Tone of voice guide article

Your Ultimate Guide to Tone of Voice (ToV)

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This guide is split into two parts: Part 1 discusses how to define your tone of voice, and Part 2 discusses how to create a tone of voice document. If you would like to skip to Part 2, click here

Part 1 – How to define your tone of voice

You cannot create a tone of voice document without first defining your tone of voice.

Your brand’s tone of voice is how you communicate your ideas, services, and products to your customers across all forms of media.

Without a clear and consistent tone of voice, it will be much harder for people to:

• Identify what you do
• Understand what differentiates you from your competition
• Recognise you in the future

Which makes it much harder to:

• Persuade your customers to buy your products/services
• Build brand loyalty
• Give your customers the confidence to recommend you to others

Look at your existing content

Look at your content across all your customer touchpoints, and ask yourself:

• Does this content accurately represent my brand?
• Does it show my readers that I have a unique value proposition?
• Does it tell my brand story?
• Does it make me sound the same as my competitors? (check your competitors’ websites)
• Does it mislead my customers about any of my products/services?

Align your values with your customers’ priorities

Defining tone of voice

An important part of defining your tone of voice is defining your customers’ priorities.

Another important part to defining tone of voice is determining your own values, and what makes you different or special.

Here’s an interesting exercise to help you do this:

1. On one sheet/document, describe your brand as it is today (or how you think it is today) in 100 words or with up to 10 phrases (i.e. authentic, precise, unique, made to order).

2. On another sheet/document, describe your target customer and prospects in 100 words or phrases (i.e. high-achiever, multitasker, prioritises quality over quantity).

3. On each sheet/document, arrange those words or phrases with similar meanings (i.e. reliable and dependable, unique and made to order) into groups.

4. Now, on each sheet/document, narrow everything down so that you’re only left with one word or phrase per group. Each word/phrase should symbolise your brand/customer and have a distinctive meaning – i.e. ‘articulate’ has a sufficiently different meaning to ‘reliable’.

5. Now determine which words/phrases are most important to you as a brand. (i.e. empowerment or precision?)

6. And determine which words/phrases are the most accurate reflection of your target customer. Think about how these attributes are relevant to your brand. (i.e. ambitious or articulate).

7. Narrow it down further so that you’re only left with five words / phrases that describe your brand and your customers. Think of these words / phrases as the bridge or platform that connects your brand proposition to your customers’ priorities.

Tip: You may also find it helpful to distribute a questionnaire in which you ask your customers to prioritise something based on a scale of 1 to 5 (i.e. 1 being ‘not important’ and 5 being ‘very important’) so you can collect valuable information.

To help with the exercise, here are our own answers:

Professional, genuine, clear, friendly, approachable, interested, passionate, honest

With just this handful of words, we’ve defined tone of voice because we’ve determined what is most important to us and our customers.

Do the same for your own brand – it should only take around half an hour.

Once you’ve done that, the next step is to create a tone of voice document, which is what we’re going to discuss how to do next.

Part 2 – How to create a tone of voice document

Tone of voice document

Now we can get down to the good stuff.

Your tone of voice document is a guide for how the character of your business should come through in your words.

Actually, tone of voice is about more than just individual words – it’s how we communicate our personality. In business-speak, it’s how we communicate our brand.

It is perhaps the most important document you will ever create for your brand.

Why? Because tone of voice plays a massive role in brand perception, and the right tone of voice can transform your leads, sales and revenues. We know this because we’ve seen it first hand.

Hence, the need for a good tone of voice document.

Now you’re sold on the idea, here’s how to create your very own.

Tone of voice document format

The simplest and easiest format for a tone of voice document is a bullet-pointed list. 

The format for the bullet points is simple: it will be made up of words detailing what you are, and what what you are is not.

Here’s a working example of what we mean:

We are clear

  • Clear is: simple, concise, to the point, understandable
  • Clear is not: jargon, technical, patronising, arrogant, snobbish

We are genuine

  • Genuine is: pure, honest, positive, accurate, factual
  • Genuine is not: dishonest, uncertain, misleading, doubtful

We are friendly

  • Friendly is: human, personable, relatable, attentive, professional
  • Friendly is not: aloof, disagreeable, ignorant, unhelpful

Something else that should be included in your tone of voice document, if you want your brand to have a more human voice, is humour.

