Knowing how to apply brand tone of voice can be difficult. It’s one thing having your lovely Tone of Voice guidelines open on your second screen, calmly looking down on you, asking you very politely to be ‘clear’ and ‘human’, but it’s another thing entirely actually applying that to the copy in front of you.
How do you apply a brand tone of voice? What even is a brand tone of voice? And most importantly, where is my cup of coffee I just made a few moments ago? I can answer the first two questions, with examples, but that last one you’re on your own. Wait, maybe try your bedside table.
First things first, what is a brand tone of voice?
A brand tone of voice is your brand’s verbal personality. It helps to build trust and (when executed well) create a point of difference. Just like a brand has a visual identity (logos, colours) it also needs a voice. Tone of Voice takes in a brand’s values, personality and attitude. If it were Batman, it would be his cape. Without it, he looks half finished.
How do I apply my brand tone of voice?
The first thing you need is a well-crafted set of brand guidelines. Take a look at ours for an example (you can find them on the bottom of our Helpful Stuff section). Then, thanks to your ever-trusty Copywriter, you’ll have a set of personality traits and values you’ll be working with.
Let’s use us as an example.
Matchstick Creative brand values
- Be yourself
- Collaboration over competition
- Always be learning
- Care about quality
- Improvement not perfection
Matchstick Creative brand personality
OK, so we’ve got a clearer idea of what our brand stands for (our values) and how we want to be presented (our personality), but how do you bring the two together? When looking at a brand’s personality it always needs to be in balance with its values. The two intrinsically inform one another. If you think you’re veering too much towards one particular personality attribute over another, review your brand values and see if it helps to bring balance.
To help place this in context, here’s how we explain one of our personality attributes in our tone of voice guidelines:
What we mean
Positive, confident, encouraging
What we don’t mean
Forced cheerfulness or buoyant
What optimistic means to us
We can be the positive force we want to see in the world. By framing ourselves, our work and our stories in a positive light we are able to convince our audiences more effectively. Our version of optimistic is positive, rather than cheerful. We recognise not everyone feels cheerful all of the time, and that’s fine. By remaining positive we are able to acknowledge a bad feeling but push into a good space. The same is true of our voice. Our voice spreads optimism, without forcing cheerfulness.
Tone of Voice takes in a brand’s values, personality and attitude. If it were Batman, it would be his cape. Without it, he looks half finished.Ruth Hartnoll
The thing that gives the greatest clarity here is the ‘what we don’t mean’ and ‘what we mean’ definitions. Language is a slippery fish. If I don’t have those two definitions, my version of Optimistic will be completely different to the next Copywriter. Good tone of voice guidelines bring clarity.
Show me some tone of voice examples
I’d love to, thanks for asking. Here’s our tone of voice executed as a call-to-action (CTA):
Why is this in our brand tone of voice?
- It’s clear – I know what’s expected of me (start a conversation)
- It’s optimistic – It’s using a turn of phrase you might use in everyday speech ‘you got me’ to make a friendly, positive interaction
- It reflects our brand values – This feels like us (your instincts get better the more you practice your writing muscle), which means we are truly living our brand values by being ourselves
Here’s our tone of voice executed in an Instagram post:
Why is this in our brand tone of voice?
- It’s celebratory – We’re recognising the work of our team and raising them up
- It’s thoughtful – Finn loves to hear good feedback, how nice of us
- It reflects our brand values – Collaborating helps us to do our best work, without Finn the team morale would be much lower. It’s important we recognise his contributions. Good boy Finn.
How do I apply this thinking to my own brand?
When I sit down to apply a brand’s tone of voice, I do the following things to help bring clarity to my work:
- Look up the definition of the personality trait – Even though your brand guidelines should give you the context of the personality trait you’re exhibiting, a general definition also helps. This helps you to understand the difference and to create something more specific.
- Discuss the nuances of the personality with colleagues or trusted advisors – If you’re unsure of an execution, speak to someone and see what their take on it is. Maybe they’ll bring something different to the table you might have missed. Getting into the nitty gritty of language and what it means in different contexts is where your brand personality can truly come alive.
- Go brand stalking – If you’re really stuck, you can go brand stalking and see what everyone else is doing. There are some exceptional brand guidelines to go foraging in. By looking at other applications you’ll get clarity on how yours differs. Leeds University is one of my all time favourites.
- Think analytically – As someone applying a brand tone of voice, it’s your job to get excited about weird shit like the subtle differences between ‘confident’ and ‘brave’ or ‘friendly’ and ‘cuddly’. Think like a writer and a reader. How is this thing you’re reading being constructed? What techniques have been used to get that end result? What can I learn from that? How does this make me feel? Put yourself in the shoes of the gift maker and the gift receiver and you’ll understand the bow wrapping it all together.
- Talk to a designer – Designers think about the word differently to you and I, which is precisely why you should ask them about a discipline outside of their own. Their take will have an understanding of the rest of the brand, but it’ll be in a new light. They’ll use different ways of explaining what they’re thinking and that’ll help you approach the problem fresh.
OK, I’ve got what you mean – I’m off to craft some awesome copy.
My job here is done, could you help us out by spreading the word and sharing this post? I knew you seemed like my sort the second you landed here.