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“Voice” and “Tone” are important reflections of your brand.  Likely you invested quite a bit of money and effort on getting your logo just right.  You worked hard to achieve consistency in colors, look and feel, so that your company is easily recognized and associated with the messages you want to convey. 

Likewise, you can think of voice and tone as your brand in the ear of your clients and partners. 

So what exactly is voice and tone?

  • Voice is that core element that is always the same.  Voice is closely aligned with your brand attributes.
  • Tone varies depending on context and situation.  For example, the tone in Twitter is very different than the tone of a product description.

Projecting a clear, consistent and distinct voice is an important part of building your brand. 

Here is a great illustration on two articles both reporting on the recent Nobel Prize award to Bob Dylan:

The Skimm
A Nobel Prize could be in your future. Yesterday, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature. No, he didn’t just write a book. Instead, Dylan received the award for his lyrics over his more than five-decade career. He’s the first musician ever to win the prize, and the academy gave it to him because he “writes poetry for the ear.” You know Dylan for his politically-charged lyrics that influenced the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protests in the 60s. This was the first time in a while that the literature prize went to someone that made people say ‘I actually know this person.’ And made a lot of authors say, ‘you gave our prize to a singer?’ The times, they might be a-changin’.

The Washington Post
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for work that the Swedish Academy described as “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

He is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993, and a groundbreaking choice by the Nobel committee to select the first literature laureate whose career has primarily been as a musician.

Big difference – right? The message is basically the same but The Skimm voice is hip, conversational and fun while The Washington Post voice is informative and authoritative.

Another practical consideration is that you are very likely to have multiple writers in your company.  You may delegate to an outside professional, or share blog posts, email newsletters, etc. among your work colleagues.  With any move to a second writer, you run the risk of having a different voice for your company. 

Below is a process to develop your business voice and tone that can be done in a few hours:

  1. Collect background on your company and brand:  Gather docs, such as your Mission/Vision statement, Company Values, Customer segment definition and Value props, and even all those discussion notes you had when creating your logo.
     
  2. Collect competitor and partner examples of voice and tone.  By looking at their websites and other materials, how do they sound to you?
     
  3. List attributes with your team.  With all of this background laid out, assemble your company team.  Have a discussion about company brand and how it “sounds”. Have each person write adjectives that come to mind on a post-it note.  (Here is a sample list to help start the discussion.)
     
  4. Cluster into a few main attributes.  Group together synonyms. and have a discussion on what this means about your company voice. 
     
  5. Compare to the voice of your competitors.  Talk about what makes your voice distinct from the others out there in the marketplace.  Refine your adjectives adding what you are and what you are not.  You should now have a good, pretty concise description of your company voice.
     
  6. Decide on Tone by channel.  List each of your communications channels (web pages, blog posts, each social media outlet, ads, speeches, brochures, partner communications, case studies, etc.).  For each, list the following:
  • What you would like a reader/viewer to say after reading your piece?
  • The emotions felt by that reader/viewer
  • Any examples that you feel capture the right tone
  • Additional tips and guidelines for the content creator

You now have a Voice and Tone guide that you can pass on to anyone speaking or writing for your company.  This is also quite useful when looking to select new content creators. 

For a great example of a Guide for Voice and Tone, check out this example from Mailchimp.