So, you might like to include another entry such as this:

Our humour is witty

  • Witty humour is: original, a play on words, fanciful, not always obviously funny
  • Witty humour is not: childish, inappropriate, rude, crass, stupid

If you create a bullet-pointed list of entries in the same format detailed above, you will have created a good simple tone of voice document for your brand.

But what if you want to go further? 

This is where your customer’s priorities come into play (which is why we did the exercise in Part 1 – click here to jump back and see it).

Below each set of bullet points, the next step is writing a short paragraph that bridges what you are with why your customer expects or benefits from it.

Here’s a working example of what we mean (we’ve highlighted the relevant entry):

We are clear

  • Clear is: simple, concise, to the point, understandable
  • Clear is not: jargon, technical, patronising, arrogant, snobbish

Our customers have limited time and varying degrees of knowledge, so we must deliver information in a way that is easy to digest and understand.

As we’re sure you’ll agree, the additional entry is helpful. Do this for all your entries and you’ll have a robust tone of voice document to work from.

Your final tone of voice document will have three, four, or more bullet points covering what you are, and a corresponding paragraph as highlighted in yellow.

Tone of voice document example

Here’s how your tone of voice document will look once you’re finished:

Tone of Voice Document

We are clear

  • Clear is: simple, concise, to the point, understandable
  • Clear is not: jargon, technical, patronising, arrogant, snobbish

Our customers have limited time and varying degrees of knowledge, so we must deliver information in a way that is easy to digest and understand.

We are genuine

  • Genuine is: pure, honest, upfront, accurate, factual
  • Genuine is not: dishonest, uncertain, misleading, doubtful

Our customers are real people and we are too. We always want this to come across, so we must be honest and upfront in everything we do.

We are friendly

  • Friendly is: human, personable, relatable, attentive, professional
  • Friendly is not: aloof, disagreeable, ignorant, unhelpful

Our customers require an outsourcing partner who is approachable and helpful. We’ll always go the extra mile to assist in any way we can.

Our humour is witty

  • Witty humour is: original, a play on words, fanciful, not always obviously funny
  • Witty humour is not: childish, inappropriate, rude, crass, stupid

There’s a time and a place for humour. Being witty means timing clever and funny remarks just right without stepping over the mark.

Editor’s note: The above tone of voice is our very own! Feel free to use it as a guide, but remember, your tone of voice should be unique to you.

Wrapping up

Your ToV document should be as simple as the example above. It only needs three, four, or more bullet points covering what you are, and a corresponding paragraph explaining them.

A word of caution, though – creating a tone of voice document requires thought. You’ll probably spend a great deal of time on yours. But, it’s well worth it and this guide will get you started.

Any questions? Ask below and we’ll respond in just a few hours.

Cheerio!

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6 responses to “Your Ultimate Guide to Tone of Voice (ToV)”

  1. Tim Shaw says:

    An extremely helpful guide, thank you. One question though – is less more here? What I mean to ask is, will having fewer than five bullet points make it easier for other people to understand our tone of voice?

    • Content Hero says:

      Hi Tim,

      The more bullet points you add the more convoluted your ToV document will be. If the aim with ToV is to make it easy to understand, less is definitely more, but you should try to strike a good balance.

      – Jakk

  2. Andrea @ Spark PR says:

    Thanks for this. I hope you don’t mind, I used the basic template to help create a tone of voice document for one of my clients. You’d be surprised by how many medium-sized businesses interested in traditional PR don’t have a strong brand.

    • Content Hero says:

      No problem, glad it helped. That’s interesting to hear about the branding thing. Creating a tone of voice document is a good way to get started with branding from a basic sense. It can clarify values and instruct writers in the content creation process.

  3. Yusuf Pathan says:

    With regards to defining tone of voice, how many action words should the exercise generate? I’ve had a go but only have three.

    • Content Hero says:

      If you started with 10 words and ended up with three at the end of the exercise, we’d say you did the exercise well. 5 is better because it gives you more information, but you can work with 3.

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