How to create a tone of voice guide for your organisation
Having a clear and consistent tone of voice is important for any organisation. When we felt it was time to create our own tone of voice guide we decided to use the experience to help others to follow in our footsteps.
Why is tone of voice so important?
When people think about branding, they often focus on visual elements like colour, logo, typeface and use of images. The voice of an organisation is how the brand speaks to its audience. Are they formal and authoritative or laid back and chatty? Do they like to spice up their conversation with humour or do they prefer to keep things safe and serious?
Although videos and podcasts do give businesses and charities the opportunity to reveal their voice, most audience engagement still happens via written content. With no facial cues, gestures or body language to support the message, a content writer has to convey the brand's voice purely through their choice of words and sentence structure.
A three step process for finding your voice
Creating a tone of voice guide can be done as a separate activity or as part of an overall branding review. In either case, all aspects of branding need to be considered to ensure consistency.
Here is a simple three step process for finding your organisation's voice:
Step 1: Stakeholder interview
Talking to key stakeholders is an important first step in identifying and starting to formalise your tone of voice.
Example: Eyes Down stakeholder interview
As part of our tone of voice process, we interviewed the Eyes Down team. This gave us the chance to clarify some of the core brand values which would need to come across in any piece of Eyes Down content. These values include:
- Getting a buzz from simplifying complex ideas and systems.
- A love of creating beautiful things.
- Offering clear guidance to help customers make educated choices.
- A preference for long-term partnerships.
Speaking to multiple stakeholders can highlight areas where brand values may be misunderstood or unclear. By the end of this process, everyone in the company should be fully aligned on these core values.
Step 2: Content audit
Every business or charity needs to speak with the same voice whether they are communicating via social media, print media or blog post. This step involves looking at all of these areas and working out how your voice can be adapted in each case.
The challenge is in adapting the company tone to the type of platform while maintaining the same voice. For example, even a serious, formal voice will need to be softened for a Facebook post while a quirky, fun-loving company should be a bit more conservative when communicating through LinkedIn.
All stakeholders involved in these separate areas should be brought together to discuss a way forward.
Step 3: Audience research
There may be a gap between how you intend your voice to come across and how it is received by your audience. The only way to find this out is by asking your customers via surveys, focus groups, feedback forms and similar means.
This step will help you to address these gaps and develop a more authentic tone of voice that improves brand consistency.
Once you've finished collecting your evidence together, it is a good idea to formalise your tone of voice guidelines. This should be a shared digital document so that all members of the team can refer to it easily.
A periodic review of this document will help to ensure the tone of voice guidance adapts to any changing circumstances.
Example: Eyes Down tone of voice document
To ensure all current and future content creators know how to speak with the Eyes Down voice, we created a simple, shared document they can refer to. This sets out our main guidelines and can be added to as needed.
Some of the points we have set out include:
- Our content should come across as light, friendly, humorous and modern.
- We prefer to refer to our customers as customers rather than clients.
- We always spell our company name as Eyes Down, never Eyes-Down.
- We always write out an abbreviation in full the first time we use it (this ties in with our brand values of simplification and clear guidance).
We will also be carrying out an existing content audit to ensure published content aligns with the new tone of voice document. That way, we can be confident that our website visitors will receive the same user experience no matter how they first come into contact with us.
Creating a tone of voice guide is definitely a worthwhile exercise for ensuring consistency and authenticity across your organisation and we hope this guide will inspire you to follow our lead.