Content Marketing Insights

Tone of voice: Take your content to new heights with this guide

Tone of voice: Take your content to new heights with this guide


People will both forget what you have said and done. But they will never forget how you made them feel.

Tone of voice is the way you tell your story, and is therefore crucial for how your target audience perceives both your message and your brand. Therefore, tone of voice plays a crucial role in penetrating the recipients and creating results with content marketing.

In this blog post, we explain to you the value of a tone of voice for your business. We provide you with the right tools and a guide to develop your own tone of voice, so you can get your company's message under the skin of the customers.

What is tone of voice?

The way you speak as a company carries a message in itself and says a lot about who you are. The greater the impression your message makes, the longer it stays in the opponent's consciousness.

The company's tone of voice is a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd. In a crowded market with lots of competition, it is the way you speak that can make the difference. A strong and consistent tone of voice can indeed make mediocre content extraordinary.

Tone of voice is the way one says things. Most content marketers spend most of their time figuring out what to say. Tone of voice is about parking that for a while and figuring out how to tell the story. A good way to think about tone of voice is to see it as content's answer to user experience, says Doug Kessler.


Why is tone of voice important in content marketing?

If you, as a brand, want to capture consumers' attention and avoid disappearing in the crowd, you need to create human relationships. For people talk to people - not brands. But how do you, as a brand, create the same kind of personal relationship with your customers? And how do you get your colleagues to follow suit?

You create a detailed tone of voice guide. Such a guide serves as a linguistic counterpart to the design manual a layout artist uses when laying out everything from magazines to brochures to annual reports.

Tone of voice is very underrated. It is the secret ingredient in content marketing that becomes fantastically effective. If either the story or the tone of voice has no value, the other has no chance of making a difference. But if you have both a good story and a strong tone of voice that people like, you have come a long way, explains Doug Kessler.

How do I find my tone of voice?

It's about deciding who you are or want to be. Your tone of voice should come from within and be based on your brand.

It's not just WHAT you say, but HOW you say it, that's crucial for the personal relationship. By giving your brand a special, recognizable, and personal voice that people can relate to, you can more easily build a relationship with your customers.

It's about coaching people and giving plenty of examples of how one's tone of voice hits the mark. Guidelines for tone of voice can range from a single page to more than 50 pages. But it is crucial that the guidelines are written in the same tone of voice that everyone is supposed to follow.

It breaks the authenticity if customers can't recognize a brand in its communication. An even greater danger than speaking with two voices is not having a tone of voice at all. A clear tone of voice strengthens the weight of your words. Conversely, no one listens if your communication is woolly and impersonal.

Consistency in tone of voice is always a challenge. And the larger the company, the greater the challenge. If all your writers are in the same room, it's not so difficult. Firstly, it's about hiring people who speak the way you want to sound as a company. And of course, it's also about training your writers to use the right tone of voice. And to decide to actively develop the company's tone of voice instead of believing that it will come naturally if you just hire the right people. It won't, says Doug Kessler.

How to create a tone of voice guide

Think of your tone of voice guide as the very best example of how you speak. Everyone in the company should know the tone of voice guide. It should get under their skin. Creating a tone of voice guide not only helps you clarify how your company's voice should sound (and not sound) - you also get a better handle on who your company really is.

The larger the company, the more important it is to have a tone of voice guide. It's like a brand guide - it contains examples, and you show employees how you talk, and how you don't talk, in different contexts. In the guide, you also create the connection between tone of voice and your brand. For when you talk about your tone of voice, the question is not so much: "How should I say this?". It's really: "Who are we?". And then the answer to how you should formulate yourself comes almost by itself. Therefore, it's a good idea to have linked brand and tone of voice in the guide, explains Doug Kessler.

In the following, you will be presented with a series of exercises that will ultimately equip you well to create your own tone of voice guide.

What is the company's voice?

Before you can speak, you need to be aware of the standpoint you're speaking from. Therefore, you need to know your company's values. There is a difference between tone and voice.

Your voice can be described with an adjective. Is your brand, for example, professional, positive, cynical, or fresh?

Your tone adds a specific characteristic to your brand's voice. This tone varies depending on whether you are speaking on Facebook to the audience you have there, or if you are sending an email from customer service. This means that your company has one voice with different tones.



Put words to your company's values (if you haven't already):

First, you need to define what it is you actually want to tell the world about yourself. We have compiled a series of questions that can be used to articulate your company's values:

  1. Why was the company started in the first place? Besides making money, of course, what was and is the company's raison d'être?
  2. If your company didn't exist, what would the world look like? What would be missing? You might not be the only one delivering that particular product or service to the world. But hopefully, there's something special about what you do.
  3. Why should anyone buy anything from your company? This forces you to be sharp on the company's unique selling points. It also helps you to locate the core values. Sell yourself. Not like a flashy salesman would do it. Do it so sharply and honestly that you can look your best friend in the eyes and say: "This is what you get if you choose us."
  4. Which three adjectives fit your company? Get your colleagues or employees to help. In our own work with Brand Movers’ tone of voice guide, we had all employees write three words that describe us, and three that do NOT describe us. It was uplifting to find out how strikingly in agreement we were.

