Tone of voice (TOV) surrounds us. It’s embedded in everything we read and say. It’s there when we order from a menu (‘triple-cooked hand cut chips drizzled with truffle oil’ vs ‘outrageous fully-loaded dirty fries’), when we read a book (and totally fall in love with the narrator) or when we say “I’m fine” – a phrase that notoriously could hold a million different meanings.
Brands also have a tone of voice – and it’s more important than you might first think. Tone of voice says a lot about a brand. It defines what the brand is and how it speaks, ensuring consistency regardless of who’s masterminding its content. Exploring the power of TOV, and understanding the positive impact a strong TOV can have on your brand, is key to truly connecting with the people who matter: your customers.
You had me at ‘Hello’
TOV is everywhere – but it’s most prominent in written communication such as on your brand’s website or social media channels. You can learn a lot about what a brand is and what it stands for by the way it talks:
We’ve been a bit cliché here by focusing on the absolute KING of TOV, innocent smoothies, but our point still stands. Both innocent and Naked sell smoothies. But the way they talk about their smoothies is what differentiates them and what, ultimately, will persuade a customer to form a brand allegiance with one of them.
In this example, we can see that Naked is all about being bold. It’s talking to go-getting renegades who want big flavours. innocent, by comparison, is far cuter and much more humble. The brand talks less about smoothies and more about how it can make the world a better place. It’s completely subjective as to which voice you prefer but, chances are, you’ll gravitate towards the voice that intrigues you most. In turn, you’ll spend a little more time exploring the brand and its product – ultimately adding those smoothies to your basket next time you’re in the supermarket.
The way a brand speaks is likely to strike a deep chord with a certain demographic or target audience. Get the TOV right and you’re one step closer to making that all-important consumer connection. Get it wrong, and you’ll end up putting off the very people you want to resonate with your brand and attracting people who’ll never buy your product or service. Everyone in this scenario feels a little cheated because you haven’t used TOV to accurately represent your brand.
What’s the difference between tone and voice?
Your voice is who you are – it’s your defining personality and never changes. By contrast, your tone will differ depending on the circumstances. For example, the way we speak around our friends will differ dramatically to the way we speak to a mortgage advisor.
The same goes for your brand. Your tone of voice should run throughout your content with little variation – but your tone will alter depending on the circumstance. The way you communicate in a social post should read differently to a 10,000 word whitepaper. Much as we all love a pun, we probably don’t want fifty pages’ worth.
How does TOV impact SEO?
Now we’re on to the million dollar question. TOV helps to ensure your brand is producing quality, consistent content. And that counts for a lot in the eyes of Google.
When you write content for online publication, you’re not just trying to woo the search engines. Google’s pretty clever these days, analysing and ranking content based on how helpful it might be to a real person. Search engines will deliver content based on user intent – so, if a user types in ‘buy chocolate chip cookies’, chances are they’re looking to make a purchase rather than searching for a recipe or to learn about the history of cookies. A brand wanting to rank for this term should have highly relevant content all about how quick and easy it is to order their chocolate chip cookies. It’s beneficial if a brand has a unique, easy-to-digest tone of voice that delivers this content in a genuinely helpful way.
Tone of voice potentially impacts other ranking factors too, such as sessions and dwell time. If your content is entertaining, engaging and informative then it’s likely users will be encouraged to:
- Browse more of your content
- Remember your brand and return to your website
- Spend more time on your site
- Share your content, thus increasing site traffic
Whilst having an unmistakably brilliant TOV might not directly impact your rankings, it can certainly contribute to your SEO efforts.
Improving the quality of your content
Dull, difficult-to-read content is never going to appeal to users and will eventually lead to high bounce rates and a low number of sessions. Welcome your readers into your world with engaging, insightful content and show off what makes your brand special.
Google makes no secret of the fact that it will prioritise high-quality content (expert, authoritative and trustworthy content in particular). It won’t be impressed by spammy low-quality content that doesn’t provide useful information. Know your audience and what you want to say and, furthermore, craft a great way to say it.
What about keywords?
You might come across a keyword or term with a high search volume that could be beneficial for your brand but goes against your tone of voice. For example, the term ‘healthy cookies’ has a search volume of around 6,600 a month. Ranking for related terms could be a pretty big win.
However, if your brand is all about treating yourself and being a little bit indulgent (and, furthermore, the product is packed full of calories) then you won’t want to align yourself with healthy, clean-living messaging. You’ll be all about those treat days instead.
This is a pretty extreme example, but the principle still applies. If your brand is straight-talking and factual, don’t be tempted to litter your copy with adjectives and hyperbole just because you think you could start to rank for these keywords.
Remember: you only want to rank for terms that are genuinely relevant to your brand.
The bottom line
SEO is all about getting your brand to the top of the search results and boosting brand visibility. But, if we drill down further, it’s really about giving your business the best possible chance of a customer landing on your site, staying there and making a purchase.
There’s no point in customers arriving on your site if there’s badly written copy on there. Research suggests that 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if they find the content or layout is unattractive. Content that reads like a dream and represents the brand authentically won’t just win over the search engines – it’ll win over your customers too.
How to determine brand TOV
It really comes down to having a thorough understanding of what your brand is all about. Are you bold, brash and a bit sweary or are you faultlessly fact-based? Does your brand scream corporate or community?
Take a look at your brand values – if you don’t have these, it’s worth undertaking a branding exercise to discover which values underpin your brand – and think about how they translate into tone of voice. How would someone who’s creative speak? How would a particularly detail-orientated person talk? Your brand’s essence might focus on sharing knowledge, doing good, connecting people, delivering the best or being the fastest – there’s no right or wrong. Use this knowledge to shape how your brand will talk.
Content experts write day in, day out. We wear dozens of different hats and change up our characters every day – we couldn’t do this if we didn’t have a clear idea of exactly how each brand communicates.
The best way to get to know your brand’s tone of voice is to write. Enjoy experimenting with the poetry of the words, seeing which particular phrases work or feel out of place for your brand.
There are three key elements to be aware of when developing a brand tone of voice:
1. Creative personality
This is the fluffy stuff (and, if we’re honest, the most fun to explore). It’s all about visualising your brand as a person, establishing what words and phrases you’re a fan of. Create a table with two sets of content so you can clearly compare a section of writing that’s written in the correct tone of voice with content that completely misses the mark.
2. How brand impacts tone of voice
Detail how your brand values can be demonstrated in the way your brand communicates. Why do you talk the way you do? Think about how you want your voice to represent your brand in a more analytical way. This helps everyone understand the why behind the how.
3. Technical dos and don’ts
An easy-to-digest style guide is all about the technical nitty gritty. Does your brand use the Oxford comma? Do you talk in the first or third person? And can you start sentences with and? These details might seem a bit picky but, when there’s more than one person working on your content, consistency is key. Don’t leave it down to the personal taste of the writer – allow your style guide to act as a brand guardian.
It can be tricky to review and determine tone of voice if you’re very familiar with the brand. Working with an external copywriter or brand expert to help determine a distinctive tone of voice is often the most effective option.
Whether you want to work with our specialists to define your tone of voice, or want a team of experts to help deliver content that matches your brand personality perfectly, we’re always on hand to help. Give us a call or check out the Flaunt Digital blog for more digital marketing advice.