How to get your brand tone of voice right

John Websell avatar
John Websell

Jan 15, 2020

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Brand tone of voice: suited man surrounded by microphones

A clear and distinct brand tone of voice helps you provide clear and consistent messaging across your communications channels. But for many B2B companies that use content marketing, it's little more than an afterthought.

Take a moment to think about your favourite brands. All of them have a unique personality that's consistently expressed through their tone of voice. It's this personality that makes them so likeable, trustworthy, and memorable.

Monzo – the app-based online bank with a rock-solid brand personality – hits the nail on the head in its tone of voice guidebook:

"Monzo is a welcoming community no matter who you are. That means we’re inclusive in our language too. We can, and should, change our language to be more inclusive of everyone.

In today's world of total media saturation, building a deeper, more meaningful connection with your audience is everything.

What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice isn't what you say, it's how you say it. It encompasses the words you use, as well as the rhythm and pace you adopt when speaking (or writing) about your brand.

Let's break it down into its two constituent parts: Tone and Voice.

HubSpot defines Voice as:

"The distinct and steady personality and style of your brand".

While Tone is a subset of Voice that describes:

"The moods and attitudes of specific content pieces which can change depending on the channel, the situation, and the audience."

To put it another way, Voice is a consistent aspect of your brand, while Tone is much more contextual.

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3 Tips to improve brand tone of voice

Getting brand tone of voice right in the B2B sector can feel like a balancing act. Yes, you want to stand out from the crowd, but you also want to build trust and be taken seriously. Talking to an agency can be a great way of gaining a fresh perspective, but first and foremost, follow these three steps:

1. Document your brand tone of voice

Every potential customer cares about your brand's personality, so spend time really getting to the heart of your brand. Dig into its purpose, discover its true character, and record this information in your brand tone of voice guidelines. It's also worth documenting a glossary of terms or "brand dictionary" if more than one person is responsible for producing content in your business. This tells your writers which phrases you like and which you'd rather avoid, saving you plenty of time when you start proofreading work. 

2. Be specific when describing your brand

Nail down precisely how you want people to perceive your company. Leave woolly words like ‘human’ and ‘friendly’ behind and adopt strong adjectives like ‘playful’, ‘daring’,  and ‘reliable’. These are more likely to resonate with your audience and help you stand out from the competition.

The more specific you are when defining your brand, the better. It will improve the consistency of your messaging and make your copy more cohesive, your personality more pronounced, and your audience more engaged.

3. Put yourself out there

Consider taking risks on how your brand presents itself. Yes, not every brand needs an off-the-wall tone of voice. Yes, being cautious can still be a successful tactic. But if you do nothing to set your brand apart from a tone of voice perspective, you'll miss out on the opportunity to build a stronger, more meaningful connection with your target audience.

Challenges of getting brand tone of voice right

B2B businesses think like B2C businesses

This assumption stems from the age-old argument that B2B and B2C audiences are inherently different. It goes something like this:

  • Consumers are emotional, irrational creatures. They're easily persuaded to part with their cash. 
  • Business customers are logical and rational. Unlike consumers, they only buy things after conducting plenty of research.

While their buyer journeys do differ, there are plenty of similarities. The fact is, whether they're in their suit or in their shorts, your audience is always rational, emotional, and everything in between. In other words, they're human.

It’s in their nature to make judgements about your company based on stylistic brand choices like tone of voice. How you talk to your audience can mean the difference between gaining a customer and losing an opportunity – no matter which sector you sell to.

Define your voice

If we had a pound for every time a brand tone of voice document included these words...

"We want our tone of voice to be professional, yet approachable."

The problem with this is that every B2B company wants customers to perceive them as professional and approachable. Other vague brand tone of voice guidance we’ve seen includes wanting to sound:

  • Human
  • Friendly
  • Informative
  • Knowledgeable

If these are the sort of words you currently have in your brand tone of voice guidelines, it’s a sign that you might need to dig a little deeper into what your brand’s really about.

A good way to get to the heart of your brand personality is to think about questions like:

  • If your brand had a celebrity spokesperson, who would it be?
  • What style of clothes does your brand wear?
  • What brands do you definitely not want to sound like?
  • How do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand?

Whatever you come up with, think carefully about how you can differentiate your brand with a strong sense of character. 'Professional yet approachable' is a good start, but isn't enough.

With a more concrete idea of how you want people to perceive your brand, you can more effectively connect with your audience. Whether that's through your web copy, emails, social posts – practically anywhere you interact with your potential customers.

Be bold

Many B2B companies clip their wings by deciding to play it safe with their brand tone of voice. This is understandable. Building a brand personality that stands out from the crowd can feel risky, but it’s a huge opportunity.

Mailchimp is an excellent example of how a distinct tone of voice can make something as mundane as an email marketing platform fun and desirable. They use phrases like "side hustle", "sell more stuff", and "we've got you covered", language that resonates with their target audience and imbues their brand with a strong sense of identity. Their brand tone of voice guidelines is well worth a read if you're looking for inspiration.

The point of branding is to distinguish your business from others. Tone of voice is one of the strongest strings to your brand's bow. Don't be afraid to flex it. 

One final thought...

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), take the time to develop a powerful brand tone of voice strategy that you can consistently express on your website, in your ads, and on your blog. It’ll tie all your content together, strengthen your brand identity, and set you on the right path towards B2B marketing success.

This article was originally posted in 2019. It's been updated to reflect the latest best practice.

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