With this exercise, you clarify:

  • The company's original DNA
  • You have become sharp on what exactly your company can do
  • You have located your sharpest selling points
  • You have put words to who you are in the company, and how you want to be

What is the company's special tone?

Once you have the values in place (what you want to say), you need to find that special tone, the voice of the company (how you say it). But how do you find that special tone?

You do this by going through these six steps and writing down what you come up with.

1. How formal or informal do you speak?

The challenge is to find the balance between formal and informal. If you are a law firm, the tone obviously needs to radiate professionalism, and it can be done without becoming stiff. How would you talk about your company to a client sitting across from you? What language would you use? You might want to discuss it with a colleague, present it, and write it down right afterwards.

2. Be careful with technical language

Try to use plain language as much as possible, unless they are commonly known technical terms and phrases. You should not talk over your audience's head, but you also should not talk down to your target group. Find the balance. Read the text aloud to yourself. If it doesn't feel right, it's often because the text is too formal or too relaxed.

3. Everyday language works well

Using everyday language works well to give your text some personality, but be careful with using references that quickly become outdated, as well as phrases or words that only a few know.

Saerlig-tone_Seks toner_Seks toner

4. Avoid (almost always) swear words

Swear words rarely work well in your text or spoken language. Occasionally, a mild swear word can emphasize a point. But do it cautiously. It's damn strong stuff.

5. Grammar

If your messages are not presented without errors, you will not be taken seriously. Spelling, typing, and grammatical errors will signal carelessness and incompetence to many people. Always have others proofread your texts. That said, there are grammatical rules you can choose to deviate from. Also, write down if you use specific abbreviations.

6. Humor

Humor is a good way to write yourself into a feeling with the recipient. But you shouldn't fire off jokes 24/7. Have a twinkle in your eye and make boring, difficult, or technical things appear in a way that shows the empathetic, funny human behind them.

Create your final tone of voice guide

Put your best writer on the task and include plenty of examples of how we speak and write as a company on all platforms. Also remember examples of how you do NOT speak and write.

When Louise from customer service has read the guide, she knows how to respond to a potential customer, one who complains, and one who praises - both via email and on the phone.

Mikkel from the social media team will find in the guide clear examples of how he should write on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, so it becomes the company's unique and recognizable tone.

According to Doug Kessler, not everyone in the company needs to have your tone of voice ingrained in their backbone. But some employees should. He says:

Not everyone needs to master it. But those who deal with customers, those who write your content, and those who edit and approve it, must know it down to their fingertips – including the management. They may not participate much in the development of the tone of voice. But at a minimum, they should approve the guide, so you don't have to fight with them every time you've created a piece of content. It makes things much, much easier.

Doug Kessler's guide to a good tone of voice

We have now given you the tools to develop your company's voice and special tone. Now it's time to get a handle on how to create the best tone of voice guide that can be used in your workplace.

Doug Kessler recommends following six steps and writing the guide itself as the best example of your tone of voice. He explains:

For me, the most important rule when making a tone of voice guide is that it is written in the right tone of voice. I've seen lots of guides where everything is written in corporate language – exactly how you don't want to talk. I think your guide should be the very best example of your tone of voice. Get the best writer to write it – him or her, who really has captured the tone, so the guide itself is a demonstration of how it should sound.

1. Keywords

Choose three keywords that represent your brand's tone of voice. Is the company, for example, confident, emotional, caring? Use your tone of voice to differentiate yourself from other players in the market.

2. Checklist

Make a checklist with plenty of examples of your unique tone of voice, guiding writers to hit the right style - written in the same tone of voice.

3. Training

All employees in contact with customers should know and be trained to communicate in the company's tone of voice. They are the faces outward and should use the language the brand wants to be identified with.

4. Style confidence

Recruit writers who already have a clear style in their way of communicating. It's easier to train them to a new style if they already have a personality in their communication.

5. Only the best

Good writers don't create a brand. It's only the outstanding writers who can. Make sure it's the best writers who write your content.

At Brand Movers, we have plenty of extraordinary writers who help companies communicate their stories in a lively and engaging language to the target audience every day. We help clients align their content with their values and goals on the right channels.

If you want to know more about how we collaborate with our clients, don't hesitate to contact us.

Join the cool kids.

Get the hottest takes and steamiest insights in the world of content marketing.