Many brands confuse “tone of voice” with what is really just communication best practice. This causes many brands to sound exactly the same. If you’re looking to create a distinct tone of voice, follow these suggestions.

THREE TIPS FOR EVERY BRAND’S TONE OF VOICE

1. PERSONAL

In this ultra-connected age, everyone should be approachable – including brands. Whether you’re a bank, a fashion chain or an SaaS company, you won’t get far without being personal. So make sure you write like a real person, not a marketing robot. Be relatable and inject plenty of personal pronouns into your copy.

2. PROFESSIONAL

You might think you can get away with being crass, controversial and inappropriate. But most likely, you can’t. So while you want to be personal and friendly, make sure you stay on the right side of professionalism.

3. CLEAR

Your copy should be clear and easy to read. Here are a few tips.

  • Be concise. Say what you need to say and leave it at that.
  • Choose simple words. Say “use,” not “utilize,” “while” instead of “whilst.” Make your message easy to understand with simple words.
  • Keep sentences short. Short sentences are punchier and easier to digest. For best results, aim for fewer than 20 words per sentence.
  • Use active voice. It gives you more ownership, reduces sentence length and creates more compelling copy.
  • Score your readability. Tests such as Flesch-Kincaid can help score your readability. Best practice is to write at the reading level of a 13 year old.
  • Make the most of technology. There are many free tools to help make your writing clearer, more engaging and easier to understand. Try Hemingway, Unsuck It and CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer.

These steps are a great place to start, but you’ll want to also use the following tips to develop a truly unique voice.

5 STEPS TO DISCOVER YOUR BRAND’S UNIQUE VOICE

1. IMMERSE YOURSELF. 

If you want to sound different, figure out what makes you different. Interview key stakeholders, send questionnaires to customers, run focus groups, study your competitors. In short, do whatever it takes to answer these questions.

  • What’s your brand story?
  • Do you have a brand personality?
  • What are your values?
  • What are your competitors doing?
  • How is your brand different?
  • How do you want to sound and why?
  • Who is your target market?
  • What’s the best way of connecting with them?

2. DEFINE YOUR BRAND.

Come up with words that describe how your brand should sound. Think of as many as possible and group them into three or four principles. These principles or concepts will form the cornerstones of your tone of voice.

3. DEVELOP TONE OF VOICE GUIDELINES, EXAMPLES AND TRAINING.

Build detailed guidelines on what your new tone sounds like “in action” across a range of channels and content types. Don’t just assume your colleagues will know what to do. Show them. Before-and-after examples are a great way of doing this. Then, set up trainings to clarify questions and let your team practice. Make sure everyone who writes for your brand knows your tone of voice inside out.

4. BE FLEXIBLE.

Be prepared to adapt your voice to fit the occasion. Responding to a customer complaint probably isn’t the best time to crack a joke, but you can still find creative ways to express your voice, even in tricky situations. For example, check out this cease and desist letter from Netflix.

5. LOCALIZE.

If you want your brand’s voice to “sing” globally, you’ll need to make sure it’s adapted for each market. For example, how do you interpret being personal in France or Italy, where you address people either formally or informally? Sometimes your tone will need to shift slightly. If you’re a luxury brand in Zurich, for instance, don’t shout too loudly about it – everything is luxury there.

Without in-depth market knowledge, you could miss these regional differences – and the impact of your brand voice could suffer as a result.

DON’T BE TONE DEAF

When you develop your brand’s tone of voice, start with the basics: personality, professionalism and clarity. And then be sure your brand’s voice really stands out by capturing your history, values and vision. Your voice should have many tones and be adapted for channel, audience and market. Only then will your brand’s voice stand out among the crowd.