How to define your brand's Tone of Voice

Elephant at sunrise, by Andy Brunner

Elephant at sunrise, by Andy Brunner

Is your company more…

  • "Rock up to the breakfast bar and ask for a tequila sunrise to kickstart your day";

  • or "Rise before dawn for a chance to spot elephants walking right past the huts";

  • or perhaps, "As the skies transform from inky black to energising blue, you’ll feel your spirits soar as you join fellow travellers for a sunrise salutation at the water’s edge."

Three different ways to start the day – and three completely different writing styles. But unless you’ve defined your brand’s Tone of Voice, you could easily find all three of these on your website – thoroughly confusing your potential customer.

What your Tone of Voice tells customers is who you are and if you’re right for them. It’s as important to your brand as your logo and design. Yet chances are your company spent huge sums of money and time on its logo and design, yet has done nothing to define its Tone of Voice.

Why it matters

Without a defined Tone of Voice, when Jane writes for your website, she’ll use her own style, and when Mark writes, he’ll use his. And while some variation in personality from each writer is fine – and often desirable - they need guidelines to ensure that they seem part of your brand’s family, not just random hackers who have taken over your site.

Professional journalists and copywriters are dab hands at discerning and adapting their styles to different publications. But in far too many cases, companies don't use professionals.

Instead, they ask members of staff to write different bits for their websites, social media and customer communications. That makes having a Tone of Voice guide even more important. People who rarely write anything other than WhatsApps aren’t likely to understand how you want your brand presented online.

This step-by-step guide should help you identify your brand's Tone of Voice.

Sunrise yoga by Farsai C

Sunrise yoga by Farsai C

1.       Define your audience

Who are you talking to? No brand – not even Coca-cola or Google – targets everyone on earth, and those that attempt to do so usually fail. Is your target audience university students taking a gap year, families on their annual two-week break, or retirees globetrotting into their golden years? You can have more than one target audience, but you need to clearly define each one, and allocate different parts of your brand’s website to each. A blog that is meant to appeal to all of them will appeal to none.

2.       Do a content audit

Simply put, read your own website, customer communications and social media pages. Now pick out the bits you think best speak to your audience, and those that definitely don’t. If your company consists of more than a few people, you might need to organise focus groups to pool everyone’s ideas. After all, what you think works might differ wildly from what your colleague thinks. You’ll need to ensure they’re entirely up to speed with who your target audience is, as well as your company’s mission statement and brand goals.

3.       Look at how others do it

Now look at competitors and related websites and publications. Pull out examples you think would work for your brand and that speak to your audience, and those that are on similar topics but have the wrong style for your brand. So if you’re a villa company, look at other villa websites, plus blogs, magazines and newspaper articles about villas.

4.       Analyse the good and the bad

Now you have the best and worst examples, separate them and analyse them. Ascertain the patterns in each – why do some work, and others not? We’re not going to lie. This part isn’t easy. Unless your company has trained writers, this will take a lot of time, thought, research and effort. But it’s key to the Tone of Voice.

5.       Write it down

Now you’ve done all of the above, you need to create a concise, easy-to-understand document that details what your style is – and, just as importantly, what your style isn’t - giving examples in each case. You might need to break it down into different sections for different parts of your website, client communications and social media – i.e. your style on Twitter might differ from your blogposts, and be slightly different again for sales emails.

6.       Train your staff

This can’t be stressed enough. Just giving staff a booklet and telling them to get on with it is a waste of your time and effort. The printed Tone of Voice guide needs to be seen as a reference, not a learning tool. You need to have training sessions with anyone in your company who does customer-facing writing – emails, social media, blogs, product listings. These don’t have to be long, but they do need to allow time for questions and discussion.

7.       Fix your site

Now you know what your Tone of Voice is, you need to go back and amend your website. When it's done, you should see your customer engagement grow, and your sales efforts better rewarded - as you speak to your target audience in a language that spells out who you are, and how you’re the right fit for their needs.

Once you’ve done that, it’s definitely time to rock up to the bar for a tequila sunrise. You’ve earned it!

Struggling to define your brand’s Tone of Voice? Inscribe Content's team of professional writers and editors can help. Contact us on 

Sunrise cocktail by Jason Briscoe

Sunrise cocktail by Jason Briscoe