What is Tone of Voice?

Image of the front of a record player with a botton labelled tone. what is tone of voice?

If you’re a solopreneur, small business or startup you might have heard the phrase “tone of voice” bandied about, but not be super clear what that actually means – or how it applies to your business.

What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice defines how a brand communicates with its audience. It’s not just the words they use, but the overall feel of their messaging. Tone of voice, when done right, is instantly recognisable – if you saw a piece of communication from a brand without any logos, would you know it was them?

Innocent smoothies are often quoted in conversations about tone of voice (due to them pretty much nailing it from the get go). From their packaging…

Innocent packaging

…to their Twitter feed


– everything they put out there is 100% Innocent. But so what?

Why does tone matter?

How to find your Tone of Voice

Tone of voice, like most aspects of a business, should start with your customer. What do they want and need to hear from you? If you’re a psychotherapist then an irreverent or sarcastic tone is probably not appropriate – whereas if you’re selling records, it might be perfect.

That said, it’s 100% possible to approach serious topics with a humorous and irreverent tone. Dead Happy – a life insurance company aimed at millenials, whose logo is a skull – do this very well, but it only works because they know exactly who they’re marketing to.

I love 200 Degrees – a Nottingham based coffee shop whose A frames outside their cafe never fail to make me smile.

But a sign like this outside a local doctor’s surgery, with a high percentage of elderly patients probably wouldn’t go down well.

For many independent business owners though, their tone of voice is simply their own. They might not put much thought into how they speak, write and tweet, which can lead to inconsistent messaging – or they put too much thought into it and end up sounding stiff and robotic.

Think about your brand as if it were a person

Is your brand a kind and caring mentor, a supportive friend or a cheeky sidekick?

Define your Brand values to nail your tone

Figuring out your brand’s values and principles is essential to tone of voice. You’ve probably got these in spades but maybe you haven’t actually specified them yet, even to yourself.

Write them down and really think about what they mean to you and to your customers. When you’re clear on what you stand for, this will come across in your tone and gives your following another chance to connect.

Think about who you are – and who you’re not

What you stand against and the words you avoid are just as important as what you’re for and what you do say.

Try coming up with a list of adjectives describing who you are, then a list to describe who you are not. Audit your existing content to make sure it’s just as clear what you’re against as what you’re for, and check your future content in the same way.

What happens when you get the tone wrong?

Consistency in tone is probably the most important take away here – if a brand’s email sign up suggests you’ll get witty and upbeat missives every week, but the emails you actually receive are bland and dull? You’ll probably unsubscribe, that’s not what you signed up for.

Having said that, knowing when to switch tone is important too. If you’re generally fun and chirpy in your tone, dealing with a customer complaint requires you rein it in and get serious.

Need help with your tone of voice?

If you’re not sure how to define your brand tone, or how to convey it to other members of your team who’ll be communicating with customers or creating content, I can help.

I offer tone sessions to help you pinpoint your tone, and write tone of voice guides that can be used across your business to make sure you stay consistent and on band.

Just get in touch

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