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What is Tone of Voice, Anyway?
By Jonathan Stewart
Tone of voice is the personality you share with your consumers through written and spoken language. It’s the key to communicating your brand culture and values without having to explicitly state them. In essence, it’s less about what you say than it is about how you say it.
Like Maya Angelou said: “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”
According to this clever chap there are three core factors that affect our ability to successfully communicate feelings:
Your body language
The words you use
Your tone of voice
We take all three into account when we interact with somebody face-to-face - especially body language. It’s how we can tell when people are secretly angry with us. Their words might be positive, their tone of voice might be chirpy, but if they’re clenching their fists and there’s a vein popping on their forehead, the vibes will be distinctly off.
It’s different when we interact online, or through print, because we don’t have access to body language. How many times have you gone back and taken the exclamation marks out of your draft email because it feels a bit manic, only to realise the email sounds incandescent with rage without them?
In written communication especially, most of the heavy lifting is done by tone of voice. And a decent tone of voice needs a bit of muscle, because:
It tells consumers who you are (and who you aren’t)
It distinguishes you (from your competition)
It builds trust (through consistency)
It helps you to persuade (and sell!)
Every seriously successful brand in the market today spends time considering their tone of voice. Even MI6 have one. You probably have one already - they have a tendency to develop on their own - but is it authentic? Is it consistent? Is it exactly right?
Why Should You Care?
Think of your marketplace like a networking event. Everybody in the room is there to talk - but everybody has a unique way of expressing themselves.
Some rush up to you brandishing business cards, others linger at the edge of the room waiting to be approached. Some talk your ear off, whilst others barely speak at all but still manage to get their point across. Some tell self-deprecating jokes, others turn the conversation to hard facts.
Which approach is the most effective? Like most things, it depends.
It depends on whether the contacts you want to attract are drawn to those who are quietly confident, or if they’re reassured by loud bravado.
It depends on whether they’re already eager to work with you, or if they need to be persuaded to take your business card. It depends on whether a cool, aloof tone of voice feels convincing on you, or affected.
It depends on whether they resent being called ‘mate’ by someone they haven’t met before. It depends on how well judged your jokes are, how convincing your colloquialisms are, and whether or not you swear at the end of every other sentence.
You can spend a fortune on developing a beautiful business card, with logo, typeface and colour working in harmony to conjure up exactly the right emotions, but without a carefully considered tone of voice, you might find you’ve attracted the wrong audience, or worse - you’re turning your target demographic off entirely.