As the marketplace becomes increasingly competitive, organizations around the globe have realized that corporate mumbo jumbo has become an unacceptable way to converse with their customers. As the writers of The Cluetrain Manifesto say, “The human voice is unmistakable and cannot be faked.”
I’m the last one to quote John Mayer, but sometimes you just need to say what you mean to say. Words like leverage and facilitate aren't words that most customers want to hear. Your audience needs to understand what you are saying and feel connected to you in a way that is undeniably genuine.
Do you want your company to speak human and come across as real? As someone people can do business with? Then you want to find your voice and tone.
What is Voice and Tone?
A voice is an expression of your brand’s personality. Tone is the reflection of the feelings we have when we communicate. Tone comes from the stresses we put on words — otherwise known as intonation.
Tone changes — voice should not. That is why emoticons are so popular: Because digital content can be so flat and devoid of tone, we have resorted to using graphic smiley faces to communicate what we really mean.
It’s doubtful, however, that your brand can use emoticons in official communication with customers. So how do you define your voice and tone within your organization? And, then implement it?
5 Ways to Find Your Voice and Tone
1. Decide: How do we want to sound?
Picking your voice can probably come from within your industry, your own brand attributes and how you want to set yourself against your competitors. Katie Kiefer Lee gives us for excellent questions to ask when trying to define our company’s voice:
- What does your company do?
- Why do people visit your website? (Or interact with your content?)
- If your brand were a person, how would you describe him or her?
- How do you want people to feel when they visit your site?
2. Decide: Who are we not?
It’s useful to think of this exercise as a list of adjectives. If we are playful, we’re not irresponsible, if we’re academic, we’re not cold. You can play with this list for a long time until you find the right mix that works for your brand.
3. Decide on tone
Your tone must change based on certain situations. Depending on who you are and what you do, you may want to think through audience scenarios — situations in which your audience will interact with your company. Consider both positive and negative interactions. Then decide what your tone should sound like depending on those different interactions. This will require careful mapping, but it is very helpful.
4. Document voice and tone
I recommend that all organizations have a centralized style guide so that everyone who touches content can access it easily. Document voice and tone in that style guide, giving examples of each, as well as your adjective list of who you are vs. who you are not.
5. Train your content creators
No one in the organization is going to absorb this material by osmosis. Therefore, you must train your content creators, customer service reps and others to follow voice and tone guidelines.
Do you have good/bad examples of brands that stick to their voice and tone throughout all of their communication channels? If so, please share them.
Image reworked from original by VectorShots (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Interested in reading more from Ahava? Check out Content Strategy: Don't Ditch Your FAQ Page
About the Author
Based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm operating since 2005. She authors the blog Online it ALL Matters.