Shhhh! I can see your tone of voice


Question. What makes a successful brand tone of voice?


Answer. Invisibility.



If you can ‘see’ a brand’s voice at work, it’s not working.

Here’s why.


Think of the people you know, like and respect and how they talk. Over time you get to understand not just their thoughts, opinions and worldview but how they express these. So much so that any deviation in the way they talk might immediately raise an alarm. We’ve all spoken to a friend at the other end of a phone call and recognised that something isn’t quite right — not because of what they said, but how they said it. It’s exactly the same for brands.


I guess that most people would struggle to articulate the foundations of any well-known brand’s tone of voice. Describing it would be tricky — but if that successful brand stopped speaking in its recognised tone and stepped out of character, the same audience would immediately notice the difference. It would jar for reasons they might not be able to explain but would be able to detect.

Like many things that ‘just work’, great brand voices are also linked to our perception of those brands that they only become recognisable when they begin to fail.



Finding your own voice


An appropriate and discernible tone of voice can be difficult to achieve. It starts with knowing who you’re talking to and how you want them to respond. That doesn’t mean looking at how everyone is talking to that audience; rather, it’s about understanding the parameters that you have to work within. If all your competitors speak irreverently, this doesn’t mean you have to develop an off-beat voice to fit in. Your audience might be crying out for some grown-up advice.

Back to your friendship group — remember those people who failed to make the cut? The ones who found themselves just a little too funny or were totally pompous. As customers, we’re all subliminally judging how brands speak every day — you don’t want your message to get lost in an overbearing sea of puns and forced humour.


There’s also a fine line between knowledge and presumptuousness.


It’s a line that many companies step over far too often: they have a voice that never stops to explain the details and instead barges ahead with acronyms they presume we will know. Tech companies are especially guilty of this — we’ve all had to resort to google to decipher their jargon at some point in time.

Start with your brand strategy and build out from there. Does the way you talk match your brand values? Can it allow you to talk in ways that bring your mission to life? If not, perhaps it’s time for a new voice.



The importance of invisibility


The aim of any brand is to forge a strong connection between the audience and a product or service. Your brand’s tone of voice acts as both the message carrier and your personality. But it’s a careful balance — conveying your important messages without ever overwhelming them. And consistency is everything. If you are going to talk in a whimsical manner, it’s important to stick to it. If you want to communicate gravitas, think hard before sending out a jokey newsletter, even if it appears to be a great idea.


Your tone of voice needs to have breadth, should immediately be recognised as appropriate, and then quickly become invisible to your audience.


By that, I mean it should become second nature. It should also appear almost effortless in use and synonymous with your brand.

The last thing Liquid Death want is their drinkers thinking, ‘oh look, they’re talking to me in that stupid way again’, or Rolex for their customers to think, ‘this sounds too elitist for me’.



A final tip


If you are struggling to define your voice, imagine you could hire any spokesperson for your brand. Carl Sagan, Seth Rogan or Selena Gomez? Thinking of what makes them the right choice might provide a good steer on how you want your brand to speak and why.