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What is tone of voice? The ultimate beginner’s guide

Strengthen your brand with a consistent style and tone

Have you ever seen an advertisement or read a text and immediately known which company it came from? Then you have experienced a company with a good tone of voice. 

Tone of voice can be an effective tool to: 

  • Build your brand 
  • Increase brand trust 
  • Show your company’s values and unique characteristics 
  • Let your target audience get to know more than just a logo 
  • Boost customer loyalty.  

In other words, there are many good reasons to work on your company’s tone of voice. After reading this article, you will have a good starting point! 

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What is tone of voice?  

Tone of voice is simply explained as the way your company expresses itself. It’s not about the information being conveyed, but how the information is given – and the emotions the reader is left with after seeing or reading it. 

It’s common to think that tone of voice only encompasses how someone writes and speaks, but it is about much more than that.  

A consistent tone of voice ensures that no matter where and how your company has communicated, it will be easy for the target audience to recognise it – whether it’s text and images on the company’s website, a post on social media, or even your fantastic product descriptions where you let the company’s identity and values shine through. 

Different tones of voice 

Building a good brand can in many ways be compared to creating a character with a recognisable identity. The vision is to create something that your target audience not only remembers but has a positive relationship with. Tone of voice is one of the best tools to achieve this. 

A consistent tone of voice can be, for example: 

  • Humorous and playful 
  • Relaxed and informal 
  • Energetic and motivating 
  • Exclusive and luxurious 

How your company’s tone of voice should be depends on what kind of company you have and who your target audience is. 

For example, it might not be strategic for a funeral home to adopt a humorous, relaxed, and informal tone of voice. A serious and factual toy store might also lose some of its spark. 

Building your brand with a tone of voice  

Tone of voice is a powerful tool for strengthening your company’s identity and brand. Let’s take a brief look at what it really means for a company to build a brand and how tone of voice is an essential part of this journey. 

Step 1: You start a business 

Naturally, you want this business to be profitable. For a business to be profitable, you need to have customers who pay for your products or services. 

Step 2: Acquiring customers 

How do you acquire customers? This topic is vast, and there are many tips and tricks. Ultimately, it’s about building a recognisable brand that the customers like.  

If you manage to… 

  • Ensure that potential customers find you 
  • Make a good first impression 
  • Maintain that good impression over time 

 …then you are well on your way! 

Step 3: Building a brand 

The theory is simple, but in practice, it takes some work to achieve the three steps above. 

To build a strong brand, you need to be conscious of who your company is. You must have a clear vision, a defined target audience that you know well, a good marketing strategy, and a clear identity. 

This is where tone of voice comes into play. 

The tone of voice you select helps convey your company’s personality, values, and character through consistent communication on all platforms. 

By developing and keeping a strong tone of voice, you make it easier for your audience to recognise and connect with your brand, fostering loyalty, trust – and ultimately building your brand.  

Finding the company’s voice and identity 

You might have a friend or colleague who is easily recognisable just by the way they speak and write. If you think about it, most people let their personality shine through when they communicate, whether it’s in the words and expressions they use, the way they construct their sentences, or their sense of humour. 

Imagine, for example, that you happen to have two friends who have just become customers of one.com and want to share their experience with you. 

Message 1: 

Hey there! Finally got started on my website project and I seriously NEED to share that it was a dream to do it with one.com! It took ZERO time to set up the site, and it was so easy that even my grandma could have got it up and running! And customer service? Talk about a team of superheroes! WHAT a gang! 

Message 2:

I would like to share an experience I recently had with one.com. It was nothing short of exemplary. After carefully evaluating several options, I chose them as my hosting provider. It was very easy to get started, and both the guidance and the access to customer service made the whole process quick and uncomplicated. 

Reading through these two messages, you would probably recognise who the messages were from without ever needing to look at the sender. 

A company with a recognisable tone of voice works the same way. It has distinct characteristics and is conscious of what it wants the target audience to feel and experience when they see communication from it. Consider: 

  • What are my company’s values? 
  • How do we help our customers? 
  • How do we want our customers to feel when they read, hear, or experience communication from us? 

Reflect the company’s values 

A tone of voice must reflect the company’s identity and values. Let’s take two examples on opposite ends of each other: a funeral home and a toy store. We’ll use these two to see how the thought process might be like for figuring out company tone of voice.   

A funeral home knows it has a customer base going through something difficult, and that the practical work around a funeral can be burdensome in a grieving process. Important values might be making customers feel safe, respected, reassured, and understood. 

A tone of voice that reflects this by communicating with empathy, professionalism, understanding, and competence allows the funeral home to effectively convey its identity. It shows its target audience who they are and what they stand for through their communication. 

The toy store, which sits on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, has a customer base that wants to be entertained and do something that makes them happy. With a tone of voice that is energetic, playful, creative, and imaginative, they can reflect the feelings they want the target audience to have when they think of the toy store. 

