Why your brand needs a tone of voice and how to create one
What makes your favourite brand recognisable?
To make our case, let’s think about Netflix for a minute.
If we go back a few years, streaming content was difficult and presented both technical and legal difficulties. Unlike the US, most of Europe missed the TiVo revolution and attitudes to watching programmes you'd typically missed involved a VHS tape.
Fast forward to 2018 and Netflix as a concept for content viewing is well-known and loved. It's become ubiquitous – but how?
The nitty gritty of Netflix
Netflix stands out from its competitors such as Amazon Prime, Hulu and Now TV due to a combination of:
creation of its own (exclusive) original content
tone of voice
For some businesses, tone of voice is an afterthought. Surely what your brand has to offer in terms of product is more important, right? But this is where most companies struggle.
For example, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu all do the same thing – provide on-demand video services. So why (in early 2017) did Netflix have 48 million subscribers, yet Amazon Prime had 26 million and Hulu only 17 million?
Because people buy into the Netflix brand and its perceived culture. Netflix knows that it does the same as everyone else. That’s why it works so hard on creating a brand personality through its tone of voice.
Riverdale s4 returns weekly from 10 October. No idea what’ll happen but I’m sure Archie will take his shirt off for no reason and fight a bear again, idk.— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) August 14, 2019
What is a tone of voice?
A tone of voice is a guideline that helps you produce clear, effective and creative communications that are consistent with your brand.
It’s the way in which you write and speak, what you say and how you say it.
Netflix’s tone of voice is friendly, fun and cheeky. It engages regularly with followers, is up to date with what’s trending and loves a good meme. It’s also represented in some of the more difficult or serious communications it makes with its wider audience – deciding to cancel a show or talking about something sincere, for example.
It articulates its values in an open and honest way and is significantly different to the formal corporate communications from a company like the BBC.
But Netflix isn’t the only one that has a great tone of voice.
When it comes to aeronautics and aerospace research, most of us would agree, we don’t know our geosynchronous orbits from our electromagnetic propulsion.
But the people at NASA do.
The team there ‘reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind’ by doing all sorts of technical projects, visualisations and research.
Understanding that most of this would go straight over our heads (much like the stars in the night sky), NASA uses its tone of voice to tell us about serious issues in a simple, engaging way, using plain English to avoid confusion.
And, did you really think we’d write something about tone of voice without mentioning the always fruity Innocent? Its chatty, witty, silly, yet warm tone of voice is synonymous with the concept of branded tone of voice.
Of course, Innocent can get away with talking about random topics in a fun way as it’s appropriate with the product it’s selling. Often, other brands trying to adopt this voice miss the mark as they’re either selling ‘less fun’ products or do this as a shallow ‘for marketing’ only effort – it just doesn’t work.
The science behind tone of voice
In 1967, Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian determined that communication is made up of three parts:
the actual words you use (7%)
the tone of delivery (38%)
the body language with your words (55%)
This means that one can’t work effectively without support from the other two. From this it’s clear to see our actual words mean very little to the reader or person you’re talking to – it relies heavily on the tone of delivery and accompanying body language.
That’s why a tone of voice is critical when it comes to communicating what your brand does or offers.
It’s essential that your tone of voice is consistent across all marketing channels to develop a cohesive brand personality in line with your values. Think about every tweet, Facebook post and blog post you write or talk you give – are you doing it in your brand’s tone of voice?
The more consistent you are, the more people will be able to understand who you are, what you offer and what makes you special – all of which develops trust with your audience.
A strong, defined tone of voice is what makes you stand out from competitors. It’s a cornerstone of establishing and maintaining an effective brand presence.
How to create a tone of voice for your brand or business
Firstly, it’s super important to know your audience. What do they think of your brand? And remember, what you think they think might not be correct.
At Crocstar, we find it useful to think of a brand as a person. If your brand was a well-known figure, who would it be?
We’ve used people such as Peep Show’s Isy Suttie and Countdown’s Susie Dent as examples for a couple of our clients – Isy for her regional dialect and warmth and Susie for her knowledge-sharing ability and straightforwardness.
This is known as typology work and was used in the good old days of newspaper advertising.
Typology work involves thinking of your product or brand and sketching out what your typical customer looks like, how they might feel about you and their characteristics as an audience and consumer.
Doing this can take lots of time researching and requires in-depth knowledge of your brand and audience – which is why we’d recommend getting some expert help from us.
We’ve created the tone of voice guidelines for East Midlands Trains, an agile consultancy business for the government and English Heritage, so if you’re struggling to create and develop your brand’s tone of voice, we can help.
Get in touch today and let’s find your voice.