Tone of voice

How to flex your brand's tone of voice

Adapt your brand's voice to suit any situation without going off track

Felicity Wild

Consistency is important with your brand's tone of voice. It's part of how you build an identity, improve recognition and earn people's trust. Helping to maintain brand voice consistency is also one of the big reasons people hire me.

But that doesn't mean your brand’s tone of voice isn't flexible.

Sometimes, people get anxious that choosing an out-there or unusual personality trait — ethereal, gutsy or liberated, for example — would be off-putting when it comes to serious matters like dealing with customer complaints.

Which is sad, because it means they veer away from developing a truly distinctive voice.

But, just like a generally upbeat person isn't always cheerful — there are times when they’re not feeling it, or circumstances where it would be inappropriate — your brand's voice needs to adapt to suit the audience and situation.

Flex your ToV and stay on brand

So, how do you do this without going off track?

Like Chris West suggest in his brand voice bible Strong Language, here's where it's useful to think of the different tonal elements of your brand's voice existing on a sliding scale. You can turn different tones up or down depending on the situation. They don’t all need to be up at full volume all of the time.

If it's a report you're writing, you might want to turn up the more straightforward and practical elements of your brand's voice, and turn down the lighter and more playful side.

There can still be a little smattering of fun if it's a core part of your brand's voice  — headings and titles are good places to do this, without affecting the readability of the report’s body copy. The fun element is just not as full-on as it might be on social media, for example.

On the flip side, for advertising campaigns you can let the more extroverted elements of your brand's voice shine through, saving the pragmatic side for the small print.

Here’s an example from a brand I worked with recently:

Activity: promoting a flash sale on social media

  • Charming: 10
  • Practical: 2
  • Modern: 5 
  • Aspirational: 10

Activity: dealing with a customer care apology

  • Charming: 4
  • Practical: 10
  • Modern: 8 
  • Aspirational: 2

Charming and practical may seem like traits that should be at odds with each other, but really they reflect different aspects of a multi-faceted personality.

You can (and should!) consider the strength of your tonal values for every piece of writing to help flex your brand’s tone of voice.

The main things to think about when doing this are:

  • Who are you speaking to?
  • Where are they in the customer journey (or are they even on it)?
  • How are they feeling?
  • What channel or platform are you using?

Once you’re clear on these points (which you should be thinking about anyway) you can turn your attention to the tonal values of your brand’s voice and setting them at an appropriate level for the situation.

Bonus points if you include this information in writing briefs — your copywriter will love you for it 😉.

Felicity Wild
Founder and chief tone of voice nerd

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Hi, I'm Felicity Wild

Founder & Chief Tone of Voice Nerd

I started Tone of Voice Nerd because too many of my clients were investing in vague tone of voice guides that didn’t help their team, or freelance copywriters like me, write good copy.  

I knew I could do a better job and produce tone of voice guides—or brand voice blueprints, to use their fancy name—people would actually find useful.  

They're designed to give you clarity on how to speak to customers, the confidence to communicate who you are as a business and the tools to present the value of what you do to the world.

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