People in marketing bandy about the words ‘tone of voice’ (TOV) a lot. But after having a chat with a potential client earlier in the week, and realising how little she understood about tone of voice, we thought it was time to write a blog post about it.
It’s been ages since we’ve written a blog for ourselves, as we’ve been a little preoccupied with other people’s content. There are times that all our creative energy is directed towards our clients, and so very little is left in the tank for us. Not a bad problem to have when you’re a band of copywriters, but still, our blog is looking a little dusty.
Anyway, let’s start with the formal definition of ‘Tone of Voice’:
“A particular quality, way of sounding, modulation, or intonation of the voice as expressive of some meaning, feeling, spirit, etc.: a tone of command. 5. an accent peculiar to a person, people, locality, etc., or a characteristic mode of sounding words in speech. … 6. stress of voice on a syllable of a word.”
In marketing, and especially in copywriting, we mean something slightly different. When we say tone of voice we’re talking about the personality of your brand as expressed through your written content. This means the choice of words, the sequence, rhythm, and placement of words, and the general ‘mood’ that’ll be created through the use of those particular word choices. We’re especially talking about how you want to be perceived by your target audience. So, it’s not really what you say, but more how you say it.
When I spoke to the client who was fuzzy on TOV, I tried to explain that we would theoretically use a different style of language for a target audience of say, 25 – 35 year old hipsters, than we would for a bunch of fashionistas in the same age group from the Western Suburbs.
Environment, culture, stereotypical group-interests, political persuasion, musical tastes, etc., are all relevant and play a role in the choice of language for each audience. Sometimes these choices are nuanced, but nevertheless significant. For example if we were selling coffee and cake, the hipster demographic might prefer to hear something along the lines of: “So come on in and grab a cup-of-Joe and a slice of pie, or choose from our carefully curated loose leaf teas – selected from boutique teahouses from all over the globe.” Contrast this to the fashionistas who may prefer something like this: “Come on in and grab a hot cup of coffee with friends and indulge in a piece of delicious pie – made fresh on the premises – or if you’d prefer, select from a wide array of teas, sourced from the best tea producers around the globe.”
You’ll notice that the content is virtually the same, but the language has been tweaked to suit the demographic.
The woman I chatted to said she didn’t have a particular demographic, but rather her target audience is ALL WOMEN, from every walk of life, every age, socio-economic background, etc. In that situation we would always suggest using an accessible, friendly, conversational TOV and not use words that have strong associations with a specific people-group or age bracket.
Words help us form associations and in so doing, brand and character. Even though no two businesses are the same, there are categories of tone that most copy falls into. Some of these are: conversational, technical/educational, humorous/quirky, cool, risqué, up-market/high-end, just to name a few.
Branding is all about connection, and copywriting is a part of that. The words that you use on your website, print and audio are crucial to the way your brand is perceived.
Not sure how to speak to your clients in a tone of voice that gets results? Not a problem! Just get on the blower to us, we’ll sort it out for you.