Tone of voice – and how to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum

As marketeers and PR professionals, understanding how our words make people feel and their likely response is at the crux of what we do. Indeed, any organisation wanting to up their game in their particular marketplace needs to spend time establishing their tone of voice before embarking on developing their marketing content.

Combined with your visual identity, actions and behaviour, tone of voice is an essential, but often overlooked element, of brand identity. So where to start? Well it’s worth considering your brand personality and how you want to be perceived by your target audiences – if you’re selling urban clothing to the under 25s it’s worth involving young people in defining your brand and gaining some real intelligence into youth trends and parlance, to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum trying to ‘get down with the kids’.

Clarity about whether your target audience sits within your business or professional field; is an expert consumer (with good knowledge of your industry); or a general member of the public with little knowledge of your product or services is important before you get started. If you’re an online education business for example, you may need to adopt a different tone of voice for teachers and education partner, to parents and individuals purchasing your products directly. Educators will want to know about your pedagogical credentials, whereas parents may be turned off by technical language and simply want to know in Plain English how purchasing your resources will help their child do better at school.

Once you’ve established your tone of voice you need to ensure that there’s some consistency across all of your communications channels. Nothing will turn a potential customer off more than seeing an enticing advert in the press, or a great product description on an affiliate website, if your own website doesn’t cut the mustard –  it’s too turgid, technical or simply doesn’t reflect the brand promise. (Of course, tone of voice is only one aspect of having a great website: it also needs to be user-friendly, provide your consumer /service user with the information they are looking for and make it as easy as possible for people to make a purchase or contact you. Once for another blog-post.)

I have helped a charity establish more consistent messaging and tone of voice in order to build their brand and ultimately, to help them attract more funding and donations.  A survey of their supporters and members, combined with a review of their competition, revealed that although they came across as being compassionate and well-established, they weren’t perceived as being particularly professional and people weren’t aware of their incredible expertise and the impact they were making. The creation of key messages and a more authoritative tone of voice has enabled them to present themselves not only as an organisation dedicated to their cause, but also with much greater conviction about the difference their work makes – essential, to build credibility and motivate potential supporters to give.

Ensuring your tone of voice sits comfortably and authentically with front-line staff is another common pitfall. I recently advised a very wealthy family run-business operating in the country leisure and sustainable fuels industry. An honest discussion about their brand messaging and tone of voice resulted in them agreeing to tone down some of their flamboyant language and to instead focus on the trace-ability of their products and pride in the region. We also discussed involving staff in drilling down on the values of the organisations and how that translates to their particular enterprises.

Their values and tone of voice are now actually being spoken, rather than sitting within a written document, which means they are much more authentic and believeable to target customers.

If you’d like a chat about how I can help you create a brand that really resonates with your customers or target audiences, why not drop me a line? Email me at

Photo credit: CREATISTA

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