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Illustration showing a desk microphone with sound waves and a red speech bubble. Guide to finding brand voice blog post.

The Ultimate Guide To Finding Your Brand's Tone of Voice

Hannah Williams

Mar 20, 2024

With companies putting out content across multiple channels every day, having a defined brand tone of voice is more important than ever and a key part of brand management. In the same way body language, facial expression, and voice tone help humans understand what others think, a brand's voice communicates important information to audiences and potential customers. 

A consistent tone and unique brand voice not only defines companies, but it also helps them stand apart from their competitors. In this guide, we'll cover how to develop a unique voice for your brand along with some brand more about the value of developing your brand voice guidelines. But first, let's answer a central question: What is tone of voice in branding?

Table of Contents

Tone of Voice Definition

In essence, tone of voice describes how your brand speaks with its audience, which impacts how that audience receives and perceives your message.

Tone of voice is all about how you communicate as opposed to what you communicate. 

Tone of Voice in Communication

Tone is the foundation of any brand's communication with its audience. The same information presented in different tones can be interpreted in wildly different ways. Take announcing a sale for example. Which of these two tag lines appeals to you more:

  • The summer sale you've been waiting for is here! 50% of all inventory!

Tone is expressed through word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, and even font and capitalization. Different occasions call for different tones, but no matter which one you choose make sure it aligns with your brand voice.

Your Brand Voice

Your brand voice, which includes its tone, should reflect your brand's personality and story with a certain X factor that helps it stand out. 

When thinking about your brand's tone of voice, imagine having an actual conversation with your brand. How does it sound? Angry, formal, funny, or happy? Is there a particular way that it speaks? A solid brand voice will steer the rest of your brand's communications. 

Why is Tone of Voice Important?

  1. It enhances customer experience and drives culture, community, and conversation.
  2. It humanizes your brand, showing off a personality that reminds your audience that humans are behind the company or social media account.
  3. It encourages interaction. Writing conversationally invites customers to get engage with your brand.
  4. It creates a consistent brand image. Uniformity across the way you communicate strengthens the core values you are trying to portray, making your brand image more consistent.  
screenshot of netflix tweet for brand tone of voice

Brand Tone of Voice Examples

Different tones of voice exist in branding, but a common thread between them is the consistency they bring to brand messaging. You don't want to sound funny and humorous one day and angry the next. The way your brand sounds to audiences is as important as how it looks, so it's critical that you have a definitive style of speaking.

If you're stuck on where to begin discovering your own unique brand tone of voice, watch this video featuring examples from some of the world's leading brands: Starbucks, Uber, MailChimp, Harley-Davidson, Coca-Cola, Old Spice, Tiffany.

1. Humorous tone

You likely have seen communications materials from Skype, one of the world's leading telecommunications apps. Skype's brand guide explains, "Humour is an important part of the Skype voice." A "gentle wit" helps the company present its products and services in an approachable way. This tone of voice is appropriate for an app like Skype that many people use to stay in touch with family and friends.

2. Respectful tone

Walmart has extensive brand voice guidelines for its internal and recruiting comms. It notes that its voice is always human, vibrant, helpful, and inclusive, but its brand tone of voice changes to suit different needs. Messages can span a relatively wide range of formality and seriousness, but communications always tend to be respectful, yet enthusiastic. Because these guidelines have to do with communications in the workplace, a professional tone like that one is a great choice.

3. Informal tone

Messaging app Slack is primarily used for business communications, but it uses an informal tone to distinguish itself from competitors. Its brand guidelines explain that it tries to strike a careful balance in its tone.

While we intend to have a more conversational, human tone in the main, that doesn't mean that we're overly informal. Our tone will vary depending on the audience, the context, and the information we need to get across.

4. Motivating tone

There are many great examples of brands with motivating tones of voice, including clothing brand Urban Outfitters. Its tone — described in its brand book as free-spirited, honest, direct, cheeky, and youthful — has exactly the kind of motivating energy that appeals to its young customer base.

5. Serious tone

Like the companies mentioned above, Greenpeace's tone changes depending on the context. While not a company per-se, the environmental nonprofit still a distinct voice that they adhere to for all their communications. According to its brand guidelines, Greenpeace uses an authoritative tone when talking about the organization's research and a matter-of-fact tone when talking about world events. Both help communicate expertise when the occasion calls for it.

