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What is tone of voice?
Have you ever stumbled across an organisation’s social media posts and been impressed? Passed a billboard and thought, “Wow, that really speaks to me.” Then there’s a good chance that business has absolutely nailed their brand tone of voice.
Tone of voice covers everything around how a brand interacts with its audiences, from written and spoken communication, to design elements, and to how they interact with their customers. Establishing a great tone of voice isn’t just about what you say but also how you choose to say it, including the pace, pitch and order of the words you choose. Tone of voice is your brand’s attitude and getting it right can help you to build trust with your audience so that you can really talk the talk…and walk the walk.
Why is it important to have brand voice guidance?
Although having an outstanding tone of voice is essential for any organisation to achieve successful brand positioning, hitting the mark isn’t always that easy. Here are some of the benefits of building carefully crafted brand voice guidelines:
It saves time
Creating guidelines for the whole team to follow saves time on questions from the team and allows everyone to feel confident in applying the tone of voice to their writing. Providing guidelines helps to correctly define language choices across the team.
Builds trust with audiences
With formal guidelines in place, organisations are able to apply brand voice correctly, providing a positive customer experience. Guidelines promote professionalism, no matter who is being addressed.
Promotes consistency and authenticity
To create important audience connections, it’s important that the brand tone of voice is both consistent and authentic. Tone of voice is used in all areas of an organisation, so with lots of different people speaking on behalf of the businesses, brand guidelines help to keep it in check.
So, who is brand voice guidance for?
Well, in short, brand voice guidance is for EVERYONE in your organisation. From the CEO to your junior employees, everyone in your business interacts with your tone of voice in one way or another, having some responsibility for sharing your message with the world. That’s why it’s vital for employees on all levels to have a deep understanding of your guidelines.
Brand voice guidelines are also important when working with third-party collaborators, such as freelancers or small purpose-driven agencies (just like us). Sharing these guidelines with outside agents during collaborative projects means that your tone of voice stays…(say it with us)…consistent and authentic.
Important elements to add to your tone of voice guidelines
So, now that we’ve helped you to understand just exactly what brand tone of voice is and why it’s so important, you’re one step closer to changing the world. It’s time to think about creating your tone of voice guidelines. Here’s exactly what you need to include (you’re so welcome) :
Organisational mission statement
The first element to kick off your brand tone of voice guidelines is your organisational mission statement. Before you can even begin to think about how you want to get your message across, you need to figure out what that message is. Adding your mission statement creates clarity around your brand’s purpose and objectives, showing the world who you are and what you care about. This then helps you in your journey to creating incredible tone of voice guidelines by acting as a framework to build them on, allowing you to create distinctive guidelines that support your mission.
Values and mission statement from Matchstick Creative brand guidelines. Further information is included in the body text.
- Vision – To create a more equitable world through well-told stories and shared experiences.
- Mission – We help organisations who want to create a positive impact communicate clearly. When we understand each other better, great things happen.
After you’ve incorporated your mission statement, it’s then important to add definitions of your company values. On the surface, your organisational values can help both your team and your audience know what to expect from your brand. Adding a clear definition of each of your values can help you discover what they look like in action and authentically shape your messaging. This then plays an important role in influencing how you build your new tone of voice guidelines.
Example of values definition from Matchstick Creative brand guidelines. Further information is included in the body text.
Why do we lead with authenticity?
Without the ability to be our authentic selves, we can’t deliver our best work. Being able to bring your full self every day creates trust and encourages a better work environment for everyone. When we lead with authenticity, we’re able to attract like-minded clients, colleagues and opportunities.
We are candid about our experiences. We share truths even when they can be difficult to hear. We present ourselves authentically no matter what situation we’re in.
What does leading with authenticity look like?
- Our actions – Acting with integrity and following through on things we’ve said we’ll do.
- Our influence – Holding ourselves and others accountable for their actions.
- Our thoughts – Being generous with our time and expertise.
- Our mission – Committing to good work with people and organisations who are trying to make the world a better place.
Once you’ve figured out the ‘why’, it’s time to start looking at the ‘how.’ Defining your brand’s personality is a vital step in building tone of voice guidelines that allow you to shout above the noise. When we’re talking about personality, we’re talking about all of the traits that both define your brand and make it more human. Whilst organisational mission and values help to figure out why we’re speaking out for something, our brand personality then helps us discover how we communicate with our audiences.
A great step to crafting tone of voice guidelines is to come up with adjectives that best describe how you’d like your brand to sound. To bridge the gap between how you intend to sound and how you’re perceived by your audience, take a deep dive into each adjective. Here, you can decide what you’re intending and not intending to get across, as well as what each trait means to you as an organisation. When you’ve got this part down, you’re well on your way to greatness.
Matchstick Creative brand personality traits
How we illuminate our communications:
When it comes to creating and implementing your new brand tone of voice guidelines, the most important element is using real-world cases. By taking your tone of voice and placing it into examples relevant to your brand, such as social media posting and website content, you can add a ‘why it works’ component, helping to combine all of the elements of your tone of voice. Creating both correct and incorrect cases will allow your team to have a clear understanding of what to (and what not to) do.
A real-world example of how the Matchstick Creative tone of voice is used. Further information is included in the body text.
Oops, this page has extinguished.
While we’re busy fixing things, perhaps one of these pages might help you:
- About us – The story of how we got started
- Our work – The clients we work with to change the world
- Helpful stuff – Resources made by us to help you
Why it works
- The headline is friendly using language reminiscent of our brand name.
- We’re offering a helpful solution by providing links.
- Our CTA includes a contact email so a real person will step in if needed.
