I’m working tone of voice guidelines as part of my job at the moment. I’d never written or used these before but now that I am I realise I’ve used tone of voice instinctively nonetheless.
Because the term it was fairly new to me I did a load of research on what tone of voice actually is and found quite a few examples which I’ll share here.
What is tone of voice, or brand language?
When you’re talking to someone face-to-face you use a certain tone of voice depending on who you are, and depending on the situation, and depending on who you’re talking to.
For example, you use a different tone of voice when you’re explaining something to your child as opposed to speaking to an interviewer for a job. You use a different register for a different audience and different language.
However, putting defining this for a brand and putting it into tone of voice guidelines to be used for digital communications is a different kettle of fish. It’s not what you say or write, but how it’s written. It’s recommended to use the same tone of voice across digital and all written communications for a brand, but mine will only be used for digital communications at this stage.
All the research I did said to define the brand’s personality first and think of this brand personality as the person you’re writing to.
Then you need to define how your tone should sound, for example, whether its formal or casual. It’s good to include examples of what your brand’s tone of voice should sound like using before and after examples to show what you mean.
A lot of it boils down to good writing principles like using plain English and not using loads of jargon that readers don’t understand, for example, but infusing the brand language at the same time.
It’s not a clear and easy process, but I can see how it’s useful if done, and implemented well. And by implemented there needs to be people who have the time to know how to write for digital platforms, which unfortunately, is often not the case.
One website where I think it’s done really well is Vinomofo, and this carries over onto the email communications as well. Using the ‘mofo’ in their name, and shortening it to ‘fo’ gives them licence to be quite cheeky and I’m sure this has helped increase sales. It certainly for has me anyway. From the homepage to the explanations of wines, the tone of voice is consistent and really adds to their brand. Here’s one example:
I don’t really get art, but I am a fan of a good doodle. It helps pass the time and gives me something to do with my hands when a glass is not within reach. Thankfully this one is.
Tone of voice guideline examples and how tos
Some of the guidelines are quite lengthy and some are very short. It really varies.
Voice, Tone and Style: The Whys, Wheres and Hows – a great practical guide on how to create your voice, tone and incorporate the style guide too.
Mailchimp voice and tone guidelines – an easy to follow how to for Mailchimp communications.
British Council tone of voice guidelines– includes what their tone of voice is and isn’t, talking as the brand, and writing for different channels.
Lloyds Brand Language guidelines (PDF) – includes what to do and examples of what they mean.
University of Wollongong tone of voice guidelines – not that much info and is part of the brand guidelines.
University of Leeds Tone of Voice Guidelines (PDF) – quite a comprehensive guide with lots of tips.
How to develop your website’s tone of voice by Six Revisions – defines tone and voice and how to work through the process to develop your own guidelines.
Wordtree – Working the Words blog – their tone of voice category with many day-to-day examples.
Finding your tone of voice by Smashing Magazine – takes you through how to find your tone of voice.
Tone of voice 101: How to write copy that people can connect with by Copyhackers – an explanation of what tone of voice is and some great examples.
I wonder how many organisations use tone of voice guidelines for their communications. And if you know of any other examples please add in the comments.