“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, your breath smells a funny colour…”
That’s the little gem that popped into my head when I started thinking about today’s blog subject. He was a funny man, my Grandad… and isn’t it funny what sticks in your mind about certain people?
But I digress.
Let’s talk about Tone of Voice in copywriting.
What is Tone of Voice?
The ‘tone’ of a piece of copywriting, content or copy is just like a person’s tone of voice. Depending on what we’re talking about or who we’re talking to, we all adopt different tones of voice to help convey our mood, message or meaning. And so it is with writing.
Whether you realise it or not, your business or organisation has a Tone of Voice. Keeping that tone consistent can be a challenge, but that’s for later.
In copywriting, establishing a tone of voice for all your written content is a crucial part of your brand.
It may not seem that the written word can adopt a tone of voice, but it really can. My personal writing style, for example, is light-hearted, conversational, informal. If I’m in a good mood, it can even be humorous (or so I’m told)…
But when I’m writing for my clients, I’m careful to ensure I’m using their tone of voice and not my own.
Tone of Voice as part of your brand
It’s vital that the tone of voice you use when writing on behalf of your company or business matches and reflects the company’s brand image. All linked in with the design of your company’s logo, website, literature, and stationery as well as the ethos of the company, it’s vitally important to bring all a company’s copy in line with the rest of its brand.
It’s no good adopting a stuffy, almost aloof style of writing when, for example, the company’s brand is fun and light-hearted, friendly, and approachable. Conversely, quirky, slightly off-the-wall copy would not do for a company whose image is formal and highly professional.
Mixing the two just doesn’t work either. It sends mixed messages and is likely to confuse potential customers. And yet, tone of voice in copy is so often overlooked.
Deciding on your tone of voice
If you’ve been asked to write some copy for a certain company, there are several things you should do before you even put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard):
- Determine the audience – It’s crucial to pin down who your audience is. Are they customers (members of the public), suppliers (may be subject specialists), employees or members of a specific trade or profession (such as nurses, teachers, builders etc.)? For each separate audience tone of voice may differ depending on the messages you need to get across and how much they already know about the subject.
- Examine existing copy for style or tone – With an established company there is likely to be pre-existing copy that’s been written in the necessary style. Immerse yourself in it so that you can mimic the tone in the copy you write. If there is no existing copy (as could be the case with a brand-new company) make sure you speak to the authorities within that company to find out how the company wishes to come across and what fits with their brand ideals.
- Know where the copy’s going and what it will be used for – It might sound obvious but the tone, length, and style of the copy (long paragraphs vs bullet points, for example) will all depend on where the copy is going to be used. Copy to be used on a piece of direct mail may need to be informal, teasing, quirky, while the copy for the company’s website may need to be slightly more serious (although not too removed from the DM style) and detailed to ensure all the necessary information is available for web surfers.
Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to tone of voice in writing is to remain consistent.
Don’t start out all professional and authoritative and, half way through your copy, switch to a chatty, cheeky chappy, ‘I’m your best mate’ style of writing – that’ll just make you look a little bit silly! Grasp your tone and stick with it all the way through your writing project. This will help your readers to build trust in the copy rather than being distracted by the ever-changing landscape.
And so, over to you – how do you ensure you get your writing tone of voice right?
Helen is a freelance copywriter based in Whitley Bay on the North East coast. She loves words in all their forms. She works with a variety of different organisations across a wide range of industries and prides herself on her eye for detail and her flair for creative, engaging and informative copywriting. Get in touch to find out how a copywriter could help your business.