Brand Activation Management

Why tone of voice and language are critical to a consistent brand

March 2021 Written by Papirfly

In this article, you’ll learn…

The power of the tone and language your brand uses in building trust with your audience, and how to guarantee consistency across your content.

  • Understand the difference between tone and voice
  • Discover the steps behind the ideal tone of voice guide
  • Learn from brands that have nailed their tone of voice

When it comes to building a strong, memorable brand, consistency is crucial.

Presenting your audiences with a dependable, distinguishable identity on all channels is the origin of them building trust with your brand. Without trust, there can be no brand loyalty, and you lose your opportunity at securing that sought-after return customer.

To preserve consistency at a time where the demands on content production are greater than ever, organisations are encouraged to create clear brand guidelines that underpin everything that is published. Much of these concern the visual aspects of the brand, ensuring these don’t deviate from their identity.

Why tone of voice is so important

Just as important is keeping tone of voice and language on-brand and markets specific. Yet, this is often overlooked when it comes to these guidelines, as it is viewed as difficult to enforce and manage in the way visual assets can be.

The end result? Copywriters that are unsure of how to project their brand’s personality across content. With incessant pressure to produce this content, they instead write in their own style to compensate. 

These inconsistencies impact  how audiences view your brands. If there is no binding thread between your various touchpoints, this will prevent potential customers gaining a solid sense on what your brand represents, making you appear less trustworthy.

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What is tone of voice?

Although tone of voice is a commonly held expression, it is important to recognise that tone and voice are two separate entities.

Your brand’s voice is the base of your verbal personality. It represents the core values, characteristics and features that make up your brand’s unique identity, and will be unwavering across every piece of marketing collateral.

Tone by contrast is much more malleable and flexible. Tone is the application of your brand’s voice to fit the context of where it is used. For instance, a social post on Twitter hopping on the back of a trending meme will probably have a notably different tone than a press release about your latest development.

The tone and style it is written can be markedly different, but they can still carry that overarching voice behind your brand. That is the secret to a tone of voice that maintains complete consistency, but perfectly adapts to the channel it’s placed on.

This is a difficult balancing act, and certainly one that some brands perform better than others. But at the heart of the most successful examples are tone of voice guidelines, that remove any room for interpretation and make it clear to everyone in your company how you should be projected verbally in all circumstances.

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Building your brand's tone of voice guidelines

Your tone of voice guidelines set the rules for every aspect of your written communications. It is the document that all writers, both internal and freelance, should refer to in order to ensure they are producing content in line with your personality.

This will also streamline the process of onboarding new copywriters in how they get to grips with communicating your brand, and used as a reference guide for when it comes to editing and proofing.

Below, we’ve outlined our 9 tips to making these guidelines as robust and useful as they need to be to guarantee consistency throughout your content.

9 steps to great tone of voice guidelines

  1. Perform a language audit
  2. Identify your brand’s personality
  3. Assess your target audiences
  4. Construct a glossary
  5. List clear grammatical dos and don’ts
  6. Put copy into context
  7. Provide plenty of examples
  8. Don’t forget the details
  9. Make it easily accessible

1. Perform a language audit

First, it’s important to assess the content that your brand currently produces across its various channels to identify anything that you feel is inconsistent with how you wish your brand to be perceived.

What words stand out most frequently in your content? How long are your sentences? How often do you use colloquialisms or abbreviations? Do you employ emojis?

Ask these questions and more across a wide body of your existing content. This will give your team a base to determine the elements you like within your current copy, and what needs to be tightened up or addressed in order to consistently present your brand’s personality. Understanding these will be important to what you include within your final guidelines.

2. Identify your brand’s personality

When determining the right tone of voice for your brand, think of it as a person. Imagine meeting them at a dinner party:

  • Would they be loud and confident?
  • Would they be thoughtful and reserved?
  • Would they be assertive and forthright?

What would they be wearing? What subjects would they talk about? Who would they be inspired by? When you start to think of your brand in this context, you can develop a more vivid understanding of what its voice is and how it would be used in a variety of contexts.

By developing this persona, one that incorporates all of the top values and aspects of your brand, it becomes clearer how it would interact with your audiences.

3. Assess your target audiences

Speaking of your audiences, it’s important to perform some critical analysis on who they are and what they would want to hear from your brand.

Is your primary audience niche or is it more mainstream? Do they prioritise particular social issues over others? Is there particular jargon that they use day-to-day?

Building this understanding will cement what your brand’s voice should be to best engage your customers and, importantly, help you recognise how its tone needs to shift to capture the imagination of different audiences across your various channels.

4Construct a glossary

An essential component of your tone of voice guidelines should be a glossary, which outlines specific terminology and jargon that is unique to your brand or industry, and that needs to be incorporated into your copy.

This will include product names, brand language, warranty terms and department names, and will span across both content you produce for customers, and phrases you use internally. It will also be valuable in outlining how terms will differ when used in different contexts or in a variety of languages (more on that later). It should also address any words that should be avoided at all costs.

Also, it’s important that this glossary is not left static. As your brand evolves and expands into different locations and onto different platforms, it’s crucial that this list is kept up-to-date.

5. List clear grammatical dos and don’ts

Alongside the glossary, your tone of voice guide should also have a distinct list of grammatical rules for your writers to follow. This should be as comprehensive as possible, but listed in a digestible way so it is easier for writers to understand and apply to your brand.

