One of the biggest branding mistakes that companies can make is to not pay enough attention to their tone of voice. “Voice” sounds high-minded, doesn’t it? More suited for the literary world rather than the business world? But tone of voice just refers to how you sound in your writing. In marketing, your tone of voice can be a significant differentiator. It’s a strong advantage because a lot of companies aren’t yet thinking about it. Businesses often spend a lot of time on their logo and color palette and other things they think of as “branding”—the look and feel of their website, collateral, signage, fonts, and so on. But very few take the time to consider the branding that a unique voice can give a company. Brand Tone Exercise Mask the logo on your site. Do you sound different, unique—like yourself? Or do you sound like everyone else… including your competitors? Said another way:
If the label fell off… would people know it was you? Your tone of voice isn’t about what you say but, rather, how you say it. It’s the impression your brand leaves on your would-be customers or prospects. Phone Number ListDone right, your tone of voice is truly the secret sauce in your content BBQ. Here is how to develop your brand tone of voice: 1. Define What Makes You You Marketers call this developing a “brand positioning statement” or sometimes a “mission statement.” Whatever you call it, the idea is to define who you are, and what makes you you. Ask yourself a series of key questions: What’s unique to your business? What’s special about your products? What’s special about the way you do business? What’s your company culture like? Are you buttoned-up or playful? How do your employees relax together? Do you play beer pong in the parking lot on Friday afternoons, or do you have morning yoga sessions every Thursday? How do you want to be regarded by both customers and your community? Are you a trusted source for high-level insight, or a go-to source for hands-on, practical advice? Come up with, say, three words that best define who you are. Write them down. Avoid buzzwords and clichés (like “cutting-edge” or “proactive” or “revolutionary”). I call those words blech. Instead, identify more interesting, specific descriptors that reflect who you really are, and how you want to be perceived.
Translate Those Words into a Style Abstract attributes in isolation don’t mean that much. So develop some detail around them. Make them real and practical. For example, if one of your brand values is “creative”—what exactly do you mean? When and how are you creative? What are you creative about? How does your creativity help clients? Flesh out those words with a few sentences or anecdotes. 3. Write it Down I almost wrote “create a style guide,” but I worried I’d lose you there. The idea of a “style guide” might feel both pedantic and impenetrable to a lot of businesses—especially growing, scrappy ones who think a style guide is about as appealing as a History of Trigonometric Functions (volumes 1-34). (Side note: Keep reading. Volume 35 is a page-turner!) Style guide hack: Adopt a well-known style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Guide or (my personal favorite) the Yahoo Style Guide. Then add your own addendum to it. The benefit of doing it this way is that you’ll have the style basics covered (“email” vs. “e-mail” ) while being able to address more important things like tone. Check them out to steal ideas for inspiration. 4. Sweat the Small Stuff Don’t think about your voice applied in only the most obvious places—like your website copy and perhaps your Facebook page.
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