The importance of getting the right tone of voice

Tone of voice is very important, but I’ve always thought it’s one of the trickier parts of writing to get your head round, let alone to perfect. It often gets confused with personality and writing cadence (the rhythm and natural flow of your writing). So, in case you’re also not sure what it is, let’s start with an example.

You’re in trouble

I want you to think back to when you were young. You had done something really naughty and were in big trouble. You tried to bolt up the stairs, but your mother saw you and bellowed your full name in the way that only mothers can. Then she gave you the biggest dressing down of your life, in that special voice that made you tremble. It’s not just my mother who did that, right?

Yikes!  

Now imagine you’re popping into a café (I know, dig deep, it may have been a while). You’ve heard great things about it, and you plan to grab a coffee and a slice of cake and then catch up with some emails at a table in the corner. But when you get there, the woman behind the counter says your name …in that same way your mother did when you got in trouble. Yikes, it puts the fear of god into you, and you scarper, never looking back.

But here’s the thing…

Ok, so it’s an extreme example, but you get the point. Tone of voice is as important and as impactful in the written word as it is in the spoken word. In fact, probably more so, because when we meet someone in person, we have all sorts of other visual cues that we pick up, such as body language and facial expressions, which help our brains piece together what impression or impact the speaker is trying to create.

First impressions

With the written word, that initial (and long lasting) impression you create in those first few seconds of contact between you and a potential customer is done with not just what you say, but how you say it, or in other words your tone of voice. It quite literally, can set the tone of businesses and your image from now on.

And actually, when we write for our business, there can be a tendency to write very formally which can inadvertently mean you come across with a much more severe tone of voice than you intended or realised.

Subsequent impressions

Humour for me a minute and try the following exercise. I want you to say the following sentence out loud: “Hold out your hand” (although not if you’re on the train reading this – in which case say it in your head). Now say the same sentence in the following different tones of voice: sexy, angry, excited, loving.

Same words, different tone, big difference!

The tone you use in all your writing can do a number of things including:

  • encourage your reader to action,
  • build excitement,
  • provide reassurance,
  • generate emotions (such as trust, love, happiness, sorrow), and
  • perhaps most important of all, create an overall impression of what sort of person or business you are and what sort of experience a customer will have when they engage with you.

Tone of voice can be quite subtle and not always easy to get right but it will make all the difference to how effective your written marketing is. It can take you from bland to dynamic, from evil to trustworthy, from an unknown to that distinct and memorable voice whose blogs are always really dry but funny and get shared.

But how? I hear you say

Getting your tone of voice right requires you to have a good understanding of your target audience, your own brand, how you want to be perceived and what you’re trying to achieve with a particular piece of writing, and I can help you with all of that if you’re struggling. But with that in mind, here are simple tips for you to practice which really help:

  • Think about it. Yup, honestly, this is a good starting point. Before you write anything, stop and think about the impression you want to create, the tone of voice you think you should use and …your current mood. You will be amazed at what a difference a little thought can make. You may also be surprised by how your mood can affect your writing. Ever written an email when you were in a foul mood and realised later it may have come across as a little feisty?
  • Collect clippings. In the old days (long before my time obviously) when we saw a piece of writing that we liked, we cut it out and put in a file! Yes, really, we did. The point is, when you see a piece of writing that’s nailed its tone, copy and paste it somewhere for safe keeping. You will learn a lot from this exercise.
  • Write conversationally. It is very easy to fall into the habit of writing formally. Grown up pants on, big words, long sentences, longer preambles. Don’t. Unless of course, the tone you want to create is very formal and a tiny bit pompous. Even large corporates are run by human beings who have personalities and little time for dictionaries. Start by writing as you speak, then just edit your writing into a slightly more polished version (cut out the ums, and the errs).
  • Be consistent. I don’t want a friendly barista one day and angry barista the next. Enough said.
  • Punctuation! Oh yes! In the spoken word we use pitch, pace, pause, and annunciation to create tone of voice. In the written word, you have to use other tools. That might be the words you use (howdy, rather than hello), the font you use or how you punctuate!!! But a quick word of warning – DON’T OVERUSE CAPITALS OR EXCLAMATION MARKS AS THEY COME ACROSS AS THE WRITTEN EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING! And be very careful about going crazy with funky fonts.
  • Have a sliding scale. You can be outrageous, or just a little cheeky. Identify where you are on the scale.
  • Keep a guide. Over time, you’ll work out what’s acceptable (to you or your customers) and what isn’t, what works well, and what you never do. It’s enormously helpful if you keep a record of this. Perhaps you’re very irreverent but you never swear. Perhaps you notice a particular greeting always results in a higher email open rate, or maybe you know that your clients cannot live with the idea of starting a sentence with a conjunction (words like And and But).

Tone is tricky. You may not perfect it overnight, but it is or should be a part of building your brand personality and persona which in turn leads to better brand awareness, increased customer loyalty, and better results. Give me a call on 07988 676219 or email if you’d like help getting it right.