The Power of Tone of Voice and How to Harness it
Tone of voice is the personality that brands project to their audiences in words. What you say is as important as how you say it.
The words “police have crossed the line” were inscribed on white and blue tape plastered across Lush store fronts, in the brand’s undercover police poster campaign launched at the start of the month. But it appears that the ethical cosmetics brand might have crossed the line itself.
The original poster campaign aimed at highlighting an inquiry into two undercover officers who allegedly infiltrated activist groups depicted an image of a man dressed as both an activist and as a policeman—with the slogan “paid to lie” taking centre stage in bold font.
Lush ditched their characteristically relaxed and quirky brand voice in a stunt that confused the company’s ethical values with those of hardcore campaigners—instead of starting a meaningful conversation, the campaign caused frustration and anger amongst the brand’s following.
What you say is as important as how you say it.
Tone of voice is the personality that brands project to their audiences in words across all touch points, and in the example of Lush’s campaign that personality is fragmented and confused. Just as personalities grow and change, when brands evolve and their messaging changes over time so does their voice.
How your brand speaks may not be the prime article on your agenda, but it’s key in building consistency and maintaining a recognisable and trustworthy identity across different mediums. Unassuming, but indispensable when done well.
The first essential is defining who you are as a brand. Your brand voice should reflect and communicate your brand values and key messages. Focus on the brand that you are, your product or offering, and unique characteristics. While aspiration can certainly be a great thing, your brand voice needs to be a true manifestation of your essence and not another brands’.
Reflect on your library of content online and offline, highlighting examples that do or don’t align with your brand ethos. Focus on those that do, and start thinking about outlining a personality.
Think of tone of voice as the personality of a person. What makes that personality unique? Price comparison website comparethemarket.com encapsulate their humorous and witty brand personality with beloved mascot Aleksandr Orlov, the characterful meerkat. Aside from differentiating themselves from competition with an original concept, the mascot they have created to embody their brand voice is three dimensional and almost believable. The brand’s “Compare Meerkats” campaign and Alesandr’s voice extends from TV advertising, to content and written copy on their website.
Think of traits that make your brand personality distinct, and how that personality comes across in your brand touch points.
Consumers are no longer being dictated to by brands—it’s quite the opposite. Creating a fruitful conversation with your target audiences requires the right tone of voice. The Vogue Me publication aimed at targeting a Millennial generation in China, who in contrast to their parents’ generation prefer brands that converse with and not dictate to them . Launched in 2016, the publication has seen success with a younger generation of free thinking individuals by creating an open dialogue that focuses on a relaxed and honest tone of voice alongside innovative content and influencer features.
Define the kind of relationship your brand has with its audience, and how that relationship can be strengthened through the way in which your brand speaks.
Address your audiences
Although embodying a cohesive personality, your brand voice will vary depending on unique situations and your audience segments. For example, luxury fashion house Maison Margiela and its diffusion line MM6 cater to separate yet overlapping audience segments. On Instagram, the Margiela account features an analytical tone of voice with informative captions. In contrast, the MM6 account centres on a descriptive tone of voice alongside styled looks and pushing verbs. The first speaks to the fashion in-crowd, while the latter caters to consumers interested in fashion.
Your brand voice should be natural and seamless, adapting to distinct occasions and vary when addressing different audience segments.
Tailor your voice
Different platforms call for a different approach including content, but also tone of voice. Luxury leather goods brand Smythson optimises their use of content on different platforms by modifying their tone of voice across mediums. The Smythson website and print collateral uses a formal voice that compliments the brand’s story of heritage. In comparison, on Instagram the brand’s voice is relaxed and tailored to the personalities and lifestyles of its younger audience segment who frequent the platform.
Accentuate the benefits of different platforms by tailoring your tone of voice to each medium.
We see tone of voice in action everyday from brands and businesses across diverse sectors, yet we might not stop to analyse the influence of words and how language is used. Often it’s not about reinventing our brand voices, but rather working with what’s already there and what’s changed. Harnessing how you speak as a brand helps you communicate exactly who and what your brand is at its core.