Brand tone of voice: a lesson in speaking the same language as your customers

I love words. But sometimes people ruin them, you know?

Like businesses who insist on using big, long, fancy, creative words to describe what they do. That approach is all well and good…if those are the words your customers are using.

Let me give you an example using toy manufacturer, Build-A-Bear:

1: …placing a heart in a furry friend that brings to mind warm thoughts of childhood, friendship, trust and love. From the beginning, our mission has remained the same: to add a little more <3 to life.

2: Delivering nostalgic playtime solutions which enrich lives with love.

I think it’s fairly obvious that the first example is the original and the second is my off-tone interpretation. You can see why parents might be put off by the second statement. It’s stiff, corporate and uncrackable. It doesn’t fit the product or the customer type but it’s exactly the kind of lingo the suits at the top of Build-A-Bear might use themselves.

Not quite sold? Allow me to elaborate…


Why bother with the whole ‘tone of voice’ lark?

So here’s the thing about branding: when done well, you have the potential to become a small piece of your consumers’ personal brand. Part of the halo that surrounds and defines who they feel they are. It needs to strike a chord.

That roughly translates to not shouting a sales message at them in whichever way your ego tells you sounds best. That shit ain’t disco.

The good folks down at Nielsen did some research into tone of voice, and uncovered some pretty interesting stuff.

  1. Tone of voice is an actual, quantifiable thing. That means, regardless of how arty farty it sounds, it’s real. Soz.
  2. It has a measurable impact on how your customers perceive your brand personality.
  3. This perception influences whether or not your customers are willing to recommend your brand 

All things considered, I think this gives us a good reason to crack on, right?


What can happen when yo’ lingo don’t flow

  • You become alien, and not the cool X-Files kind. Trying to out-fancy yourself with high-tech or jargon-stuffed copy alienates the customer. If they can’t find a way to connect with you at the first touchpoint, they won’t bother. Pure and simple.


  • You become confusing. Have you styled out such an abstract, generic mission statement that it could apply to almost anything? When the value isn’t obvious, consumer desire simply won’t manifest.


  • You become untrustworthy. Our pals at Nielsen found that a consumer’s desire for a product was directly linked to how trustworthy they found it. They also found that it was tone of voice which influenced how trustworthy the brand appeared.


How to speak the same language as your customers

Turn your target customer into a real person

This is, without a doubt, my favourite bit about writing brand guidelines—creating a customer profile. Collect all your target customer research: typical age, sex, buying behaviour, other products they like, occupation, how they interact with your product. Turn it into a one-page snapshot (I like to include a name, too), talk about them as though they’re a real person. This will make it easier to get a feel for who you’re appealing to.


Think about your customers’ emotional needs

How your customer feels in relation to your product should play a huge part in how you speak to them. If you’re selling banking or investment services, you definitely don’t want to come across as jokey or blasé—people are in a cautious mood and will need a reassuring, plain-speaking tone. If you’re writing an app for a taxi company, you have to realise that your user may be impatient and on a mission. You need to get to the point fast and be clear. Geddit?


Remember that it’s not about you

It’s like I said further up the page, you may have aspirations as to the kind of tone you want to strike in your copy. You want to be the next Google, Starbucks or Apple. The real question is whether that approach works for your target customer. If they’re pensioners, all that fancy talk is just going to alienate them.


Hold feedback sessions
Go straight to the source, baby! Draft up some sample copy and brand snapshots and take them directly to the people you want to seduce with your product. Show them what you have and ask them what they think. Can they understand what you do and where the value lies, just from your description? How does the copy make them feel? Which words would they use to describe it? It’s all good stuff.

I think we’re about done here! If you have any questions about tone of voice and branding, pop a comment below and let’s confab!

Post a comment