Tone of Voice got your tongue?

The everyday approach to developing a tone of voice for your brand with Esme; Copywriting.

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You want your writing to sound a certain way. You want your words to express your values and mirror the investment that your products and services are worth.

This is called tone of voice. Tone of voice isn’t just ‘how your brand sounds’, it’s a way of learning, observing, practising and implementing how you write for your brand. 

It’s a set of rules and must-haves that help to structure and guide your communications, so that they sound just like you, time and time again. Tone helps you to write copy which blends seamlessly with your branding and having a tone of voice guidelines will help you to adapt your writing across various digital and print mediums.

At the very basic level, tone of voice helps to promote recognition and improve trust. When we write in a specific tone (read: there’s no rules here, you can create a tone of voice that is entirely and uniquely your own), it becomes unmistakably you

Exploring your brand isms

What are ‘isms’? They’re the phrases and words you say often when talking about your brand, services, clients and offerings. They’re the scaffolding that allow you to move forward with purpose. They’re the underlying stories and messages you repeat over and over again, because they add substance. On the flip side, recognising the green-light isms, can help you identify the words and phrases you’d never say. And these are equally as important because it starts to dictate where you draw the line when it comes to your unique tone of voice. 

Take Tiffany & Co. for example. Threaded throughout their entire website is the word ‘craftsmanship’. Whether it’s used explicitly in ‘unparalleled craftsmanship’ and ‘expert craftsmanship’, or acts as a quiet undertone to secondary claims such as ‘unparalleled design’, ‘artistry’ and ‘individual expression’, there is a consistent theme: the skill, quality and made-by-hand design that is poured into each piece of fine jewellery. It’s a pillar of their brand and that single word is an incredibly important part of their tone of voice.   

Tone of voice with Tiffany and Co
Unparalleled craftsmanship

Tone of voice with Tiffany and Co

Expert craftsmanship

Tone of voice with Tiffany and Co

Reinforcing the idea of craftsmanship

Other commonly used words and isms across the Tiffany brand that evoke a sense of surreal wonder, exclusivity, high quality and supreme luxury include:

  • ‘Surprise and delight’
  • ‘Extraordinary’ 
  • ‘Enduring symbol of love’ 
  • ‘Legendary style’ 
  • ‘Brilliant design’ – this one gives me the copywriter warm-and-fuzzies because it alludes to the idea of a brilliant diamond, which is what Tiffany is renowned for. It paints a picture through subtle association and storytelling. 

When you put pen to paper, it’s important to observe your brand isms, rather than critique or try and shape them into what they ‘should’ be. You may find that there’s a lot of inconsistency in your isms and it’s hard to pin down a list of words and phrases you use often. This in itself is a wonderful learning curve in helping to define and consolidate a consistent tone of voice for your brand.

The nitty gritty formalities

You’re always communicating. Sending off emails, replying to DMs, posting on social, commenting, interacting and producing content. Woven in amongst these constant communications are the everyday formalities. These little tidbits help to build out your tone of voice guidelines and create consistency. 

They’re things like;

  • Saying hello (Hi, Hey, How’re you, Hello there!, It’s great to connect once again, Hola, G’day, What’s happening?)
  • Saying goodbye (Cheers, Bye, Kind regards, Best, With love, Bye for now) 
  • How you refer to your audience collectively (creatives, entrepreneurs, pathfinders, all, clan, team) 

And then there are the practical grammatical rules you can put into place. Think along the lines of;

  • Will you shorthand anything? Are abbreviations okay? What about abbreviations of your brand name?
  • How will you write your social handle/s and website? Do you drop the www.?
  • Will you use sentence case? The Oxford comma? Will it differ between your website versus social media? Why or why not?

These little idiosyncrasies may seem like a drop in the ocean when it comes to developing your tone of voice, but they are a great place to start. They build the foundation for consistency of formatting and invite you to practise editing and shaping your copy to fit your tone of voice mould. 

