What Is Your Tone of Voice?

How to make your business copywriting less generic, and more like your business

A blue loudspeaker
Make yourself heard...without shouting

If you do most of the copywriting for your business yourself, you will instinctively know how you want it to make your business sound.


When other people are also doing the copywriting, you should document this instinct in a way that other people can emulate. You do this by writing a Tone of Voice.


​FYI - This is sometimes written as a 'tone of voice'. Or a 'tone-of-voice'. Or a ToV, for short. An example of the sort of content contained in your Style Guide.


A Style Guide details the words you use. A Tone of Voice explains how you use them.


The Style Guide details the words you use. It confirms the language constructs that the copywriting for your business must always follow. The Style Guide is like a dictionary or thesaurus that anyone writing copy for your business can look to for an answer.


​The rules in your Style Guide may just be down to your personal preference, but they still provide straightforward 'yes or no' answers.

A Tone of Voice is not about the words you use. A Tone of Voice attempts to explain how you use them. A Tone of Voice is less logical, and more emotional.


Anyone speaking the same language has the same words to use.


How they use those words comes from their personality.


A Tone of Voice

A Tone of Voice describes the personality of the business. It will often include examples of real (famous) people who have the personality traits you want to emulate.


​The contents of a Tone of Voice are more open to interpretation than a Style Guide. A good Tone of Voice should include words and phrases that illustrate what should, and what should not, be used in your business copywriting.


​Any copywriting that is done for your business should feel like it has been written by someone with the personality you describe.


Why you need a Tone of Voice

A Style Guide gives a reference point to the language of your business. When this is used by everyone who writes for your business, you are more likely to have consistency of language.


But it still won't make you stand out from every other business. Anyone speaking the same language has the same words. How we use those words, and how we are recognised for the way we use them, is down to our individual personality.


​There are a number of approaches you can take to creating a Tone of Voice. Most start by imagining what sort of person you think your business is like. Note that this is not the same as the personality of your customer.


A Tone of Voice defines the personality of your business, as though your business were a real person.

 

Examples of Tone of Voice content


Emotion

Are you a happy brand?

Does the product or service you provide lead to your customers being happier?


If happiness is given by what your business supplies, reflect this in your copywriting.

Include statements that have a positive sentiment and consider using humour.


Avoid negatives like 'not' or 'can't' or 'no' where you can.


Age

Does your business need to appear up to date with the latest trends?

Or are maturity, experience and tenure important to customers in your market?


If your business sells the latest technology, or fashion, it may be important to sound young.

An older, more parental tone may be appropriate if you are providing legal or accountancy advice.


Of course, swapping these tones around also works well for stand out.


Formality

Are you quite formal in your dealings with others?

Or is a casual approach more fitting to your market?


Consider the language your customers use in other aspects of their lives. Try and reflect this level of formality in your copywriting.


Note that a brand can be polite and professional without resorting to words rarely used outside an office.


And formality is not linked to sector. First Direct can use my first name. NatWest bank cannot.

 

What you put in your Tone of Voice should be easy to interpret

It can be difficult to describe a personality so that others can evaluate whether the copywriting they are doing for your business reflects it. To make it as clear as possible, include examples of phrases and words as illustrations of the personality.


​Try and avoid subjectivity. Ask for other people's interpretations and opinions. And don't worry if you need to change your Tone of Voice as you get to see it evolve over time.