This series deals with how to get your target market to come to you. Last week, we discussed how to use your company values to attract the right customers. (Be sure to read that blog first right here). By showcasing your values, you tell your customers what you stand for. This week, we are going to focus on tone of voice, because it is through your tone of voice that you tell your customers how you will talk to them.
For those who are well-versed in branding lingo, you might note that there is a distinction between “tone” and “voice.” However, if you are like most small business owners I come across, you are looking for a practical guide for how to create a consistent message when you communicate. For that reason, we are looking at the idea of “tone of voice” today to mean how you use language to connect with your customers – and what feeling you give them in your interactions.
Tone of voice has a big impact on everyday conversation – and marketing. When we talk with someone, we look for all the little cues to give us a sense of their meaning. Word choice, which words they emphasize, inflection, even body language. All of these things are a recipe for the feeling that gets conveyed through your tone. When we connect with someone’s style of communicating, it makes the conversation simpler, and we will want to have more of those conversations.
So, what is the tone of voice of your business? As a starting point, the Nielsen Norman Group put together this useful list of tones. Although it is a small list, I think it covers many of the basics that would be practical for the average business. Click here and scroll down to “List of Detailed Tone Descriptors” for some ideas to get started. At the very least you can use it as a jumping off point to find the word that is right for you.
When you are deciding which tone is right for your brand, there are a number of factors to take into account:
- Knowing what tone of voice you and your entire company will be able to maintain over time. I believe this is the most important factor. If you establish the tone of your brand as “neighborly,” but in reality you are “poetic,” it is going to be incredibly difficult to maintain a consistent tone throughout the life of your brand. The moment you or one of your employees shows up being poetic in any way, you confuse your customer. So, the tone you choose for your brand should be clear and consistent over time.
- Expected vs. Niche. It is helpful to do some market research to see if there is an expected tone of voice in your industry. For example, a law firm might go for a serious, informative tone. It is likely that a majority of the people in the market for a lawyer are looking for someone who will take their case seriously and inform them appropriately. A law firm that goes with the expected tone of voice will probably have more competition, but it will also have a larger pool of customers to draw from. On the other hand, if the lawyers in the firm are bound by a tendency towards sarcasm, they could go out on a limb and become the sarcastic law firm. It’s a bold choice. It’s a niche market. They probably have fewer competitors, if any. They are probably also going to have a more limited range of potential customers…but the ones they do get will likely be more loyal if the job is done well.
- Blended Tones. It is entirely possible to have multiple tones that mesh into one tone. In fact, that nuance that you create might be exactly what is required to speak directly to your target market and weed out those who shouldn’t be your customers. For example, let’s say the core of your tone is “informative.” You know that everything you say should be informative in some way. But there are a lot of ways to be informative. Such as:
- Informative/Friendly – Just wanted to give you this little piece of advice I ran across yesterday! This can be a more casual style.
- Informative/Instructional – Here is exactly how you install sheetrock. Step 1. This is probably going to be a little drier and will get right down to business.
- Informative/Weird – Did you know that ______? It’s strange, it’s true, and who knows why you were looking it up in the first place?
- Informative/Scholarly – Formal, precise, and rigorous. Format and sources are paramount.
Those are just four examples of the many possible combinations, and you can already see how different these tones would be from each other even though they are all informative at their core. Someone who is interested to read a scholarly piece might not be so interested in your weird one!The tone you choose for your brand should be clear and consistent over time. #smallbiz #marketing Click To Tweet
One more thing to note about tone of voice is when to use it and when to be careful. Any marketing or positive messaging you are doing should bear your tone. Stay on brand so you can attract your customers and not confuse the ones who are already following you. However, there is a time to be careful. When controversy arises, you may need to use some crisis communications techniques. Crisis communications tend to be more formulaic, and depending on the nature of the crisis it may not be appropriate to insert your tone. For more information about crisis communications, read here.
Ultimately, the vast majority of the time that you use words to speak to your customers, you are going to want to use the tone of voice of your brand. By choosing your tone wisely and staying consistent, you will begin to attract the right customers who are looking for a business that will speak to them in exactly that way!