21 Dec

Tone of voice? What’s that?

If you work with a copywriter, graphic designer, art director, photographer, marketing agency (ad infinitum), you may hear them talk about ‘tone of voice work’, or just ‘tone of voice’.

You may even, when they’re quoting you a price for a job, hear/read ‘tone of voice work’.

So what is this ethereal, intangible thing – tone of voice – that creative types seem to plonk into sentences (and quotes)?

It’s pretty simple. Think about how you talk to different types of people in your day to day life.
When you’re in the pub with your mates, you speak to them in a certain way. When you’re at home with your partner, snuggled on the sofa, you speak to them in a slightly different way (I hope).
When you speak to a child, you speak to them in another way.
If you speak to someone who’s ‘a bit of a geezer’, or you speak to someone who’s ‘a bit posh’, you’ll often find yourself matching those tones.
When you answer the phone at work, you’ll use a ‘professional tone’ that you wouldn’t use at home.
All you’re doing, in each case, is simply switching tone of voice.

When you do this verbally, it’s almost unconscious – you’re not really thinking about it as the words leave your mouth.
When you do it in writing (or during the design process), however, it’s a very conscious process.

If I’m writing for a marquee hire company, then my audience is mid/late-twenties brides-to-be, and I’ll be using a tone of voice that suits them; warm, engaging, reassuring, quite emotive and flowery in respect of ‘the big day’.
If I’m selling software to CEOs of sales and marketing companies, then my tone of voice will be completely different; quite cold, clinical, to the point, succinct – basically, getting to the ‘what’s the benefit to me/my company?’ very quickly.

In each case, this takes time to get right; to research the sector to know how clients like to be spoken to, to see what tone of voice rival companies are using, to only use certain language/words and sentence structure (syntax) to maintain that tone of voice, to get that tone right, consistently, across a whole website/campaign/brochure.

Effectively, what you end up doing, is researching your audience (or rather, your client’s audience) and starting to think like them, to know how to write to them. I call it ‘method acting in your head’.

I’m not exactly unbiased, but I’d say – before grammar and spelling – getting the tone of voice right, and consistent, across all of your marketing (both traditional and online, including your website) is probably the most important thing.

So, rather than viewing ‘tone of voice work’ as something strange and mystical, see it something that – in the long run – will be absolutely vital to how your business is viewed by others.


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