hand with megaphone "tone of voice"

Tone of voice – what it is, what’s the difference and why it’s a big deal.

Hot topics are never in short supply here at casa MadeBrave but there’s one in particular that’s been getting our tongues wagging for a while now. Yes, we just can’t stop talking/writing/thinking about tone of voice. Cuppas at the ready – we’re here to fill you in on what it is, how it works and why it matters.

When it’s done well, tone of voice works. That’s why the UK’s tone of voice market alone is worth £11.6million. So why are so many companies still winging it with their words?

Because everyone can write, right?

Sure, everyone in your organisation can put together a piece of writing. But Debbie in HR might have a distinctly direct style, while Mike in marketing is more warm and fluffy.

This makes it hard for your customers to connect with your business on an emotional level because they’re never quite sure what to expect. To boost your brand, it’s important to guide how everyone in your team communicates when they’ve got their company cap on. And that’s where tone of voice comes in.

Tone? Voice? What’s the difference?

Understanding this distinction is easier if you think about your own personal way of speaking. There are certain features (beyond accent) that make you always sound like you, but somehow the way you speak to your boss is very different from the way you speak to your best pal.

The first is your voice; the second is your tone. Voice is always the same. Tone changes to accommodate context.

In business-type terms, you might define your voice as conversational and confident, but these are sliding scales that shift in different scenarios:

  • Presenting at a conference:

Confidence in spades and a professional style with a conversational twist

  • Mingling in the bar afterwards:

Full-on conversational style with an understated air of confidence

But does all this really make a difference?

In a word, yes! For a great example of the incredible effect tone of voice can have, look no further than Innocent. They’ve successfully turned everything they touch into a mind-bogglingly brilliant reflection of their brand – even their ingredients list! That’s why people connect with them, and why they keep selling so many smoothies, despite an influx of pretenders to the smoothie throne.

Applying this to your brand

OK, so Innocent’s quirky style wouldn’t work for everyone. But the basic principles behind tone of voice are the same for everyone:

It helps to build your brand

Since the arrival of the interweb, businesses need to communicate over loads of different platforms. A consistent tone of voice makes sure you get the most from every type of media, creating a credible voice that people feel comfortable connecting with. 

It keeps you savvy on social channels

The secret to a great social media presence is a willingness to engage with friends, fans and followers. Some companies see this as a risk because they can’t prepare for these in-the-moment interactions. But a tone of voice takes a lot of the guesswork out of it, giving your team a set of principles that they can apply to anything that comes their way.

It expresses efficiency

Business lingo is full of buzzwords that sound smart, but that also make it hard for coworkers and customers to decode what you’re actually saying. Tying down a tone of voice lets your team know that it’s OK to show off their knowledge in a more straightforward way. Which will help them complete even the trickiest tasks in record time.

It keeps you cool in a crisis

OK, so emergencies are impossible to fully prepare for. But if you’ve got an unshakeable understanding of your business, what it stands for and crucially, how you express it, it makes crisis communications a whole lot easier.

So where should you start?

Defining your tone of voice isn’t about creating a wordy personality; it’s about expressing what’s already there. Is a great sense of humour a key factor in everything you do? Have you built a business from the ground up by telling it straight? All these things can, and should, form the foundations of your tone of voice.

For most companies, defining a tone of voice and leaving the rest to an individual’s intuition is enough. But marketing masters MailChimp have gone a step further, setting out their tone and voice separately to make sure they can switch between contexts without losing a single ounce of authenticity. Expect to see more companies following suit in the very near future.

The big ‘but’…

Got your tone of voice nailed? Don’t stop there – making it work requires much more than just lip service (ironic, right?). So take the time to embed it in your business from top to bottom. And once everyone’s using it without fail, you’ll know you’re onto a winner.

In a nutshell, if you want to get ahead of the curve, get behind your brand’s tone of voice.


Hey you! Fancy a helping hand with your tone of voice? Let’s chat!