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Find Your Ideal Voice. Strike the Right Tone. Understand the Difference.

By Karen TaylorApr 12 /2018

Pretty much everyone would agree Ricky Gervais is a funny guy. That’s his voice — humorous. But what kind of funny is he? Depending on your perspective, it may be characterized as intelligent, mean or sarcastic, to name a few styles. Whichever style of humor you think he represents, that is his tone.

According to Gervais in his latest comedy special on Netflix, some people take offense at his comedic tone. Whether you do or not, he provides a perfect example for explaining the difference between voice and tone — a topic critical to creating the most powerful content for your digital marketing program.

It’s important to make the distinction between these two areas of writing style, because many people get voice and tone mixed up — even seasoned marketing professionals. In fact, tone and voice are often used interchangeably (note the classic phrase “tone of voice”). But there are important differences. From the Gervais example, it’s easy to see the distinction: Voice is the personality of the author and tone is the author’s attitude. While they go hand-in-hand and work together, voice and tone are not interchangeable.

When companies lack an understanding of the power of both establishing the right voice and striking the right tone, they tend to make mistakes in their content such as:
  • No unique voice
  • Staunch, corporate, or robotic content
  • Copying other brands’ voice and tone
  • Not authentic to your brand
  • Voice and tonal inconsistencies across platforms
  • Too much jargon

Have you nailed your company’s voice and tone yet? If not, here’s an overview of how to find your ideal voice and strike the right tone in your content marketing.

Find Your Ideal Voice in 5 Steps

As stated, voice is the personality or character of your brand messaging. Without developing your own distinct voice, your organization runs the risk of having your messaging get lost in the vast sea of content available to your target audience. A distinct and consistent voice expresses your personality, turning your faceless company into an attractive and trustworthy brand.

For an example of a B2B company with a distinct voice, you would be hard pressed to find a better example than Slack. The communication technology arrived in the business world like a rocket. People immediately embraced it for its capabilities, but also for its fun, cheerful and offbeat voice. For example, check out this blog post announcing its iconic new rooster graphic.

slack-company-voice

Here are five steps to finding your company’s unique voice.

1. Study Your Buyer Personas

If you’ve created buyer personas, use them to start finding your voice. After all, you need to know exactly who you are creating content for. As a starting point, consider the following questions:

  • Is your ideal customer male or female?
  • What is their education level?
  • What is their average age?
  • What industry do they work in?
  • What is their title and role in the company?
  • What types of news/media do they consume?

2. Listen to Your Customers

Before you write, make sure you listen. Creating brand affinity with your customers means speaking in ways that appeal to them—including your style, tone, diction, and even visual design. Ask yourself, how do your customers communicate? Are they:

  • Formal and precise?
  • Casual and conversational?
  • Cordial, but reserved?
  • Or something else?

3. Study Your Competitors’ Voice

Use your voice to differentiate. In a world of crowded markets and similar product offerings, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Using the standard professional business language of your industry in your content will not differentiate your company. Similarly, copying your competitors will crush your authenticity (and not in a good way). To avoid these risks, study your competitors to determine their voices — then work to make yours different and unique.

4. Identify Your Voice

To home in on your ideal voice, fill in the blanks on important points such as these:

  • I want my brand to make people feel _______.
  • I want people to _______ when they come into contact with my brand.
  • I dislike brand voices that sound _______.
  • I want to mimic the brand voice of _______.

5. Define Your Voice in Three Words

Now that you’ve done the background research, start narrowing down the description of your ideal voice. For inspiration, here are some examples:

  • Passionate, witty, authentic
  • Educated, genuine, quirky
  • Humble, generous, humorous
  • Battle-tested and ready
  • Bold, but not arrogant
  • Irreverent, but not offensive

Now that you’ve found your ideal voice, it’s time to strike the right tone.

Strike the Right Tone in 4 Steps

By contrast with voice, tone is the expression of your brand’s attitude—and, specifically, how your audience perceives your words. Think of it this way, tone literally means to match or harmonize with. In this case, you need to harmonize your content with your customers—or risk losing them. Examples of tone include: confident, amused, scientific, contemplative, logical, whimsical, intimate, aggrieved, authoritative and satirical.

Unlike voice, tone is not static. It changes all the time. For example, within a digital marketing campaign you may need to change your tone based on where your prospects are in the buyer’s journey, such as:

  • First sales pitch — content should be upbeat and positive
  • New customer onboarding — content should be cheerful and encouraging
  • Customer service — content should be authoritative and helpful

So are you striking the right tone in your content marketing? Here are four steps to help you identify your ideal tonal quality.

1. Define Your Current Tonal Style

Narrow down your company’s personality by asking yourself question such as:

  • Are we more formal or casual?
  • Do we use slang?
  • Have we created our own words or do we use slang (like “awesome sauce” or “peeps”)?
  • How do we use punctuation — casually or formally?
  • Do we use humor and, if so, how?
  • Do we use emoticons or graphics?

2. Study Your Current Content

Review your current content to suss out the tone you’re already using on your website, emails, ads, etc. Look for evidence of definable tonal qualities, such as:

  • Formal or laid back
  • Newsy or educational
  • Authoritative or man-on-the-street
  • Intense or relaxed
  • Casual or impassioned
  • Commanding or modest
  • Serious or jokey
  • Zany or reserved
  • Comedic or serious
  • Academic or natural
  • Thoughtful or energetic
  • Whimsical or staid

3. Gather Good Examples of Tone

Don’t copy any other company outright, but immerse yourself in content that has the tonal qualities your company wants to emulate. Study how these brands capture their tone in a single piece of content and across their channels.

For an example of a company that has nailed its tone, check out the Moz blog, one of the web’s best marketing and SEO resources. It has a loyal reader base, who always come back for more. It’s easy to see why by exploring some of its informative and entertaining content, like this blog post, which displays its smart, witty and cheeky tone in all its glory.

moz-company-tone

4. Decide if You Want to Change Your Tone

After you’ve discovered the tone you’re currently using, decide if it’s appropriate or if you want to change it to better reflect who you are and want to be. Consider some new options such as:

  • Lively and refreshing, but not contrived
  • Energetic and witty, but not pretentious
  • Confident and commanding, but not arrogant
  • Knowledgeable, but not a know-it-all
  • Conversational and personal, versus dry and corporate

While developing your voice and capturing your tone in your content marketing takes significant time and effort, it’s a crucial step in the process of building a recognizable brand. At a time when content is doubling or tripling every year, brands are churning out everything from blog posts to social media statuses to videos to keep their audience engaged and entertained, a strategic brand voice and tone is more important than ever.

Once you’ve identified your voice and tone, stick to them across every channel. In this way, your content marketing will have a chance to stand out, so your target audience recognizes you in the crowd of voices vying for their attention. Think of Gervais as an example. Love him or hate him, in a sea of comedians he stands out thanks to his unique voice and tone.

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Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at KarenTaylorWrites.com.
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