Different Tones of Voice

Other than the ones just discussed, here are some different tones of voice you can consider when brainstorming your own brand voice and tones:

  • Fun tone
  • Authoritative tone
  • Edgy tone
  • Optimistic tone
  • Intelligent tone
  • Bold tone
  • Approachable tone
  • Professional tone
  • Sympathetic tone
  • Dry tone
  • Free-spirited tone
  • Uninhibited tone
  • Posh tone
  • Down-to-earth tone
  • Animated tone
  • Formal tone
  • Assertive tone
  • Conversational tone
  • Heroic tone
  • Passionate tone
  • Straightforward tone
  • Soft tone
  • Informative tone

Use these and other kinds of tone of voice to find the one that fits your brand (and the context it's communicating in) best.

5 Tips to Finding Your Tone of Voice

Finding a tone of voice for your brand that strikes the right note can be harder than it sounds. These tips can help you get started:

1. Get to know your audience

Close up image of a handshake between two people.

For communications professionals, understanding your audiences allows you to target your outreach appropriately. The same applies to tone of voice.

Just like conversations IRL, you should adapt your communication style to who you are speaking to. For example, if you are a travel brand whose primary clients are gap year students, you'll want to be more laid back in your communication style. In contrast, if you are communicating with corporate professionals, you may want to be more formal in your messaging.

While you probably have a good idea of who your target market is, there is no harm in digging deeper into their age, gender, interests, and professions. This will help you to build a fuller profile of your potential customers. You can then use this profile to build an appropriate tone of voice. How do you do this? Analyze customer data, create surveys, and use media monitoring.

Learn more about audience segments and personas.

Meltwater audience demographics tool.

2. Create a brand personality

Conveying a personality that makes your brand more likable and approachable requires you to consider the following questions:

  • What makes your brand unique?
  • What does it stand for?
  • What kind of culture do you promote within the brand?
  • Who is your brand's audience?

Taking these answers on board, you can decide on what unique qualities you want to portray through your communications and messaging. Then you can devise a content strategy around how to communicate them. 

Consider Innocent Drinks: Their unique tone of voice is notorious in the marketing world. They use an informal, light-hearted tone to speak to their customers and often post quirky puns and blog posts. One reason why Innocent’s tone of voice is so successful is that it is authentic. Being quirky and humorous is part of their company culture and how the company began. In turn, the brand's audience has had a positive reaction to its tone of voice.

innocent drinks brand tone of voice

3. Keep your tone conversational

While this may go against everything you were told at school, write as though you are speaking directly to your customer. Conversational writing will boost engagement because it has personality, emotion, and human qualities behind it.

4. Adapt your tone of voice based on the reason you’re communicating

It's important to moderate your brand’s tone of voice depending on the situation. You can still be authentic while adapting how much you push your brand’s personality. If you are handling complaints or important information, a more formal tone is necessary. If you are sharing general conversation and links to content, you can speak more informally.

Finally, when pushing a competition, event, or sharing good news, you can play with your language even more. Showing off your brand’s personality can attract attention and yield greater buzz — a meme or emoji may be appropriate in this kind of situation.

Related: Learn more about crafting a crisis communications strategy.

5. Measure your success

Picture of a classic yellow tape measure

So you have a tone of voice that is being implemented across all of your comms. Now it’s time to measure whether your customers are responding to it the way that you hoped. Meltwater's social listening platform can help you understand how the public is engaging with your brand over time. Try tracking six months of social engagements to get a good feel.

Next, analyze whether engagement has increased and whether that engagement is positive or negative. You can benchmark your social media channels before and after implementing a new tone of voice. 

What to Avoid in Your Brand Tone of Voice

Here are some general rules of thumb to keep in mind when crafting and implementing your brands tone of voice.

Try not to be too cheesy

How do you do fellow kids GIF

A word of caution: If you are appealing to a young or laid-back audience, trying to be ‘down with the kids may come across as cheesy or inauthentic.

There’s nothing wrong using emojis or meme, but make sure you know the full meaning and culture behind them. Some emojis mean different things and some memes have more contextual backstory that you should be aware of before using. . 

Remember that tone can be wrongly interpreted

It can happen to the best of us: you send an ironic or sarcastic text, and the receiver misinterprets it. Likewise, it can be difficult to detect sarcasm in a Tweet or Facebook post. Unclear social media posts can leave you in a rather sticky situation, especially if the interpretation of the message causes offense or spreads false information.

Avoid using jargon

Abbreviations and industry talk may come naturally to you, but you should avoid using jargon not everyone will understand in external comms. As a rule of thumb, keep your language as simple and unambiguous as possible. 

Remember, it will take time for your tone of voice to impact your brand engagement. So don't worry if you don't see results right away!

Want to know more about how media monitoring can improve your brand's tone of voice?

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