Let’s say you ask your friends a question and have them anonymously write their answers on a piece of paper. When you read each blurb, you’re likely able to tell which friend it came from, and not by the handwriting or the way they folded up their paper, but by their voice.
Your brand should be that well-known friend to your consumers, so-to-speak. That’s not to say you should be entirely predictable, but having a sense of familiarity or identification without your logo plainly stamped on everything you produce is key.
What’s the Difference Between Voice and Tone?
Sometimes voice and tone are used interchangeably, especially because they can be found in the same phrase: ‘Tone of Voice.’ But for our purposes, we’re going to stick with the way GatherContent breaks it down:
- Voice is an adjective (one you might assign to a person, i.e., happy, active, curious)
- Tone is how you emulate your voice based on the topic, audience, channel, etc.
Ultimately, voice is not what you say, but how you say it, and tone is how you say it in different contexts.
On to the Examples
Let’s take a look at two examples from one of my favorite types of businesses: Cheese shops!
Read how the two shops introduce themselves and decide which one you’d rather go to (and please don’t base your answer on location!).
“Located inside the historic Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles, DTLA Cheese is a full-service cut-to-order cheese counter and eatery.
“It is the passion of Lydia & Marnie Clarke and Chef Reed Herrick which will bring something exciting to the culinary forefront.
“Our first store, started in 2010, is in the historic downtown Claremont Village. You can visit the Claremont Location by clicking here.”
“Venissimo Cheese was founded by Gina & Roger Freize in San Diego in 2004. But it almost never opened!
“The owner of the retail space we wanted was not interested in splitting the large space, nor leasing a little wedge to an unknown business in an unknown industry (who wants to buy just cheese)? After spending months calling & sending them reasons to let Venissimo in, Gina overheard that the owner would be at the site on a certain day. So she snuck in with a cheese plate to let the product speak for itself. Needless to say, the owner was convinced & agreed to lease the space the very next day.”
Both provide similar information and get the point across, but I think you’d agree, they definitely don’t tell their story in the same way.
DTLA Cheese feels very professional and straightforward. And if that’s what the brand is going for, then great!
In comparison, the Venissimo piece makes the brand feel warm, quirky, and lively. And from first-hand experience, that portrayal does them justice.
Time to Define Your Voice
Many of the experts will tell you that the best way to go about devising your company’s voice is to start by asking questions. So, let’s begin! Keep in mind, your answers should reflect your brand’s purpose and audience.
Get in front of a big whiteboard and have a major brainstorm session.
- If your brand were a person, how would you describe that person in five words? (If my boss were her own brand I might say: calm, strong, inspirational, logical, and creative.)
- Do you want to sound more authoritative or more relatable (what makes sense for your industry)?
- What feeling do you want to inspire in your readers (accomplishment, empathy, wonder)?
No need to develop a perfectly laid out chart or guide just yet. Simply jot down the answers to each of these questions and then work with your team to pare down your mess-of-a-brainstorm to the essentials — the ones that seem to be the truest to your brand.
Now, it’s time to take those essential ideas and draw some conclusions about the voice your brand should stick to.
For instance, if you find that you want your brand to answer questions, inspire accomplishment, and be authoritative, your voice will likely be more professional and pragmatic.
Or, maybe you find that you want your brand to ask the questions, inspire wonder, and be relatable. In that case, adjectives like positive and quirky might be better suited.
As you go through this exercise, try to stay away from clichés and generalizations such as cutting edge, honest, innovative, and friendly. Instead, focus on more descriptive adjectives like cynical, cheeky, pragmatic, and irreverent.
Create a Cheat Sheet
After you’ve chosen one to three adjectives you believe best capture your intended voice, create a chart or simple guide where you establish some do’s and don’ts, and provide examples.
Back on-theme with the cheese shops, let’s say Venissimo has defined their voice as charming and affectionate, their guide might look something like this:
Do: Use casual punctuation such as “!” and “…”
Do: Be ‘cheesey’ (pun intended) and write with passion
Don’t: Get carried away with cutesy language and forget the purpose of the copy
Write like this: ‘Another day older, another day wiser,’ true for people and true for cheese, too! Pop in and celebrate your well-deserved wiseness with our latest assortment of Aged Cheeses.
Not like this: Come try our new assortment of high-quality, Aged Cheeses.
Not only will this help identify what your tone will look like in practice, it will also serve as a great resource for anyone writing for your brand.
Voila, Voice Complete!
Your copy should have the power to stand alone. Going back to the ‘well-known friend’ metaphor, let’s say you take away their stylish dress and leave them in generic clothing, take away their makeup, their hairstyle, their jewelry, etc. How do you get a sense of who they are?
All you have is their voice…
And voice is all you’ve got when you’re writing copy for the web, too, so it should be distinct enough to set you apart from your competitors.
As your company goes through changes or the landscape of your industry changes, maybe a new competitor surfaces, your voice may need to change, and that’s okay!
Reassess and refresh your voice as you see fit. Just as our personalities change and grow as we gain experience and enter new chapters of our lives, so too do the voices of successfully evolving companies.
Want help giving your brand a voice? Learn more about our content creation services here.