  • Do you want hyphens to be used in words like double-click?
  • What perspective do you speak with? (i.e. first-person, second-person, third-person)
  • What slang words or abbreviations are allowed and which are forbidden?
  • Are writers encouraged to use idioms, cliches, metaphors and other literary devices?
  • What are your rules relating to punctuation and formatting?
  • How long should sentences and paragraphs be in general?

This sounds like nit-picking, but if you want to achieve complete consistency, it is best that nothing about your voice is left to chance.

6. Put copy into context

Remember what we said about voice and tone being separate? That’s because the overarching language and grammatical rules you outline in your tone of voice guidelines might shift slightly depending on the context of the writing.

For instance, on a press release or product description, your copy might be more formal and to-the-point, with little margin for humour or creative expression. At the same time, your social posts could be more colloquial and quirky. The nature of these different types of content necessitates a change in tone to not appear jarring to the audiences reading it.

So, make sure your guidelines address any difference in approach on specific content channels. This will allow for the writing to be rightly adjusted for these various audiences, but not stray too far away from your brand’s core identity.

7. Provide plenty of examples

To give your writers complete clarity over how they should produce content for your brand, it is vital that you give them clear examples of copy that ticks all the right boxes, and copy that is completely off-brand.

Providing several examples, across all of your brand channels, will make it apparent to new and existing writers what is expected of them in a way that simply explaining doesn’t always cover. When you’re learning grammar in school, you will be presented with good and bad examples to make that process easier – this works in exactly the same way here.

Consider the “Goldilocks” technique here: If you want your brand to be perceived as “approachable yet professional”, you might title your emails with “hello” rather than “dear” (too formal and familiar) or “hey” (too colloquial).

8. Don’t forget the details

While it is important not to overwhelm writers with detail to make it as straightforward as possible for them to absorb and apply your tone of voice requirements, not covering all your bases widens the risk of inconsistencies creeping in over time.

With this in mind, make sure you also incorporate sections dedicated to:

  • The degree of formality of your content in various contexts
  • Your stance on swearing and other potential sticking points
  • How and when to reference news and pop culture

Continue to review and assess your copy over time to see if any off-brand tendencies start to emerge, and if they do, update your guidelines where necessary to reflect this.

9. Make it easily accessible

Finally, you can have the most complete, comprehensible tone of voice guide imaginable – but if nobody can access it or knows where it is, it will have no effect. So, it is vital that the location of the guide is known company-wide, and that your teams globally can access it at all times to inform their writing.

This is where a platform like BAM by Papirfly™ can be a powerful complement to your tone of voice guidelines. By providing a single, central destination for all your brand guidelines, this keeps your teams worldwide aware of your brand’s unique identity and how they should maintain this both verbally and visually.

A single source of truth for your brand voice that your entire team can engage with.

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4 brands that know their tone of voice

Coca-Cola

A brand that is already benefiting from BAM by Papirfly™, Coca-Cola’s tone of voice has been clear and consistent across its 130-year history – it is all about bringing happiness to people.

Coca-Cola maintains a positive, friendly and down-to-earth tone across all its primary communications, built around their core personality trait of helping people live happy lives. Through the language they use, no one is left in any doubt what their brand stands for, and that’s helped it become one of the world’s most celebrated brands.

Examples

“Open happiness”

“Together tastes better”

“Refresh on the Coca-Cola side of life”

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Starbucks

Starbucks’ voice guidelines plainly outline their tone of voice in a way anyone can understand, including several examples.

By employing a blend of functional and expressive language, Starbucks sets out their brand identity as one that wants to be clear, helpful and digestible for their customers, but to unlock their passion for what they drink and to indulge in what they love.

Examples

“That first sip feeling”

“It’s not just coffee. It’s Starbucks”

“Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”

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Dove

As a company built around beauty and self-care, it is important that Dove’s messages of empowerment and body positivity are projected throughout it’s communications.

Dove keeps this consistent in their various marketing and social media campaigns, through to their website, where their vision aligns them as an organisation that wants to make beauty a source of confidence, rather than anxiety.

Examples

“Making a genuine difference”

“Welcome to Dove…the home of real beauty”

“We believe that real beauty comes from confidence, and confidence comes from embracing who you are”

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Old Spice

Following their rebrand in 2010, Old Spice unshackled themselves from their former tone of voice, which was associating them with a mature audience, and revitalised it to attract a broader, younger demographic.

By focusing on wit, humour and a new perspective on masculinity, Old Spice used its new voice to regain its foothold as a global leader in men’s deodorant.

Examples

“The man your man could smell like”

“How to keep excessive sweat from stopping your swagger”

“Get more awesomeness, good smellingness, and Old Spice exclusiveness than ever before”

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Lock down your tone of voice

We hope this has helped you recognise the absolute importance of being clear and consistent with your brand’s tone of voice and language, and how you can guarantee this in your own marketing.

Consistency is the cornerstone of customers trusting your brand – and this needs to be maintained every time you engage with them. Your tone of voice and the language you use is just one component of this, but it is one that demands your attention to prevent your voice from becoming confused or inaccurate.

BAM by Papirfly™ is designed to help you brand lock down consistency across all areas of your marketing, both verbally and visually. 

  • Harness bespoke, intelligent templates to produce assets faster and more cost-effectively, with no chance of going off-brand
  • Make all guidelines, training videos and assets available company-wide
  • Set permissions for different team members to ensure they can only access features and assets relevant to them and their market

Start empowering your brand with BAM – get in touch with our team today.

by Papirfly

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