Guidance for audiences with additional needs
Your audience is the heart of your communications. Many of us have diverse, global audiences, so it’s important to consider accessibility when crafting your tone of voice guidelines. For users who may not be familiar with the language or may require additional tools such as a screen reader, failing to acknowledge accessibility in your brand tone of voice could lead to alienating people.
Here are some top tips for implementing accessibility into your tone of voice guidelines:
- Make sure headings and hyperlinks are clear. Keeping a consistent heading format and presenting hyperlinks in a clear way, helps to guide the reader to important information.
- Be considerate when using imagery. Images and designs are great visual tools, but they should be used to add to the information already there instead of acting as a replacement. To improve accessibility even further, the use of alt text with images helps with the readability of your guidelines.
- Use clear and simple language when building your guidelines. As tempting as it is to throw in those big words or your local dialect, try to avoid jargon, slang and idioms where possible.
Another core step to creating a unified brand across your team is to develop a style guide within your tone of voice guidelines. This helps to define your in-house style, a set of standard principles to apply to any written components of your brand. When establishing your brand, a style guide is an important aspect of your guidelines, acting as a rulebook for your various teams to adhere to, helping you to develop a consistent brand. Making sure all team members are on the same page about how to represent your brand, style guides can cover everything from logos and colour palettes to typography and iconography.
In particular when developing tone of voice guidelines, style guides help content creators to understand how to correctly portray your brand’s messaging and personality, particularly in online content. Tone of voice style guides set the standards across various components such as terminology and punctuation.
Another great way to put the ‘guide’ in tone of voice guidelines is to incorporate writing tips into your new guidelines. Practical writing guidance is the section of the guidelines that take a deep dive into your tone of voice and provides support to your team in the essentials of how to correctly communicate on behalf of the brand. Essentially, these tips become the do’s and don’ts of your guidelines helping to establish the intention of your tone of voice, providing support with all things grammar, accessibility and more.
Practical writing guide from Matchstick Creative tone of voice guidelines. Further information is included in the body text.
Firing the imagination through language
Good stories come from carefully chosen words placed in just the right order. Fire the linguistic imagination to capture our audience’s attention.
- Get verby with it. Energy and colour comes from carefully chosen verbs. Use them as a catalyst to enliven your copy. For example: Run, don’t walk – grab your free template.
- Use adjectives with substance. Poorly used adjectives act like tiny anvils dragging your sentence down until all its energy is killed. Use adjectives with that something extra. For example: Stop creating humdrum copy with these 5 tips.
- Alliterate to communicate. Dash energy into your copy with well-placed alliteration. It’s playful and is a good reflection of our imaginative personality trait. For example: Brilliant brand voices we want to shout about from the rooftops.
One of the key objectives in creating your brand tone of voice guidelines is to empower and support your team. As a result of your newly crafted tone of voice, your team should feel confident in applying your messaging with the world, across their varying roles and responsibilities. A great way to guide your team in their development is to add some helpful resources to your guidelines. Here are some of our best reading suggestions to help get your head around tone of voice guidelines:
This article from Semrush is great for understanding how to establish a brand tone of voice and provides a helpful template for building your guidelines
The way with words guide on some of the best tone of voice examples they’ve found
Tone of voice masters, Mailchimp, share their top tips for establishing your voice and tone guidelines
Who to ask for help
You’re almost set to create some incredible tone of voice guidelines. It’s always handy to include a ‘who to ask’ section for the final step in the process. Whether this is your CEO or members of your marketing team, adding in this quick guide helps your team to know who the brand champions are so they have a clear point of contact to answer their burning tone of voice questions. Now, you’ve covered all bases!
Key contacts page from Matchstick Creative tone of voice guidelines
Who to ask for help:
Brand Voice Champion
Brand Voice Ambassador
Ready to start creating?
Now you have everything you need to begin crafting your brand tone of voice guidelines. As promised, here are some great real-world examples to inspire you along the way:
Mailchimp’s tone of voice guidelines:
To get us started, we’re returning to the fan favourite, tone of voice experts, Mailchimp. User-friendly, email marketing platform Mailchimp are famous for its tone of voice, which is empathetic, helpful and clear with a healthy sprinkling of humour. Their tone of voice guidelines are a fantastic example of how to do it right, with some great tips on crafting your own guidelines along the way.
University of Leeds tone of voice guidelines:
Breaking academic stereotypes one tone of voice guidelines at a time, the University of Leeds have a great tone of voice that allows them to connect with their diverse audience of students, teachers, parents and wider communities. Speaking out on key core issues and taking a collaborative approach to knowledge sharing helps their brand values shine. Their carefully crafted tone of voice guidelines are definitely one to watch, delving into every area of their brand personality and mission. This is how it’s done.
Patagonia’s tone of voice guidelines:
The power of Patagonia’s exceptional branding is under the spotlight once more. Their unique tone of voice is evidently mission-driven, always relating back to their core values and commitment to driving change. Take a look at this analysis of some of their core value definitions, an important component to building brand tone of voice guidelines.
TL ; DR
So, in summary, creating well-thought-out and strategic brand tone of voice guidelines is integral. Adopting a consistent and authentic tone of voice is a powerful tool for helping you to connect with your audience, share your mission with the world and create a real impact. Here are the important elements to include in your tone of voice guidelines:
- Organisational mission statement
- Values definition
- Brand personality
- Use cases and real-world examples
- Accessibility for audiences with additional needs
- Style guide
- Writing tips
- Helpful reading
- Who to ask for help
Let’s start a project, together
If you’re ready to build your guidelines, but you’re just not too sure how to get there, then you’ve come to the right place. Our team of content experts can help you craft the perfect tone of voice guidelines for your organisation. Get in touch with us today, to see how we can help.
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