Tone of voice: speaking your tribe's language

One of the hallmarks of a great brand is a confident and distinctive tone of voice. I’m talking about brands that know exactly who they are, that know precisely who its customers are and who can talk to them in a way that’s pitch-perfect.

Sounds great, right? But what does tone of voice actually mean?

Well, I define it as the result of the choices a brand makes about the language, style and messages it shares. The tone of voice is an important part of what makes up a brand, because it tells us even more about who the brand is and what’s important to it.

And tone of voice is important because whether you’re a multinational or a one-person brand, it’s something that can draw your tribe closer—or alienate audiences altogether.

Look at it this way: We live in the age of personalisation. We’ve come to expect the brands we love to fit to our lifestyles and values, to know what it is that we want and to communicate with us in a way that suits us. And inevitably, that leans on tone of voice to get it right.

One question business owners ask me a lot is: which comes first—the tribe or the tone of voice?

I’d say that the two grow together, in an ideal world. Tone of voice should always be organic and flexible, because it’s important for any business to be able respond to the world around us and the people who inhabit it. So if you have a flexible tone of voice with strong foundations (which could be as simple as knowing what you believe in and how you express it), you’re in good shape. Because then you have the perfect place from which to tell your brand story – do that well and your tribe will grow.

Equally, if you listen to your tribe and engage on equal terms, your tone of voice should very naturally develop to fit with the tribe and make them feel that they belong.

So how and when do you start to develop your brand’s tone of voice?

I work with businesses to help them explore and establish the tone of voice that's right for their brand. Sometimes, that's at the beginning of the company's life, other times, it's part of a business evolution, a few years down the line. Sometimes, I work with brands to get even more meta, defining specific tone of voice guidelines for products, services or sub-brands.

It's important work, because when you nail this, you can hone your core messages and refine the language you use to reflect them. There’ll be words that are spot on for your brand, and words that are a massive no-no. There’ll be a specific spot on the formality/informality scale that feels right for your business.

Ask yourself what kind of dynamic you want to create with your tribe? Is it a friend? A counsellor? Entertainer? Coach? Figure that out and you’ll start to see just how powerful your choice of language can be, when it comes to shaping a relationship with the people who matter most to your business.

Can I help? Get in touch to find out more about my tone of voice workshops and consultancy fees.








Kate Foster