It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it!
‘It’s only words…’: How achieving the right tone of voice for your brand could have you eating your words.
So, you’ve only gone and got yourself set up in business. Looking through the brand checklist you’re crossing things off like there’s no tomorrow. A sound product or service. Tick. Some red-hot business objectives. Tick. A shiny new logo. Tick. And a customer base ready to hear all about it. Tick. So, how do you go about telling them?
Communicating with customers.
It has to be done. And, despite the shift to all things digital, you’re just going to have to handle this the good old-fashioned way… with words.
At every point your customers come into contact with your business, words have the power to boost your brand presence and make it even more memorable. Just like your shiny new logo, you should aim for customers to be able to recognise your brand simply by reading a sentence or two on your website or the written copy on an advertisement.
Achieving that recognition is where it starts to get a little more complicated. Don’t panic though, it all boils down nailing down a suitable tone of voice for your brand and then using it consistently throughout all of your communications. From a script used in an online video or radio advertisement to the teeny tiny writing in your terms and conditions, every written word produced by your business is an opportunity to inject some brand personality. It’s this personality that will make your business more relatable and appealing to customers. See? It’s easy peasy really.
Finding the perfect tone of voice for your brand
The Bee Gees had a point when they warbled ‘it’s only words, and words are all I have to take to your heart away’. With a hauntingly beautiful 70s falsetto, the gauntlet is thrown down. From this moment forward every word in your arsenal of vocabulary needs to work harder to please the customers in your life and win their heart (and spending money). And, the way you use those words helps to form the basis for your tone of voice.
Thinking about different tones of voice.
Customers approach certain types of businesses with certain expectations. Walking into a high-end department store, you’d expect to see a glossy finesse to every element, and you wouldn’t hold it in direct comparison with your experience of shopping in a low-budget supermarket chain.
The same expectations apply to the words used by your business. Being aware of the expectations surrounding your business or industry is a good place to start (and can be a good place to break some rules too).
We’ve put together some examples of copy that we’ve taken a shine to, to help you to see different tones of voice in action.
1. Fun & funny
The written equivalent of a knowing wink, businesses who adopt a tone filled with humour are openly inviting you to join them in the joke. Post-modern and self-referential, they’re like that mate down the pub who has the quick-fire comebacks with a side of dodgy puns and sarcasm.
Example: Ben & Jerry’s:
Ben & Jerry’s is one heck of a fun brand and they don’t hold back in sharing their delight in all things ice-cream related and tap into the emotion surrounding their products. Using almost sensory language, consumers are welcomed to enjoy ‘globs’ not ‘pieces’, and are urged to enjoy ‘scrumptious’ not ‘tasty’ ice cream. Even when targeting bigger issues like gay marriage, Ben & Jerry’s manage to add their unique sense of humour without diminishing the important message behind their copy.
Lush: ‘You’ve Been Mangoed’ love puns or hate them, Lush has been using them to great effect and sales. Complementing their eco-friendly, all natural mantra with funny, though punny, names, rhyming product descriptions, and amusing website content, Lush have established themselves as a brand to be reckoned with, despite seeming a little less serious than most.
2. Keep it simple.
Clear. Concise. Direct. Eternally helpful without being patronising. This approach is perfect for guiding customers through a process or making complicated instructions user-friendly.
Evernote: As project planning tool you would want things to be organised across every aspect of the business. It’s great to see that Evernote have taken that on board with their simple tone of voice. Instructional and non-condescending they instil confidence in their users with their calm, controlled authority.
3. Fantastical & whimsical
Often found on the back of a bottle of booze, brands taking a whimsical approach go all out with their language. Flowery, over the top, but always engaging.
Hendrick’s Gin: If you’ve not had too much of it to drink, the back of a Hendrick's Gin bottle is almost as pleasing as its contents. The alcohol equivalent of a well-heeled, upper class Dandy, Hendrick’s Gin boasts turn of the century (the one before the last one) phrases, reveling in its sense of the peculiar and reflecting this in the stylized language used by the brand. The consistent use of this tone of voice has the reader believing they’re almost wearing a monocle as they move from bottle to website. And, by Jove it works!
4. Rule breaking
For brands with nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Taking a more rebellious approach, the copy from rule-breaking brands is often unexpected, sometimes shocking and always memorable.
Hans Brinker Budget Hotels: Brutally honest and oh-so knowing, Hans Brinker don’t hold back when it comes to honesty. In an industry vying for Trip Advisors reviews and star-ratings, Hans Brinker break the rules with their ‘you get what you pay for’ approach to budget accommodation. They know who they are and don’t promise anything more than that, transforming them from the ‘worst’ hotel in the world to the most ‘endearing’. Hans Brinker take their weaknesses and find the silver lining, present a challenge, or a ‘squint to see it’ benefit, throwing the rule book out of the window (that’s if it isn’t painted shut).
