Tone of voice is a hugely important part of any brand, even though it’s something that doesn’t get discussed very often.
Your tone is set by the words you use, which create an impression – good or bad – on the people who read or hear them. Naturally, you want that impression to be good so it makes sense to choose your words carefully. This article is all about words.
In any organisation, more than one person, in fact almost every person, is responsible for creating a tone of voice. Again, it’s not something we’re particularly conscious of as we email, blog, tweet, make phone calls, post updates and communicate in various other ways on behalf of ‘the company’. But all those words in all those different formats are sending out signals – are they the right signals?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at brand values. Tone of voice is largely defined by the values associated with a brand. In the PR world, some of the values associated with agencies (and often their clients) would include honesty, passion, diversity, flexibility, understanding.
- Honesty because we represent other companies so we have to be completely transparent and trustworthy about what we do.
- Passion because we are in the business of creating interest and excitement, so we have to be interesting and exciting ourselves.
- Diversity because we are in the talent industry and talent comes in many, many different guises.
- Flexibility because we live in a changing world so we have to be ready to embrace change at every turn.
- Understanding because we will not succeed unless we put ourselves in the shoes of the people we deal with, and understand their worlds.
Those are not just ‘PR values’, to be fair – any organisation in any sector of business would probably wish to have them associated with their brand.
In any case, tone of voice is about distilling these values, and all the ideas and inspiration that come with them, into a way of communicating. That doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to the way you write because of course you have multiple audiences, multiple authors and multiple platforms – but it does give you a sense of how to approach any piece of writing.
That’s all quite theoretical so let’s make it a bit more practical. Let’s take each of those five brand values and turn them into tips – two tips per value.
No hiding: Write the way you speak and don’t ‘hide’ anything behind very formal or complicated language.
No jargon: Industry jargon is the enemy of understanding; in fact it often makes it seem as though you are trying to not communicate something.
Be direct: Make your words catch the eye, always say ‘we’ rather than the ‘the company’ in the third person.
Grab the reader: Show your passion by aiming for a bold, arresting headline and opening sentence.
Tailor your words: Before you write that opening sentence, take time to think about who you’re writing for – and what they need from you.
Think thesaurus: Don’t settle for any old word – go to the thesaurus and find the one that fits.
Be yourself: Have the confidence and the flexibility to let your personality shine through the words.
Aim to improve: Never, ever settle for draft one – there’s always something you can change for the better.
Listen up: Speak your words out loud, do they sound right? Do they say what you really mean? Will they engage your audience?
Simplify: Make it easy for your target audience to read by using clear, simple words.
Very few of us PR professionals have the word ‘copywriter’ in our job descriptions, and yet writing is a core aspect of what we do, all day every day. The words we use say a lot about who we are and what we stand for, so use these tone of voice tips to make sure your words are the right ones.