“Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points.” – Jonah Sachs
You already know that your brand needs a strong tone of voice in order to stand out. This voice should be one which distinctively ‘sounds like’ your company – and you alone. It should also constantly reinforce your unique selling propositions in language that your core audience can relate to.
Ultimately, your tone of voice should place your customer at the heart of everything - what are their likes and dislikes? What problems do they have? And, above all, what sort of language do they use?
Crafting an effective and authentic brand tone of voice is hard work. It requires thoughtful, creative input from a cross-section of your team and - when you're creating your avatars - a level of character research that would put some published authors to shame. But it’s worth putting the time in because, done right, brand story can be your business’ most potent asset.
- It’s the vision for your business
- It identifies the customers you love, and that love you in return
- It’s the strategic core of your marketing
- It’s your distilled essence
- It’s what makes you different from everyone else
- It’s your DNA
- It enables you to write compelling and meaningful communications
- It’s the story of your business, told in a way people can relate to
- It’s what gets people talking about you
- It’s the reason customers will pay more for your product or service
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’ve already created your brand story. We’re here to make sure the work you’ve put in to create it doesn’t go to waste.
If you’re just starting out, take a look at our piece on Why and how to create a strong brand voice online
One mistake we see time and again is businesses failing to apply their brand story across all channels. There may be evidence of a brand tone of voice on the website Home and About Us pages but take a look at the business social media channels, PPC campaigns and product descriptions and hey! It sounds like everyone else.
You’ll be familiar with the ‘Rule of 7’, which states that people will interact with your brand an average of seven times before making a purchase. Maintaining a steady, recognisable tone of voice across all these interactions helps build brand loyalty (even before a purchase has been made) and provides the consumer with a snag-free experience.
Let’s take a look at how tone of voice features in seven example touchpoints:
Step 1: Google search. The start of over 40% of online sales (BrightEdge) and your first opportunity to communicate with a potential customer. Check the tone of voice in your Page Titles and Meta Descriptions.
Step 2: Your website (first visit). Ensure your page content matches up with your Page Titles and Meta Description.
Step 3: Google Retargeting Ads. Even if they don’t click, step number 3 is an opportunity to strengthen the impression of your brand with your logo and – you guessed it – messaging that corresponds with the page they’ve already visited
Step 4: Facebook retargeting ads. Share one of your most popular blog articles (make sure it’s related to the page they originally visited). Whether created in-house or using a blog copywriting service, ensure your tone of voice guidelines are applied to every blog article for a consistent user experience
Step 5: Your Facebook business page. If you’ve applied your tone of voice to your social media accounts, a cursory scroll through your Feed will deepen visitors’ sense of who you are as a brand
Step 6: Second website visit (via the blog article). Not ready to purchase yet but, because they like what they’re reading, they sign up to your newsletter.
Step 7: First email. On sign-up, you send them a special offer code with 10% off their first purchase. The email tone blends seamlessly with everything else they’ve seen. They like you. They trust you. They’re ready to buy.Like your company logo and trademarks, brand tone of voice needs to be consistent across all channels or it loses its power.
Why brand tone of voice gets lost
The result of inconsistently applied brand tone of voice is also its cause: poor communication.
All the work you’ve done on brand tone of voice is worthless without comprehensive accompanying guidelines. These guidelines should be shared with every member of your team, as well as content creators, agencies, partners, designers and stakeholders.
Your brand guidelines should be displayed (remember printing?) somewhere everyone goes (the staff kitchen, the toilet, the coffee machine) and taken along to every marketing meeting. Ultimately, your whole team should be able to quote passages from your brand bible on request. You should refer to it so much you get sick of it.
You get the point. We’re driving it home because, when it comes to tone of voice, the second most common mistake brands make (after not having a tone of voice at all,) is creating it and not telling anyone about it.
“Remember, once you’ve got consistency with your brand tone of voice, don’t let it slip for the sake of convenience or short term gain. When it comes to it , the trust you will gain from having a clear and recognisable brand tone of voice is invaluable.”
A word of caution: it’s your voice, not theirs
While your customer’s voice should undoubtedly help inform that of your brand, beware of putting words in their mouth. While your replies to FAQs and customer queries should follow your tone of voice guidelines, don’t force the customer to adopt them, too. To illustrate, take a look at these dropdown query options from lovely online furniture retailer Loaf.
Aside from the fact that options one and two are essentially the same (what a waste of precious space!), the repetition of ‘I’ve got a little question’ is likely to make all but the most die-hard Loaf fans a bit queasy. Furthermore, forcing a disgruntled customer whose order hasn’t shown up / arrived faulty / has been charged twice into describing their query as ‘little’ (read: insignificant) is not likely to soothe any ruffled feathers.
Talking of feathers, Loaf also offers us a useful example of where brand voice can obfuscate rather than refine communication. Their lovely sofas are squishable (ahem) because their cushions are wrapped in feathers. Now, I love a squish as much as the next person (I’m not a monster), but I also happen to be cursed with a feather allergy.
Search the Loaf site for ‘feather-free sofas’: nothing.
Search it for ‘vegan sofa’ (140 Google queries a month): zilch.
Curious, I emailed them and was perkily informed that they do of course do feather-free sofas! All I had to do was click on the Style filter (nothing under Fabric or Type options) and select ‘no plumping’. Of course. Because it is plumping that constricts my throat and brings me out in an unsightly rash.
The lesson: apply your tone of voice consistently but never at the expense of clarity. And don’t make your visitors speak with your voice: that’s weird.
The long and short of it
As with real life speaking, your online voice is highly noticeable when you speak at length, for example in your web content and your blogs. But it is no less noticeable when you speak for a very brief time, as is the case with short-form pieces of content such as PPC ads and social media posts.
In fact, with online attention spans shrinking all the time, a strong tone of voice is arguably more important for short-form content than for long. After all, by the time people are reading your web content you’ve already achieved what Social and PPC are aiming for: getting them on to your website.
“Just as everyone pays attention to a person who speaks briefly but convincingly and with confidence, web users pay attention to brands that communicate solidly and authentically in a small space amid the constant thrum and chatter of the internet.”
Now, we’re not saying it’s easy to elegantly apply tone of voice to a 30 character Google Ads headline or 90 character Facebook Ad. But you must try.
If you’re outsourcing your PPC then make sure your agency has an up to date copy of your brand guidelines. To effectively optimise your campaigns, they will need to test different headlines, descriptions and landing pages so the aim here is to provide guidelines without hamstringing them. The tone of landing pages, even if they’re designed solely for PPC, should still fit seamlessly into the rest of your site.
The same principles apply to social media - the perfect vehicle for tone of voice. Social gives you the chance to be playful, chatty and - above all - accessible to both current and potential customers, but if there’s a big mismatch between what they see on your social channels and how you talk to them on your website, you’ll neither keep nor convert them. In the real world, we dislike people who behave differently according to who’s watching: the digital world is no different.
If you’ve put time and effort into creating a brand voice, don’t just limit it to the key pages on your website. Make sure your guidelines are shared with your PPC agency, social media managers, blog copywriters and designers. Your brand guidelines should inform all your communications and create a strong sense of your brand wherever people are online. It’s your voice: use it.