“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
We all remember a time when we asked a loved one if something was wrong, to be given a curt, “No!”
Their tone of voice means we know something is wrong and they know something is wrong. Also, they want you to know something is wrong. And yet their words convey the opposite of the truth.
Humans have evolved to take in everything from body language and facial expressions to voice tones to help them understand others.
As a writer, it’s your job to put your clients in the best light possible in front of their target audience. In the absence of body language, facial expressions, and voice tones, your tone of voice through words alone must do the job of all these aspects.
Does that sound daunting?
Don’t worry. We’ll show you how to find the perfect brand tone with tone of voice examples, for every client you write for.
You'll learn how to find a brand's personality by focusing on brand values and brand persona. Clients/customers expect brands to have a consistent tone, and you will be at the forefront of providing this - read on.
Tone of voice definition
It's essentially about how your brand speaks to the audience and what they see and hear. Tone means how you communicate rather than what you communicate.
Why do your clients need to get their brand voice right?
The perfect brand tone and brand voice creates an emotional connection with potential clients/customers. It makes people feel their core values are the same as the brand's core values.
It inspires potential customers/clients to make positive actions, whether that's buying a product/service, signing a contract, donating money/time, etc.
Remember, everything you write for a client has a commercial aspect to it.
You may not be writing ‘hard’ sales copy, such as sales letters, landing pages, etc. Perhaps you’re tasked with ‘soft’ content strategy, such as blog posts, social media posts, or relationship-building emails.
However, all content is still geared towards profits. And that’s why getting the right brand tone and brand voice is so crucial.
Many amateur writers believe that they just need a wider vocabulary or the latest copywriting ‘hack’ to become great writers.
Instead, pro writers have a knack for hitting just the right tone of voice with a target market to inspire them to take action.
Think about it. If you were a business owner paying someone to write content for you, who would you choose? The writer with a vast vocabulary and clever turns of phrases? Or the writer who hits the right tone of voice to trigger emotional responses in your potential customers/clients so they buy, sign up, etc.?
How do I find the perfect brand tone for a client?
If your client has worked extensively with freelancers and/or in-house writers, they’re likely to have brand voice guidelines or style guides.
This certainly makes your job easier. The assumption is that your client has done their due diligence, knows their customers/clients inside out, and they know what tone of voice works.
However, you may have a client who hasn’t done any in-depth research on the correct tone of voice. Worse still, you may have a client who is making huge assumptions about their customers/clients that are wrong.
Whether you like it or not, this will impact how well your content performs. You could write the best content in the world, but if the tone of voice is off, it will fall flat as it won’t resonate with the audience.
Ask the following questions to your new client to build a style guide:
1. What business challenges do you currently have?
This question helps you understand if the current brand tone of voice is correct or not.
For example, if your client says they need more leads but have a high conversion rate, you know the issue is with reach and not tone. When people discover their products/services, they’re ‘sold.’ They resonate with the message and take positive action.
However, if your client says they need more leads but have a low conversion rate, it means something is off. They don’t need more leads. They need to convert more of their existing leads. One reason could be an issue with the brand tone of voice with the existing content.
2. Which businesses do you consider your competitors?
This question allows you to see what others are doing and the tone of voice they are using that could be working for them.
Direct competitors are businesses that have the same target audience as your client. If you discover that a competitor has a lion’s share of the market, it’s common sense to analyze the tone of voice their content is taking. Success leaves clues!
3. If your target audience was one person, who are they? Describe them to me.
This is a clever way to get your client to focus.
If you asked, “Who is your target audience,” you may get generic answers, such as middle managers, which is too broad.
By asking your client to distill their audience down to one person, you will get specifics, such as age, gender, likes/dislikes, etc. The best writers will drill down much further, such as what publications/websites they read, what they do in their spare time, etc., to refine the tone of voice they should use when writing.
Think of how easy it is to write an email to your best friend. You know their personality, their likes and dislikes, and you know what offends them and what doesn’t. If you’re able to get to this level, that’s when your writing will resonate deeply.
4. What do you want your potential customers/clients to do?
Remember, even ‘soft’ content that is not directly selling something still has a commercial aspect to it. No business is willing to spend money with zero return on investment.
You need to find out what your client wants their audience to do overall (very likely to be a monetary transaction) and also the smaller action steps for different content pieces. E.g., signing up to get a free sample/report, upgrading product after initial purchase, etc.
What are the main brand voice tones for businesses?
There are numerous words to describe tone. For example, passionate, dry, bold, down-to-earth, informative, etc.
But ultimately, all business content falls into five tones of voice types:
Understanding which of the five your client’s audience falls into will make or break your content.
Let’s look at some examples using the five tone of voice types.
This is a good tone of voice to hit if your client’s ideal customers/clients are in the youth market (e.g. teen clothes, ‘young’ social media networks and apps, etc.)