BrewDog: When you refer to yourself as a “post-punk, apocalyptic motherfucker of a craft brewery” is there really much more to add? Shouting in the face of competitors, and consumers, they’re rabble rousing rebels ready to take on any fight through great tasting, artisanal beer. BrewDog have been the rebellious pioneers of a craft ale movement, and their provoking war cry rings true to this day. Remaining true their oxymoronic punk ideals, Brew Dog have stamped their Doc Martens on the industry through their in-your-face and unforgettable marketing voice.
5. Straight talking
If you buy ‘x’ , you’ll get ‘y’. No messing around, these brands get straight to the point.
Newcastle City Council really needed to address a problem they’d had for a while and grab the public’s attention in order to make people think twice about dog poo. They needed an impactful way to remind the general public that they needed to clean up their act or face being fined, with no middle ground.
Created by fellow local design agency, Drummond Central. The creative advertising campaign was a gutsy and a brave move for the council. And, as a creative agency in Newcastle, we’re delighted it stirred up a great reaction in the region and has since proved to be a highly memorable campaign.
6. Like a person
Observers of the human condition, they wrap you up in open and honest language. Tapping into what drives you as a human being, you can recognise yourself in their writing. It’s almost like having a one to one conversation with an advertising billboard (although we wouldn’t recommend doing that in the street or you’ll get funny looks)
Spotify: If you’ve wandered onto a social media site in the last couple of years, you’ve more than likely seen a Spotify advertising campaign or two floating about. Finding a sweet spot, Spotify hit home by sharing the results of its listener data with the public (anonymously and so very excellently). Picking up on the behavior and habits of real people, Spotify created bitter-sweet, funny, and heart wrenching ads that almost held a mirror up to every passer-by. Using the human consciousness, they created people with identities and back stories, leaving more questions than were answered, catching the attention of their audience through words.
7. Telling tales
Story-telling has become a bit of a buzzword for brands, but done well it brings a sense of legacy, tradition, and reliability, qualities that appeal to the average joe on the street. If you’re brand story isn’t particularly interesting, just make one up. It hasn’t done Jack Daniels any harm.
Innocent: Innocent have established themselves firmly as copywriting royalty in recent years through their effective use of telling stories as a health-food brand. Witty, chatty, playful, their ability to appear care-free and off the cuff is aspirational stuff for many brands and copywriters alike. Innocent should be (and are) applauded for their friendly relatability, which permeates through every facet of their work. You know you’re doing something right when you reach the heady heights of ‘Fruit Towers’ and answer calls on the ‘Bananaphone’. Making the healthy side of things a little more amusing and light-hearted, the a-peel of Innocent’s story reaches a broad range of age groups.
8. Go retro
Brands who imitate the style and language of a time gone by. Tapping into a pseudo-nostalgia they seemingly promote values of a bygone era and use traditional selling techniques with a modern update.
Soap & Glory: ‘A Fun, Fresh, Fearless, Fantastic British Beauty Brand. With the belief that while beauty absolutely matters, it doesn’t matter absolutely.’ Soap and Glory have earned their place on the high street combining reto-style visuals with modern copywriting, nodding to the past but looking forward to the future. Using attention-grabbing product names like ‘Sexy Mother Pucker’, ‘What A Peeling’ and ‘Drama Clean’, their contemporary tone of voice remains consistent but also simultaneously reminiscent of adverts from the 1950s and 60s.
Once you’ve recognised a tone that:
- you like
- goes well with your brand
- is how your typical customer might prefer to be spoken to*
you can get to work introducing elements across your marketing and communications channels and allow your brand voice to speak out to willing listeners across social media platforms and shop floors.
*remember these things are not automatically the same thing, so you may need to compromise if you’re a Funeral Director who wants to avoid ‘putting the ‘fun’ in funeral’
Translating a tone of voice to your own brand.
A tone of voice shouldn’t ever feel forced. Social Media is a good place to observe this in action, especially with marketing gurus extolling the virtues of targeting a Millennial audience. Could you imagine a high-street stalwart like Marks & Spencer describing their latest range of cushioned sandals as ‘lit AF’? It makes you uncomfortable just thinking about it. Use phrases your audience will relate to.
Keep it simple. Write as you would talk. Think about what you want to say and why you want to say it, and lay it out in a step by step, easy to understand structure. Nobody will ever complain about making something easier.
Be consistent. If your website homepage features an elaborate story about how the founders of the business journeyed across Mordor to forge the key to the office, every page should keep up this theme – even the contact page should allude to casting your runes in the magic boxes below so the founders will give you a ring!!
Hire a copywriter. A professional copywriter can do all the hard work for you, and most likely in half the time. Search for freelancers online and have a look over their portfolio of work to find a copywriter who piques your interest. Copywriters come in all shapes and sizes, with some focussing on creative work and others focussing on technical writing, so make sure they’re the right fit before you sign them up.
Building a brand means focussing on more than how it looks, it’s how the business sounds and behaves too. For advice on developing your developing your brand’s tone of voice or if you fancy a fresh new look with a rebrand, speak to Ashleigh at stop. for guidance on taking the next step to achieving brand excellence.
Written by Clare Jennings - 20th April 2018