Once you’ve got a logo, color scheme and name sorted for your business, it might seem like you have everything you need to build a strong brand.

But one essential – yet often overlooked – brand dimension is tone of voice. At its simplest, your brand’s tone of voice is your personality. It determines how you speak to your customers online, on packaging, on social media – everywhere, really.

If you think of one of your favorite brands, it’s very likely it’ll have a consistent – and probably distinctive – tone of voice.

You might not be able to articulate what that is as easily as you could describe the brand’s visual identity, but consider how you feel every time you read their website, one of their tweets, or even the email they send when you buy something. They probably speak to you in a similar tone each time, so you’ll likely feel similarly each time you engage with them – that might be tickled, calm or more confident because you understand something better. Any brand that elicits a consistent and – ideally – positive feeling has gotten its tone of voice right.

The words you use shape how your customers see you and can help you build an emotional connection with them. No matter whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, you’ll likely make your first impression on a potential customer with words – be it through an ad, on packaging or on the landing page of your website. And whilst the tone you choose can be distinctive, it can just as easily be neutral. What’s key is that it is consistent throughout your communications. Your audience has to recognize who is speaking.

PERSONALITY. When coming up with a tone of voice, the key objective is to land on a list of three or so traits that represent how you want your business to be experienced. These words will form the basis of your brand’s personality and inform the kinds of things you say. It can help to ask yourself the question: ‘If our brand were a person who would it be?’ to come up with a list of specific and ownable qualities and attributes that can apply to your brand.

EDITORIAL GUIDELINES. Once you’ve come up with your personality traits, you’ll need to create a set of written guidelines covering all the essential information and context needed to make sure your personality comes through consistently in all your communications. Think about the kinds of words, sentences and phrases you should and shouldn't use as well the way you style and punctuate your copy.

  • A distinctive brand voice deployed consistently is an important aspect of your brand that helps you build a connection with consumers.
  • Your brand personality is how you want your business to be experienced and can be summed up with ~3 human-like traits.
  • An editorial guide acts as a single source of truth for what your brand’s tone of voice is, so anyone at the company can put it into action.

Resources

Now you've decided you need to develop or evolve your brand's tone of voice, here are a few ideas of what to do next:

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Understand the value of building an emotional connection with customers through this consumer research

Brainstorm personality traits for your brand using a set of cards like these or these

Play around with this tone of voice generator

Watch Kate Spade CMO Mary Beech give a 15 minute lecture about building brand voice

Develop and evolve your tone of voice using this succinct set of ten steps from Sonder & Tell

Learn how to engineer your brand personality with this two-hour Skillshare course

Explore examples of tone of voice guidelines from brands like Airbnb, Asana, the BBC, IKEA, Monzo, Shopify, Starbucks, Uber, UNC, Virgin Mobile and Zendesk to get inspiration

Draft your own set of guidelines with this step-by-step guide from 99designs

Avoid pitfalls when changing tone of voice during a rebrand with this advice from Fi Shailes

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