Would Mary Say That? Tone of Voice for Branding

So your ‘all singing, all dancing’ website is finally live, you’ve set up various social media accounts and you have plans in place for some creative e-mail marketing campaigns, you’ve even got as far as mapping out what you’re going to communicate to your customers and when, but have you thought about HOW you’re going to say it?

We spend a lot of time understanding business goals, putting together a comprehensive marketing strategy and developing a marketing plan that determines how we’re going to achieve these goals. Furthermore, in many organisations there are corporate guidelines in place for how and when the brand logo can or can’t be used, as well as outlining what fonts should be used in order to best represent a brand, but how much thought is given to the ‘tone of voice’. As the use of social media amongst businesses continues to grow, establishing a distinctive tone of voice has never been so important.

It’s essential to understand that communicating what your business does is important but communicating ‘who’ does the doing is equally as important. The personality behind the business is essentially what makes the business a brand, and with a brand you have a business you can market (if you’re still with me then well done!)

Establishing the Tone of Voice

For a ‘one man band’ or small business, the ‘tone of voice’ is more often than not a representation or a partial representation of the business owner(s), and it’s the responsibility of those that are communicating externally on behalf of the business to maintain that voice.

The good news is, once the tone of voice is established it becomes a natural way of ‘speaking’, and by speaking I really mean writing, and by writing I really mean typing!

Establishing the tone however is the tricky part. Below are my top 5 tips for establishing the tone of voice for your business and thus determining your brand.

Top 5 Tips for Establishing a Businesses Tone of Voice

  • Business mission, vision and values!

Once upon a time you built a business based on values, wrote a business mission you believed in and had a vision of the entire bigger picture. You should revisit these regularly, and if you haven’t done so recently now’s a good time. Your business values are what will help your business develop a culture, and from that culture will eventually grow your tone of voice. Many common business values include the words balance, community, diversity, empowerment – the list goes on, but immediately from these words you will start to develop a ‘vibe’ and a feeling that you and your company should embrace – use this wisely.

  • Consistency is King

This tip does what it says on the tin. Once you start to develop a tone, stick with it and don’t deviate. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to establish a tone of voice is to chop and change, often this comes from ‘too many cooks syndrome’, i.e. allowing too many people to converse as the brand, it’s a good idea to have just one, or perhaps two people maximum responsible for speaking on behalf of your precious brand – at least until the tone is established and you have set guidelines in place.  A good tip here is to almost name your brand’s tone of voice, so for the sake of this let’s call it ‘Mary’ and ask; would ‘Mary’ say that?

  • Be Inspired and Aspire

There’s no shame in taking inspiration from brands that you aspire to. Why not use a tool such as Pinterest to create inspirational boards to help you determine how you want others to view and interpret your brand, follow other brands you aspire too and take some inspiration from what they do well.  Some of the brands that I find most inspiring and consistent in their tone of voice include; Innocent Drinks, Joules, Ikea, Marks and Spencer’s and Fosters – for many of these brands you’d know the advert or the communication without even seeing the logo.  Remember that establishing tone of voice will make developing consistent marketing campaigns easier.

  • Consider your audience

Developing a tone of voice isn’t just about how you want to convey your brand, but also how your audience will portray it. I’d suggest developing a cute and quirky tone of a voice for what should be a straight talking accountancy firm isn’t going to work long term. When developing your marketing strategy and plan, I’d like to hope you’ll have spent some time researching who your target market/audience are and establishing their demographic – don’t forget this when establishing your tone of voice –  it’s no use talking to a 60+ year old customer in the same way you’d talk to an 18 year old customer!

  • GSOH – but don’t force it

We’ve all, well most of us anyway, got a sense of humour, for some innuendo and toilet humour has them in stiches, but for others a stiffer/drier sense of humour is what will make them relate to your brand. Humour is good, but it’s a fine line between what some people find amusing, and what others find offensive so keep it light, don’t force it and remember tip 4 – your audience!

In conclusion, your business needs a voice, and the tone of that voice is what makes your business a brand and remember – Would Mary Ask That?


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