Have a look at the very repetitive and direct way in which Tiffany & Co. structures and signs off their social posts. There is a clear ‘Link in bio’ call to action, correct grammar (including the correct use of an en dash) and the same minimalist use of hashtags that are clear and uniquely Tiffany.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tiffany & Co. (@tiffanyandco)

tone of voice with Tiffany and Co

Or the way in which their call to actions to shop opt for a higher end feel. Rather than ‘shop our lock bracelet’, they put the onus on the shopper. They envelope them with warm arms and invite them to ‘Discover Your Lock Bracelet’. There’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to luxury: once you visit their site, they want to immerse you in everything that is Tiffany.   

Australian charity, Love Your Sister, also does an excellent job of showing consistency in the details. Their Instagram captions consist of long paragraphs, brimming with raw detail, their call to actions are always followed by an exclamation mark (a single line amidst swathes of text– so they definitely stand out), a simple sign off ‘xsammy’ or ‘xsam’ and poignant use of P.S. and P.P.S to apply a personable, ‘afterthoughts are okay, because we are people’ tone to each caption.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by LYS (@loveyoursister)

By paying attention to the different ways brands use consistency of formatting and isms, you can begin to see how they influence the overall tone in which the brand communicates. Tiffany never uses exclamation marks, but where personality and conversationality reign supreme, they add emphasis for NFPs like Love Your Sister.

Where value meets personality 

This is my favourite part when developing a tone of voice. Expanding on your brand’s personality and creating a word bank will help structure and guide your writing. It can spark ideas and allows you to play around with sentences and paragraphs that sound like you. Start by writing down six adjectives that best describe your brand. You can reference existing branding guidelines, some of your favourite communications or audit your social media: you may find this final list is very close to the isms you identified earlier. 

The critical part of this exercise is to ensure they tie in with your values. These six adjectives need to be words you can see your brand using over and over again. 

Rank them from one to six and then go on to brainstorm any phrases or personality traits associated with each word to see what fits with your ideal tone of voice and what pushes a boundary. Bonds is a great example. It doesn’t take a copywriter to figure out one of their key brand words (which guides and influences their copy) is comfy.  

  • ‘Bonds Australia online offers the comfiest men’s, women’s, kids’ and baby clothes, undies and socks at affordable prices.
  • ‘Step out in comfy style’
  • ‘With so many comfy options to choose from’

tone of voice with Bonds

Tone of voice with Bonds

When you hear the word ‘comfy’, there’s plenty of similar words and phrases that spring to mind. Cosy, snuggly, snug as a bug, comfy AF, soooo comfy, the comfiest, comfort. But why did comfy reign supreme? It likely has to do with versatility. When you’re a big brand like Bonds whose target market is almost everyone (babies through to teenagers, men and women alike), there needs to be a strong association between all of your products and the people who are going to wear and love them.

Cosy and snuggly? Perfect to use when marketing baby clothes, but much less relatable when marketing mens jocks. And then there’s the fact that comfy fits so well for the laid back Australian brand. If they suddenly started promising you underwear with unparalleled design and expert craftsmanship, it would be confusing. It would make the reader hesitate: is a price hike coming? Are they pivoting? Is it even normal, everyday comfy Bonds underwear anymore?

Remember, tone of voice is about building trust and recognition. Building trust is rooted in consistency and predictability. Tone is about building out guidelines which consist of words, isms, phrases and rules that allow you to evoke certain emotions and feelings which resonate with your audience and prompt action.


About the author

Fusing connected storytelling with strategy | Esme; Copywriting.

Ayla writes from her home in Brisbane, Australia, and warmly welcomes global clients. Her work echoes a love for delving into the intricacies of brand tone of voice, flexibly adapting her writing style to creative agencies through to health professionals and everyone in between. Valuing connection, storytelling and attention to detail, Ayla was inspired to create a brand which pushed back against the rise in AI. Esme; Copywriting is an invitation, an olive branch if you will, to fellow creatives who yearn for a strategic, yet artistic flare that will set your words a part from the rest. Connect with Ayal on the Talent Board now.