Both examples show how a company’s identity can come through clearly by being conscious of the tone of voice they should have.  

If you have established a good tone of voice and have a solid understanding of your target audience’s preferences, you have gathered all the main ingredients for creating effective and impactful content. 

By now, you are probably getting a good grasp of the principle behind tone of voice. Let’s dive a little deeper into how you can use your tone of voice across the different channels you communicate in. 

Examples of different tones of voice on your website 

Your company’s website is the most important platform your business has. Here, it should be clear who you are, and it should be presented in an inviting and exciting way that sparks curiosity and makes your target audience stay.  

In other words: use your tone of voice to its full potential on your website.  

Remember that tone of voice encompasses not just text, but also images, video, and the general presentation of the company. It’s all about creating the company’s identity. 

Earlier in the article, we provided some suggestions on what a tone of voice might be. Now, let’s take a closer look at some specific elements and techniques you can consider for your website if you have a tone of voice similar to one of the suggestions. 

A humorous and playful tone of voice 

With this type of tone of voice, the goal is to make the target audience feel entertained and in a good mood when they view communication from the company.  

It’s important that a website with this tone of voice is not too serious and heavy, but rather a fun and entertaining experience. 

Here are some elements and techniques worth considering for a website with a playful and humorous tone of voice: 

  • Humorous and light texts with simple and understandable language 
  • Good use of visual elements such as images, videos, or animations 
  • Graphic elements or illustrations that bring the website to life 
  • Quizzes, game effects and interaction opportunities 
  • A mascot or recognisable illustrated characters that can serve as spokespersons for the company 

For those with an online store, you might also consider: 

  • A points system or customer levels to make shopping with you playful and appealing to the target audience 

A relaxed and informal tone of voice 

Many businesses can benefit from a relaxed and informal tone of voice. This can be particularly useful if you offer products or services that might be a bit complex for some to understand. 

Let’s kick off with examples and look at this excerpt from the Norwegian accounting software Fiken’s website: 

A language you can understand 

Do you have a small business? Then your accounting needs to be kept simple. In Fiken, you won’t find credit and debit, but rather purchases and sales. Because that’s how it is for most of us. 

Additionally, Fiken has an animation on their website where the first heading reads: “Esoteric Pleonasm.” This stays in a short second before the text is cut and replaced with “A language you understand.” Beside the text, there’s also a suitable illustration. 

In this example, we see that both the message in the text, the text itself, and other elements like animation and illustration contribute to setting a consistent tone of voice that presents a relaxed, informal, and straightforward choice for its customers. 

Here are some elements and techniques that can be explored on a website with a relaxed and informal tone of voice: 

  • Simple language: Avoid complicated words and write in a conversational style. 
  • ‘Friend-to-friend’ communication.  
  • Illustrations or images showing how the product or services work.

An energetic and motivating tone of voice 

An energetic and motivating tone of voice aims to engage the target audience and make them feel ready to take action.  

A website with an energetic and motivating tone of voice can include the following elements and techniques: 

  • Quotes or highlighted sentences with a bit of “punch” to them 
  • Videos or images of people in action, preferably using your product 
  • Customer stories where clients share their achievements with the help of your business 
  • A blog with tips, tricks, and checklists relevant to what your business offers 
  • Micro interactions (small animations that occur when a user performs an action on the website, such as a button changing colour when hovered over) 

An exclusive and luxurious tone of voice 

An exclusive and luxurious brand often has a more sophisticated touch in its communication. A tone of voice in this genre should convey quality and exclusivity.  

The goal is for the target audience to feel a sense of success and prestige when they own the product or use the service. 

Elements and techniques on the website of a business with an exclusive and luxurious tone of voice can include: 

  • Sophisticated language: This doesn’t mean using overly complex words or making the text difficult to understand, but rather choosing words and sentence structures that come across as serious, competent, and free of slang or casual expressions. 
  • Images and videos showing the product or people using the service in an exclusive setting. Depending on what the business sells, this could range from the product resting on expensive materials to people at a prestigious event. 
  • Highlighting awards or quality seals: Highlighting any accolades or certifications that emphasise the high quality of the product or service. 
  • Dedicated pages with product or service history: Provide in-depth stories about the quality and heritage of the offerings. 
  • Influencer marketing: Collaborating with influencers who embody the luxurious lifestyle associated with your brand. 

Possibilities for all tones of voice 

For any type of tone of voice, there are many strategies you can use to make your website unique and to strengthen your brand’s identity. Perhaps storytelling told with your brand’s tone of voice is right for you? The colors you choose to use can also help set the right mood on the website. 

If you’re looking to take a fresh look at your website’s content, or if you’re just starting with your website’s content, we’ve created a workshop where you work on content that resonates with your target audience. 

One last tip about tone of voice on your website: 

If you find it challenging to craft amazing texts in your own tone of voice, you don’t have to start from scratch. If you use the Website Builder from one.com, our AI writing assistant can help you get started. 

