How to create your own tone of voice guidelines

Tone of voice guidelines are the bomb (and I’m not just saying that because I write them for a living). They give you a way to set the voice of your brand in stone, so no matter who's writing what, there are firm guidelines to follow for delicious consistency across all channels and content.


What are TOV guidelines?

Tone of voice guidelines are part of your branding bible. I know you have this, because every successful business is built on strong branding and no one here is cutting any corners, right?

Tone of voice guidelines sit alongside your established branded colour palettes, logo use guidelines and competitor list. They act as a definitive guide to writing accurately and consistently for your brand. Freelance writers (like me) love them because it means we can easily nail tasks without having to do loads of extracurricular homework on your brand (which we’ll charge you for, btw).


Why you should give a crap about tone of voice guidelines

One thing that erodes a brand like nothing else is inconsistency. Customers subconsciously rely on branding as a trust cue—you need to sound like yourself at all times. Every time someone new writes something for your site, your marketing or your PR, the tone of voice will change to that individual’s writing style. That, my friends, is a big no-no.

Having content that switches between different voices makes customers feel confused and ultimately dilutes the branding you worked so hard to establish.

Every time someone new joins your company or you need to outsource content, you can pass your tone of voice guidelines along and feel confident that the work you’ll get back is in-line with the rest of your written marketing. That is going to be a huge weight off your shoulders.


How to write tone of voice guidelines

Before you sit down to write anything, you’ll need to have your branding already in place. If you haven’t done this, pop along to my article on brandingand get your ducks in a row before you come back to this little puppy.

  1. Company mission statement

It’s nice for branding guidelines to start by painting a picture of your business; it’s aims, target customer and future ambitions. I usually pop the company mission statementfront and centre—it’s your branded description of yourself, so it suits the purpose perfectly.


  1. Customer profile

I like to follow on with a paragraph or two on the target customer. I describe them as a real person; how old they are, which gender, where do they work? Why do they like the brand? How do they use it?

This will give content writers a fully formed picture of the individual they’re writing for, and let me tell you, that is helpful as heck when crafting copy.


  1. Creating a character for the brand

Remember how we created a vibe for the business with the mission statement? We’re about to do the same thing with the brand. To do this we’ll outline the core messages of the business and ways that these are communicated to customers. To ensure that this is bang on, we’ll also pop in some examples of going too far and not dishing out enough.

For example:

Our customers are easy-going, fun people and so are we. Our products are used in the spirit of fun and this is something we want to sprinkle through all our written communications, so no matter what we’re saying, we’re being sure not to take ourselves too seriously.

Too much: Don’t be a silly sausage! Grab yours before it’s too late!
Right on cue: Better get your skates on; this offer won’t last long :)
Not enough: Hurry—offer ends soon!


  1. Products and services

When writing about your products and services, you have certain language that you like to use. How to write the product titles, straplines you use for them, main benefits you like to pull out, etc. etc.

By writing about them in a standardised way, you’re creating a recognised identity for your products which gives customers confidence and makes your brand more recognisable.

I include a section on how to write about various products, breaking down the titles, straplines and benefits, with examples of inaccuracy, compared to how it should be written.


  1. Words we love, words we hate

Always a firm favourite in the tone of voice branding guidelines is a selection of words commonly found in your business branding and words that don’t make the grade. This can be simple things like:

Love:more affordable/cost-effective

Love:digital boutique
Hate:eCommerce site


You get the picture. Your writers need to know which terms to avoid and which ones they can use to their heart’s content!

Look at you—you’re well on your way to your first set of tone of voice guidelines! If you need a hand, call me out, otherwise—scribble away!

Emma Cownley