It also works well in markets designed to utilize energy, such as gyms, sports clothing, exercise programs, etc.
How to hit an energetic brand tone
An energetic style guide uses lots of bullet-pointed or numbered lists. Don’t use long sentences with a ton of conjunctions.
Fragmented sentence structure with a motivating tone works well.
Also, use short words for a brand voice that packs a punch.
Here’s a great energetic tone of voice example:
Take a look at the entire content piece at https://www.muscleandstrength.com/workouts/womens-3-day-glute-workout. Can you see how the brand's voice has a 'go-getter' personality with a motivating tone throughout?
This is the perfect tone of voice when your client’s products/services are something that their clients/customers rely on.
The product or service may not be the most exciting, but people value these products or services for their dependability over excitement.
Great examples are insurance companies, payment/merchant service providers, hosting companies, etc.
This doesn’t mean your words can’t inject a little energy or humor. But keep in mind that the audience is ultimately looking for safety. Use a more formal tone of voice.
How to hit a dependable brand tone
A dependable style guide uses words that are wholesome and feel comfortable and warm. At the same time, you want a slightly authoritative tone of voice.
More so than any other tone type, avoid using any words that can offend, such as curse words. This will likely go against brand values. This is not the audience to be ‘edgy’ with. Avoid using slang or colloquialisms for the same reason.
Here’s a good dependable tone of voice example:
Take a look at the entire content piece at https://www.aviva.co.uk/insurance/life-products/life-insurance/. Check out the respectful tone and writing style throughout.
This is the must-use tone of voice for high-end items, boutiques, or any product or service that’s targeted at the affluent. It’s also an ideal tone of voice for salons, spas, and resorts.
How to hit an elegant and expensive brand tone
An elegant and expensive style guide uses a longer sentence structure that flows well with conjunctions.
Use adjectives to create a world inside the reader’s mind so they can imagine the pleasure. Keep content about the functional aspect of a product or service to a minimum.
Avoid using action-oriented words and short, punchy sentences. Nothing in your content should convey that there is a rush.
Look at this example of an elegant/expensive brand tone of voice:
Take a look at the entire content piece at https://www.joali.com/ to see the brand's tone and brand personality that oozes luxury and elegance.
This is a humorous tone of voice for businesses and brands who want to be seen as ‘out of the box’ thinkers.
Therefore, it lends itself to apps and games targeted at the youth (especially males) as well as street brands.
However, irreverent, offbeat humor can be used for all kinds of products and services - it’s all about knowing your audience.
How to hit an irreverent brand tone
According to Merriam-Webster, irreverent means “lacking proper respect or seriousness.”
However, you need to understand the audience to know what they like to disrespect - it’s not a case of just disrespecting anything and everything! Therefore, hitting the right irreverent tone of voice is a bit harder than other tones.
Your client needs to give you lots of tone of voice guidelines regarding their perfect customers/clients. so you can assess personality traits, word choice, and communication style.
Here’s one of the best irreverent tone of voice examples for a … wait for it… life insurance company called Dead Happy!
Check out the unique tone of the entire content piece at https://deadhappy.com/. We're sure you'll agree. It's a very unique brand voice with a clear tone and very distinct personality.
As you can see with this example, this flies against the earlier advice that insurance companies should go for a more dependable tone.
However, the reason why this content works so well is that the business knows its audience (young, upwardly mobile, and savvy, who love dark humor). They are able to show off the brand's personality with offbeat humor.
It will come as no surprise that this tone of voice is perfect for software companies, app firms, and any product/service which is cutting edge.
If your client can succinctly tell you that “no one is doing exactly what we’re doing” when you ask about their competitors, you know you have an innovative brand.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have competitors at all. But they will have major differentiation points.
How to hit an innovative brand tone
Innovative people tend to use fewer words. So keep your content succinct.
Also, don’t be overly formal. Think of how we became accustomed to seeing Steve Jobs in jeans. Innovative brands prefer conversational language with an informative tone.
However, don’t go overboard and start using colloquial language that starts hitting an irreverent tone. Word choice is important.
Finally, testimonials that ‘prove’ how great a product/service is will work better than marketing messages. That’s true for all brands, but more so for innovative brands.
Here’s a good innovative tone of voice example:
Check out the entire content piece at https://streamyard.com/ where you can see the innovative brand personality and tone of voice, together with a powerful testimonial.
Getting the brand's tone equals a highly effective (and highly paid) writer
Robert Cialdini introduced six persuasion principles in his international bestseller, the Psychology of Persuasion (a must-read for new and experienced writers).
One of these principles is likability. The first step when we start any relationship, commercial or otherwise, is liking that person, business, etc.
The right tone of voice in your content creates likability immediately, which is the first step to the audience engaging with a business or brand. So you must take time to find the correct brand tone of voice for each client.
The more you hit the correct, consistent brand tone of voice, the more effective your content becomes. The more successes you have, the more you get paid!