You can tell our AI writing assistant that you need a text for the homepage, the about us page, a product description or any page you like. You can also specify the style you want the text to be in, such as energetic or humorous. 

By providing key points that you want to highlight, you will receive a text that you can either paste directly onto your website or make minor adjustments to until you’re completely satisfied. This way, you can easily kickstart the creative process without having to start from the very beginning. 

Since a website is the company’s own space on the internet, you have a lot of freedom to shape it as you wish. But what about other channels, where the format, presentation, and general expectations for the type of content presented are more defined? 

Now, we’ll look at how tone of voice can be used in social media. 

Tone of voice on social media

On social media, there are certain expectations for the type of content the audience wants to see when they are on that specific channel. For example, few people are in the right mode for long texts when they open TikTok. 

Additionally, most social media platforms have preferences for the type of content they want users to share. Content that aligns with these preferences makes it easier for the platform to determine who the content is suitable for. For example: 

  • Facebook and Instagram have increasingly focused on video content in recent years and therefore prioritise posts of this type. 
  • LinkedIn gives you 15 times more “points” for getting a comment on your post than for getting a like. 

This sets some guidelines for what to consider when creating content for different channels. This doesn’t mean you must follow all the rules in every post, but you will likely see an increase in reach if you keep these in mind when creating content. 

Having a social media channel is usually to reach your target audience, so the most important thing is to assess if this is a channel where you will find them and understand what type of content might appeal to them. This should be done in a way that maintains your tone of voice. 

For example, a brand with an exclusive and luxurious tone of voice that suddenly starts using too many emojis on Instagram, when it normally doesn’t, might end up being perceived as unprofessional and harm its brand in an attempt to reach the target audience. 

The formula is:  

  • Relevant social media channel +  
  • Content tailored to the channel +  
  • Content that preserves your tone of voice  
     
    = success! 

Checklist: Adapting content that preserves brand identity 

No matter what type of tone of voice you have, in most cases, it will be possible to adapt it to your identity. How this looks depends on the type of business, the tone of voice, and the social media channel for which the content is being created. 

Here is a checklist that you can use. It can serve as a foundation for developing content that stays true to your company’s tone of voice, no matter which channel you are creating content for: 

  • Who is the target audience I want to reach on this channel? 
  • What type of content is typical for this channel? 
  • What type of content does my target audience prefer? 
  • How do we use our tone of voice on our website and elsewhere? 
  • Are the language and techniques we typically use something we can apply to this channel? 
  • Are our competitors or similar businesses on this channel, and what content have they published? 

This checklist will help ensure that your content still is consistent with your brand identity while being tailored to the specific requirements and preferences of each social media platform. 

Challenge the format 

There are always exceptions, and experimenting with different types of content can be an important part of both finding your company’s identity and discovering how to reach your target audience. Challenging the standard or standing out can also be very effective. 

For example, the brand Surreal, which makes breakfast cereal, has received a great response for its humorous posts on LinkedIn, a professionally oriented social media platform where more serious content is typically expected. 

Surreal stays true to its tone of voice and has managed to carry it even on a platform where most might have tried a different type of content. 

A famous rule of thumb, however, is that you should know the rules before you break them. It can be useful to have a clear idea of your brand’s identity, who your target audience is, and what works on the specific platform before you start experimenting too much. 

Examples of good use of tone of voice 

We’ve discussed why tone of voice is an effective tool for companies that want to build a strong and recognisable brand. Here are some examples of companies with a strong and consistent tone of voice! 

Duolingo 

Duolingo is a popular app used for learning languages. Duolingo exemplifies a playful, empathetic, and relaxed brand. Their green owl mascot often communicates on behalf of the brand, both in the app and across their other channels. They have a well-developed tone of voice that shines through in both their writing style and the content they create. 

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton is a French brand that has been around since 1854. Best known for their luxurious handbags, they are world-renowned as a brand that stands for luxury. With polished writing, a focus on craftsmanship, and inspiring imagery, Louis Vuitton has also created a recognisable tone of voice that identifies the brand. 

Oatly

The Swedish oat drink producer Oatly has proven itself as a highly recognisable brand through a very consistent tone of voice. They are down-to-earth and often tell it like it is; for example, they have a side on their milk cartons titled “The Boring (but important) Side.” 

Oatly is also known for several of their marketing stunts where they challenge or surprise. Their website, marketing stunts, and the products themselves display an identity, a writing style, and a visual presentation that has become easy to recognise. 

Summary

Tone of voice is a powerful tool in branding that effectively conveys a company’s identity. It guides customers towards the emotions the company wants them to feel when they think of the brand, helping to create a positive and lasting impression. 

In building your brand, it can be beneficial to set up a consistent tone of voice that is reflected in the content you produce. There are many opportunities to highlight your company’s identity, and with a strong tone of voice, you can stand out from the crowd and prove what you stand for in new and creative ways! 

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