What are tone of voice guidelines, and why does my brand need them?

Using the right tone of voice when writing about your business, or brand, doesn’t always come naturally, and everyone who produces brand copy for you will have their own ideas about how it should sound. A tone of voice guidelines document contains important information that answers some vital questions about how your brand should come across anywhere that it’s represented, and is a blueprint for applying the right tone of voice across all marketing materials, no matter who is in charge (a partner, an intern, or someone hired externally for a one-off job).

Tone of voice guidelines are not a set of ‘rules’ or a ‘Bible’ for your brand. As the name suggests, they’re a guide that will steer you in the right direction. You should also apply common sense, have fun, and experiment a little when writing about your business. When you do decide to stray from your tone of voice guidelines, this should be done consciously, and with confidence. Breaking the rules when writing brand copy is always fine in my book, as long as it’s done with purpose, and never through laziness, or as a rebellion. 


Let’s delve a bit deeper into tone of voice guidelines…

During the lifetime of your business, you’re going to write about it regularly. In fact, many brands use their tone of voice guidelines on a daily basis, whether they’re updating social media, writing web copy, or sending out responses to customer queries. It’s therefore very important that tone of voice is at least considered with every single interaction, not just the big ones like rebranding, or rewriting all of your web copy. 

You’re going to immortalize your brand across all of your marketing materials, because once they are produced, they stick around, representing your brand when you’re not there to speak on its behalf. There’s no escape from a poor tone of voice, which is why it’s vital to take some time and consider yours, making key decisions before putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keypad). 

Not only are you going to write ABOUT the brand, you’re going to go deeper, and write AS the brand, literally BECOMING or EMBODYING it. Think of your business as a living, breathing person – and every time this person opens their mouth, they can reflect you in a positive light, or put their foot in it, and make you look like a total idiot. 

Your tone of voice needs to bring your brand’s persona to life, and a tone of voice guide will go a long way to achieving that, though it’s up to you to understand, interpret, and apply the tone of voice – copy doesn’t write itself (or I’d be out of a job). 

Tone of voice guidelines can’t help with the information that’s contained in your copy. What they can do is assist with how that information is conveyed. Whether or not the stuff that’s said is factually correct, is on you. 


Brand copy is all about personality

People have personalities, and brands do too. We’ve all read text that’s stiff, corporate formal, and devoid of colour. The kind of stuff that’s a drag to get through, and doesn’t tell you what working with a company would be like (except that it might be super dull).

Great brand copy, with a distinct and attention grabbing brand voice, will really sell your business, and engage your reader. It captures, and distills the essence of what you’re all about, so that the audience instantly recognises who’s doing the talking, what their values are, and what it might be like to interact with them, or what it might be like to become one of their customers. 

A great brand tone of voice might not make an instant sale, but it will build trust and loyalty when used consistently, by letting potential customers know what to expect. It also has a huge effect on buying decisions, as we all need to like, respect, and trust the brands we buy from (and get a warm and fuzzy feeling when we recognise their copy). 

A strong tone of voice will also help filter the right customers from the wrong ones – some people will ‘get it’ and be turned on, some people won’t, and will go elsewhere. A great tone of voice shouldn’t attract or alienate everyone. Instead, it should appeal to the right market, and repel everyone else (we’re not talking to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, are we?)


An easy way to understand the importance of tone of voice

Imagine your business’ website, with all of its images, design, and branding elements removed – no logo, no colours, no fonts, no nothing.  

All that’s left is the copy on the pages.

Would the reader be able to identify which brand is doing the talking? And what impression would they get of this brand?

If your tone of voice is clear and consistently used, your brand’s values and personality will shine through. When it’s applied to every piece of copy, it becomes absorbed as an integral, and vital part of your brand.

Just ask the likes of Innocent Smoothies, John Lewis, Brewdog, or Paddy Power – their brand personality may be VERY far from what you want to achieve, but they’re all nailing an authentic tone of voice that speaks to the right audience across everything from social media, to packaging copy.  People notice tone of voice across things like websites, and print copy, but they also pick up on the tiny bits of copy hidden at the base of product packaging, or the error message that appears when a link on your site is broken. Opportunities to apply brand copy are everywhere, and make more of an impact than you might think. 


What to do with a tone of voice guide 

If you’ve worked with a copywriter to put together tone of voice guidelines for your brand, don’t hide it away, give it to everyone who works for you, and make sure you remind them to use it whenever they write anything about the brand, not just when they’re working on something ‘significant’ like web copy. 

You should also give your tone of voice guidelines to anyone you hire externally to write copy for you, or anyone who’s helping you with things like branding, or design. It’s a useful document to help people understand the values, intentions, and ideals of your brand. Make sure you don’t pay for it, then park it. 

Tone of voice guidelines – why you need to think about your brand language

  • Eliminate ambiguity, and mixed messaging
  • Make your brand instantly recognizable
  • Build trust with your audience through consistency
  • Help you and your audience understand your brand values
  • Give your brand a personality, so that people look forward to interacting with it 
  • Help you speak directly to your target audience, and repel anyone who you definitely don’t want to interact with. 


Do you need tone of voice guidelines for your brand?

If you need some help understanding how tone of voice can help you create a brand personality, and write better copy that supports your business goals, give me a holla. As a seasoned brand copywriter, I can help you with tone of voice guidelines, and more, whether you want to set out some guidance for yourself and your team, or whether you want to apply the right tone of voice to a specific piece of copy. 

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