The Tone of Voice: how does your company speak?

The verbal identity, brand language, brand voice, or, in other words, the tone of voice represents the way a company communicates its character and values, similar to how a human being would do. In particular, the TOV consists in how the message is expressed and perceived, rather than what it contains.

As it happens with individuals—each one with their distinctive personality, behavior, and way of talking—a brand needs to be coherent in the words it utters, no matter the tools and channels employed. In any case, coherence does not mean being unable to change and adapt to different contexts. One of the essential elements of the tone of voice is flexibility in the words selected, which allows your brand to show a clear identity as well as adjust to the situation. For instance, consider how the presentation of a brand changes in texts devised for social media compared to those used in a helpdesk.

When defining your tone of voice, the first question to ask yourself is how you would describe your brand if it were an actual person. Imagining it friendly, young, cold and detached, or even carrying a briefcase can help you set the right tone and keep it coherent with your brand identity and values.

A solid starting point to identify the different tones, distinguish them, and find the one appropriate for your brand is to picture the tone of voice as a thermometer.

The lower the temperature, the colder the associated TOV; vice versa, the higher, the warmer.

There are four main categories, all containing subsections, just like the degrees of a thermometer. First, you should pick a temperature:

  1. Cold tones
    They are far from informality, serious, authoritative, and detached. Some examples are the bureaucratic and institutional voices.
  2. Neutral tones
    Although they do not reveal a lot, they are certainly less cold than the first ones. Serious but not too austere, they are usually quite dry. Luckily, you can warm them up a bit by shifting more toward the next category, because small details make enormous differences.  The professional and the oneiric tones are both part of this category.
  3. Warm tones
    They are usually the most employed, and the majority of people prefers them. From the first sentences, warm tones help to evoke emotions in the reader, empathizing with them and establishing an honest relationship with the client. Friendly and colloquial tones are two examples of this category.
  4. Colorful tones
    They are the hardest to produce and the most daring. Bold, fearless, irreverent, witty, and sometimes on the fringe, they can be represented by the ironic and aggressive tone.

How to define your TOV

There are several aspects to consider to define the most appropriate tone of voice. Two elements are paramount:

  1. Your target audience
    In order to speak to your users and potential clients, the first step is getting to know who they are so as to find the right way to communicate with them. Ask yourself who your customers are and what they do.
  2. Your values
    Every time you communicate, you should express something. Independently from the message you are conveying, any communication includes values, beliefs, and ideas. In the end, a brand consists of actual people, all sharing some values and making choices that characterize your company. Expressing such values is essential to move it closer to the people.

Whatever is your final tone, it is a necessary step for an effective communication strategy that allows your company to be coherent, unique, recognizable, and distinct from competitors.

Moreover, the TOV can significantly support you in appearing trustworthy and reliable, creating solid and sincere connections with potential customers. Think about how hard it would be to relate with an unstable and contradictory company whose values are not clearly defined and, thus, conveyable. Here, the tone of voice steps in and helps you adjust your communication, prevent misunderstandings, improve your identity, inspire trust, and create a common thread that makes your brand coherent and human.

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