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What is tone of voice? A simple guide for small businesses

4-minute read

Conor Shilling

22 April 2022

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A tone of voice is a key communication tool for businesses, helping to build trust with your target audience.

But how do you identify and develop the right tone of voice for your business? Read on for some top tips.

What is tone of voice?

The tone of voice meaning is how a business communicates with its target audience.

For example, you may want to communicate in a formal or informal way, or you may want to come across as friendly, engaging, or funny.

A tone of voice is made up of various factors, including your choice of words, use of punctuation, emotion, and general communication style.

Making sure your business has a deliberate tone of voice that's consistent across all messaging gives you the best chance of being perceived how you want to be.

Why is tone of voice important?

Your tone of voice should have strong links to your brand identity and values.

For example, if your brand values are all about helping your customers, you need to make sure this is reflected in your tone of voice.

You could do this by deliberately using helpful language, asking lots of questions, and providing as much information as possible.

Used effectively, a consistent tone of voice can build trust with your customers and target audience. It can also help to make your brand more appealing, approachable, and memorable.

How to identify your tone of voice

Two key things you’ll need to consider when developing your tone of voice is who your target audience is and how you want to be seen as a brand.

Bear in mind that you may need to adapt your tone of voice if you’re speaking to different audiences. For example, if you operate in different countries or sell products to different age groups.

When thinking about developing a tone of voice for your business, here are some key questions to ask yourself about your target audience:

  • how are they used to being spoken to?
  • what type of content and media do they consume?
  • what do they expect from you?
  • how do you want them to perceive your brand?

The most important thing is to make sure you sound like you, using the language and style that works for your business.

It could be tempting to copy a brand with a popular communication style, but the reason their tone of voice has been successful is because they’ve developed it themselves.

Developing a tone of voice for your business takes time – and you won’t always get it right straight away. Your brand voice should continue to develop as your company, and the market it operates in, changes with the times.

How to monitor the success of your brand voice

You can gauge whether your tone of voice is working for your target audience by analysing the responses you get to advertising, social posts, as well as internal and customer communications.

For example, if your emails are getting low open rates, or you’re receiving negative replies to your online posts, it could be time to rethink your tone of voice.

It’s useful to identify someone as a guardian for your brand, making sure they’re passionate about keeping tone of voice consistent.

If you’re a sole trader, this will fall to you but the bigger your business gets, the more opportunities you’ll have to hire people who are solely responsible for managing your brand identity.

How to deliver your tone of voice in communication

So, where do you use tone of voice? You should try to incorporate your tone of voice into all types of communication, including:

  • marketing, such as social media posts and online advertising
  • internal communications like company-wide emails
  • interactions with customers, either in-person or digitally
  • across your website and on any printed materials
Billboard showing travel advertising campaign
MclittleStock/stock.adobe.com

Do you need tone of voice brand guidelines?

As your business grows, a tone of voice document could be very useful. Not only will it allow you to keep track of how your tone of voice is developing, it can help new employees to quickly understand how you do things.

What’s more if you’re working with an external partner such as an advertising agency or freelancer, tone of voice guidelines can make sure they capture the fundamentals of your brand in their work.

These days many companies put their tone of voice guidelines on their website, highlighting their values to their audience and prospective employees.

Brand tone of voice examples

All brands have a slightly different tone of voice depending on their values, target market, and sector they operate in.

Some companies are known for having a unique tone of voice that gets people talking.

Here are some examples of brands with a strong and recognisable tone of voice:

Innocent Smoothies – this drinks company has experienced huge growth in recent years and its strong brand identity has been a big contributing factor. Innocent is consistently friendly and upbeat in their messaging, with an emphasis on being quirky at the right time.

Monzo – this fast-growing digital bank is big on efficiency and simplifying the banking process. Monzo’s tone of voice focuses on using the language its customers use and being transparent about everything it does.

Oatly – one of the best-known brands of oat milk, Oatly’s tone of voice is conversational and informal. A good example of this is describing its on-carton product information as “the boring side”.

Slack – this business communication tool has become even more popular since the Covid-19 pandemic. Slack is keen to come across as clear, concise, and human. It encourages users to communicate the same way with their employees and customers.

Different types of tone of voice in business

No matter who your target audience is, most companies try to avoid jargon and complex language in their communication.

However, a brand tone of voice can be approached in various ways. For example, if you’re an accountancy firm your tone of voice is likely to be more formal and practical compared to a mobile food van business.

Below are some of the most popular themes for a brand tone of voice. Many companies will use a combination of themes to create their unique brand identity.

  • natural
  • direct
  • friendly
  • helpful
  • informal
  • formal
  • practical
  • efficient
  • humorous
  • inspirational
  • reliable

What are your tips for developing a tone of voice for business? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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