Deciding on the title for this article took a bit of time. Let me take you through the different options I considered and explain why they didn’t make the cut:
- It’s time to talk about tone of voice!
This was way too excitable and sounded like copy I just wrote for another brand.
- Hit all the right notes with your tone of voice!
I was pretty proud of the pun in this one but it didn’t really explain what the blog was about.
- Brand Tone of Voice: Recognisability, Personality and Consistency
This was a bit too long and wordy and overly specific.
What these three discarded titles offer - extra enthusiasm, mediocre puns and specificity - could work well in other contexts but weren’t the right fit for the blog title. This is because I’m writing with a particular style in mind: I want to speak with authority, be as clear as possible and ensure the blog is similar to others published by Colourcake. In other words, I wanted to match our Colourcake tone of voice (TOV).
A brand’s TOV describes how it communicates with its audience. In an ideal world, this is consistent across the customer experience because the brand lays out a set of guidelines for its writers. These guidelines inform all written copy.
The final title of the blog fulfils our TOV: it talks directly to you, the reader, it lets you know that we know what we’re talking about, and the blog will (just keep reading!) do exactly what it says on the tin.
Having a unique and consistent TOV means that your brand can be recognised not just by its snazzy logo or colour palette, but also by the way it presents itself verbally. Copy should be just as recognisable as images. It is, after all, the unsung hero of creative strategy.
Key Examples of Tone of Voice Heroes
Let me show you some great examples of brands that have absolutely nailed their tone of voice. In fact, I bet you can guess who they are just from a random piece of copy - that’s how good it is (and that’s the aim):
"Diving headfirst into a plunge pool. Getting your head around a cryptic crossword. Watching Pavarotti perform Nessun dorma. There are lots of ways to energise yourself but not all of them are quite as tasty as this super smoothie."
(Of course, it’s Innocent being hilarious as usual)
"Looking for a light-weight wavy hair conditioner that’ll leave you with more bounce than a baby kangaroo?"
(Yes it's good old Aussie, mixing Australian humour with Australian references)
"Odor never dares challenge the Red Collection, which transforms unfresh men into legends of confidence"
(Yup it's Old Spice getting all macho about deodorant)
All three of these examples are instantly recognisable by their trademark tone of voice, and are known (and loved) for it!
Found in Translation
I know what you’re thinking. These super well-known companies are all very well and good, but how exactly do you go about this? How does it work in practice?
In my mind, the clearest way to explain how to find your tone of voice is to think of it as a translation exercise. Your brand has its own personality. This personality needs to be translated into the words that are written by employees.
Translation is notoriously a tricky business. Even the most simple of phrases can cause confusion. Take the famous first line of The Stranger by Albert Camus which includes the word ‘maman’. Translators (always a fun bunch of people) have debated for decades about whether ‘maman’ should be translated from French into English as “Mother” “Mum” “Mummy” etc.
Now unless you are in charge of a children’s clothes store this example isn’t super relevant. But you get the gist. You need to think about what precise words you want to use out of a myriad of available options:
- Do you start your emails with a formal ‘Dear X’, or a more cheery ‘Hi!’?
- Are you a ‘Cheers’ or ‘Thank you very much’ kind of a brand?
- What are your feelings on punctuation? (Just FYI full stops are now seen as intimidating to Gen Z).
These things matter because they show the customer what kind of a brand you are.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty
Want some close-text analysis examples? Of course you do. Let’s look at a client we recently worked for: Coast Cycles.
Their tone of voice is bold and individual and rebellious. That’s why we created copy that was punchy and powerful and to the point.
Look closely at our choices of words: we went for ‘so-called outsiders’, ‘thrill-seekers’ and ‘urban heroes’ to describe cyclists who use Coast Cycles. These are emotive and hyphenated nouns that can pack a punch and cover all bases in just one word.
The slogan ‘Outride the Ordinary’ is simple, neat and puts the uniqueness of the bicycle, and the rider, at the heart of the Coast Cycle’s branding.
Perfecting your brand’s TOV
Now we’ve had a look at the nuts and bolts of what a TOV is and how it works in practice, here are some key pointers to remember when you’re creating your own TOV guidelines:
- Reflect on your own personality
What is your brand’s personality? Or more to the point, what is yours? Ask your friends, figure out your catchphrases. (You don’t need to use them. Trust us, in-jokes don’t work with the outside world). But they can be a rich source of inspiration for your guidelines and will make sure your brand has a real personality behind its name!
- Look to other brands for inspiration
Have a think about brands you love and the tone of voice they use. What do you like about it? Why does it work? Take inspiration from others. But also make it your own. Ensure sure your copy isn’t just copied.
- Keep it simple
There are a few easy tricks to make your guidelines comprehensive and comprehensible. Make a list of the adjectives you want to channel. Create some clear dos and don’ts. Choose what language and grammar rules you want to follow. Uber has a helpful example of good TOV guidelines on their website.
- Consider enlisting some external advice
If this all seems a bit daunting you can always get outside help from creative agencies for example. There are pros and cons to this. Cons: you don’t have direct control, you have to trust your baby with other people. Pros: you can collaborate with experts in the field who can provide informed advice about what works and what doesn’t.
The Holy Trinity of TOV
Now that you’ve perfected your TOV and have a clear set of copy guidelines there’s one final thing you have to do: get them out to everyone who writes for you, pronto! The only way TOV works is if everyone is using it. At every customer touchpoint, you want the same writing style, the same phrases, the same you.
My first wordy title may have been too specific for an opening, but it hits the nail on the head for a conclusion: recognisability, personality and consistency are the Holy Trinity of brand tone of voice. Keep them in mind, and you’ll be well on the way to perfecting your own TOV!