by Steve Kellas
Before we address Tone of Voice in copywriting, let’s begin by clearing up what Tone of Voice is in spoken (voice) communication.
The example I’ll use is Mr. T. You know Mr. T, right? The Mohawk-sporting, muscle-bound, gold-wearing man of The A-Team and Rocky fame?
“I pity the fool!”
“I ain’t no fool. Ya know.”
“Listen. And listen goo’. I’m talkin’ t’ you. When a new kid moves in on yo block, what’s yo attitude? Do ya figga, whadda we need ‘im fo’?”
“You catchin’ my drif[t] Yeah? Goo’…”
Mr. T has a very clear Tone of Voice. When he speaks, you know it’s him. He uses certain phrases, particular inflection, and uses grammar in a way that reflects the character he wants to project.
When we transcribe Mr. T’s words, we are reflecting his Tone of Voice in the spelling, vocabulary, and the particular construction of the phrases.
Tone of Voice in copywriting
You could call the written Tone of Voice the ‘personality’ or ‘character’ of the piece (webpage, brochure, TV advert).
Using a consistent Tone of Voice in copywriting provides gives consistency to a brand’s or business’ communications. Readers like consistency.
If I start writin’ like I’m da T, den ya’ll might find it a bit of jibba-jabba. Ya’ll might say that Steve…man, I pity da foo’.
But, when I use my own Tone of Voice, the text again ‘sounds’ like me.
There are 3 things to consider with Tone of Voice:
- Register: Mr. T’s register is lively, often humorous, slightly silly, loud, and personal. His register is rarely serious, detached, professional or relaxed.
- Vocabulary: The words that Mr. T uses are completely different to the words I choose to use. They are all English words, but where I say “I’m speaking to you”, Mr. T say he’s “talking at you.”
- Grammar: Formal, in-formal: The structures of your writing give form and meaning. Mr. T’s use of grammar is a thing all his own! Consider contractions (it’s vs. it is) and sentence length in varying the Tone of Voice (shorter is less formal).
You can change the Tone of Voice by altering the register, vocabulary and the grammar. But there is more.
How to use Tone of Voice
I’m often asked how to know what sort of tone to use.
The answer is quite plain.
Your audience determines your Tone of Voice.
Imagine Mr. T at a wrestling match press conference. His Tone of Voice will be even more brash, loud, aggressive and full of slang that it usually is. He aims his Tone of Voice at the wrestling fan audience.
Now imagine Mr. T addressing a congregation at a funeral. His Tone of Voice will be more formal, more quiet and reserved. He will not shout or use slang. Mr. T is respectful and will change his Tone of Voice to suit the audience here too.
Our copywriting must be written in a way that connects with our audience. If they are engineers, the tone might be professional, or academic. If our audience is children, we will use simple grammar, smaller words (vocabulary) and simple concepts.
Online Tone of Voice
In web copywriting, we know that a casual Tone of Voice is preferred over a formal one. We also know that conversational style is preferred over a professional style.
For Big Star Copywriting, our Tone of Voice is:
Research and tone
When doing your research on your topic, it’s important to choose sources that contribute to the Tone of Voice that’s appropriate for your audience.
Wikipedia might be a great source of information, but it is quite formal and dry (being an encyclopedia) and the content itself is factual, rather than insightful or adventurous.
If you’re writing an article for a backpacker travel brand, using Wikipedia as a source for research probably won’t work. There just won’t be the tidbits of information that the backpacker audience wants to know about. They probably don’t care what the GDP is, but they might really like to know where to get a totally awesome massage.
How you find Tone of Voice is by deciding what the audience will best respond to.
Whatever Tone of Voice you take, just be sure that it’s consistent, fool!