How To Master Your Brand Tone of Voice


This week I had a few discussions regarding brand tone of voice. Many pioneering and visionary brands have understood the importance tone of voice for decades.

Done right, it can change a companies’ fortunes overnight. Done incorrectly, it creates a disconnect and authenticity almost impossible to recover.

It is the personality of a brand in written form, but it also informs the way someone may speak about a brand, or even how they answer a phone.

Brand tone of voice creates consistency, which fosters reliability and leads to trust. Trust is perhaps the most vital tool available to a brand. Not only does trust convert to sales, perhaps more importantly it quantifies attention. In the digital age attention is the most valuable asset a business can possess.

But the easiest way to discuss brand tone of voice, is perhaps to start with what brand tone of voice is not.

Tone Deaf

Brand tone of voice is not a way of speaking, that’s simply tacked-on to how a business acts and behaves.

For example, Company X wants to appeal to Customer Y, so they attempt to craft a tone of voice appropriate to their perception of Customer Y.

However, if the personality Company X portrays is inauthentic or not congruent with their service, it will lead to conflict with Customer Y.

Brand tone of voice is also distinct from corporate tone of voice.

A corporation may manage several brands, and therefore its personality may be more about the corporation’s standing or culture. But a brand may interact a lot closer to consumers, customers and audiences.

An illustration of this may be the distinction between The Walt Disney Company (corporation) and Marvel Studios (brand).

It’s also not the same as brand positioning, although there is much overlap. Positioning is crafting the essence of what a brand is, and who that brand is for. Tone of voice is about crafting the brand’s personality.

Fast Food For Thought 

Personality is what communicates, drives and reinforces a brand’s personality. Spotify used personality and tone of voice, to reposition themselves from a tech company, to a music destination.

Compare the brand personalities of McDonald’s and Burger King. McDonald’s is a corporate leader and iconic brand. It is family-oriented, friendly, positive, modern and confident.

Burger King is also family orientated, but now somewhat laid-back, savvy and edgier. Riskier even. A strategy born of chief marketing officer Fernando Machado.

Humour has become a staple of the brand, used to great effect.

Best exemplified with Burger King UK’s response to Kanye West’s love of McDonald’s – now the most-liked branded tweet of all time.

kanye burger king tweet

Getting Tone of Voice Right

For me, the key to getting a brand’s tone of voice correct, has a foundation in truth.

The truth about a companies culture. The way they feel about the work they do.

If a brand’s tone of voice (“we are approachable”) doesn’t gel with the companies culture (“we are not approachable”), then work needs to be done internally first.

Are you informal or serious? Professional or wacky? Laid-back or in-your-face?

Once you establish a suitable and defining tone of voice, we can begin the work of shaping that into style and vocabulary.

Another aspect of this process to consider, is how and when you communicate with your audience.

So if you want to engage different sectors at the same time, you may tailor your communication for each one. How you might best engage a technology company, might be different to say, a fashion brand.

For those ready to explore, here’s a  quick list of questions you can ask to establish your brand’s tone of voice:

  • If your brand was a person, what would it be like? How would they look? How would they speak?
  • If your brand were a newspaper or magazine, which one would it be?
  • Is there a famous person that best reflects your brand (for example are they Albert Einstein or Michael Jordan)?

Ultimately tone of voice is something that’s best evolved from a brand, as opposed to invented for a brand.

Like many aspects of branding, it’s a journey that requires honesty, introspection and passion.

If you need help with that journey, you can contact us for a one-to-one brand strategy session, too.

– Greg Bunbury

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