crafting the narrative.
In part 3 we’ll look at how you create the narrative you share internally to ensure that your external narrative is on target.