Take your brand to the next level with a voice and tone guide

One of the most powerful ways your brand can stand out from the crowd is by developing a strong brand voice. Just as a creative color scheme gives your brand visual impact, so a brand voice helps your written content make a splash. 

In today’s article, we’ll do two things: first, we’ll cover the ways a distinctive, reliable brand voice can help your brand build trust; second, we’ll show you how to get your writing team on the same page using a voice and tone guide.

A strong brand voice sets you apart

So what’s the role of your brand voice? For starters, an original voice infuses your brand with personality. It marks the difference between content that merely conveys information and that which actually connects with your target customer. And believe it or not, when you connect emotionally, you establish a relationship, build rapport, and grow long-term loyalty

A well-honed brand voice plays many other important roles. For instance, it can establish authority with customers by demonstrating knowledge or expertise. It can also facilitate customer behavior (especially relevant for products like mobile apps).

In a similar arena, it can improve the ease with which customers interact with your brand. This is a big deal in the world of UX writing, where writers try to reduce points of friction or cognitive overload – common causes of declining user engagement.

two women in an office in conversation about voice and tone

Showing up is half the battle

So how is all this achieved? Well, it’s very much about consistency. This may sound a bit dull, but this is one of the most important factors at play here. Whether your brand voice is witty and wise, or calm and reassuring, you need to be consistent and purposeful about how the voice plays out in your copy. 

You’ve heard the quote (often attributed to Woody Allen) that 90% of success is showing up? With your brand voice, it’s very much the same. When you apply your brand voice across all interactions, and you do it regularly on every screen, button, and welcome email, you’re essentially telling your customer “Hello – this is who I am; you can depend on me.”

Brand consistency is how you establish trust with your customer. And trust, as you likely know, is one of the biggest factors that determine whether prospects want to do business with you.

Establish trust and you’ll find your relationships transform. Customers begin to perceive you more as a partner and less as just another brand competing for their attention; this establishes respect and makes the process of doing business so much easier.

Your tone of voice makes the difference

Does working with a brand voice sound restricting? Fear not! While consistency is a huge factor, your brand voice doesn’t need to be obvious or predictable. In fact, your voice should adjust across interactions. This is where tone comes into play.

Tone is the emotional quality of your voice, and it needs to shift naturally according to audience and context. This is sometimes called tone flexing. Your tone could be upbeat and excited during a customer’s onboarding process. You might use the phrase, “Welcome aboard! Let’s get started.” 

On the other hand, your tone could be more serious and informational for error messages or policy violations. For example, “We can’t find the page you’re looking for. Try entering a different URL or using the search bar below.”

Note how in the examples above, the informal, conversational voice remains, but the tone of the messages change. The point is that you’re always speaking directly to your target user…in ways that are relevant and specific to the context.

two women wearing headscarves converse with a tablet and two men at a table with laptops in an office setting

Really, this is how people interact. We use the same vocabulary, idioms, and communication style, but our tone shifts based on whether we’re complimenting our friend, or conveying something urgent we heard on the news. 

So, in a nutshell, by defining your voice and tone, you can help your brand speak more like a human and less like a business or anonymous corporation. And when you do this, you create a strong link to your customers.

Documentation counts: developing a voice and tone guide

So how does all this magic around voice and tone take place? For starters, to get your writing team on the same page, you’ll want to create a voice and tone guide. This can live within your style guide, or as a standalone document, but it should be in a location that can be easily accessed by your whole team.

Your voice and tone guide informs your team how to write for your brand. This is important for copywriters, UX writers, content designers, UI designers, and anyone else who’ll be contributing copy. It helps them write with impact, personality, and consistency, and eases the editorial process. Just as important, it establishes a single point of truth for brand communications, aligning your team and speeding up the content creation process.

What’s in a voice and tone guide?

Your voice and tone guide includes guidance on how your brand should speak. Many guides also create a brand persona, spokesperson, or avatar to capture their brand personality. Have you ever heard the question, “If your brand were a person, how would they speak?” This is one way content designers and UX writers try to define the essence of a brand. 

The material included in your voice and tone guide can be as broad or narrow as you see fit. You might include voice characteristics, often housed in a chart of “do’s and don’ts” for how to write on behalf of a brand.

You could also include a tone map, outlining how your tone should adjust based on different interactions across the customer journey. Other areas you’ll want to consider include the use of formal vs. informal language, point-of-view, tenses, interjections, active vs. passive voice, and gender neutral language.

two women in headscarves discussing voice and tone

If you haven’t done so already, you may also want to develop a content style guide. As mentioned before, your voice and tone guide can be housed within your style guide, or separately. We like to keep the two in one place, since they’re so closely related. Your style guide will document things like grammar conventions, capitalization patterns, spelling protocols, and content patterns for components like buttons, notifications, and CTAs.

Does your brand use sentence case or title case for headings? Where do you land on American vs. European spelling norms? How about a word like “OK” – is it always written that way – or is “okay” your preferred variant? What’s the average reading level of your readers? All of these are questions you’ll want to answer as you develop your style guide.

A journey well worth the effort

While the process of researching and establishing guidelines can take time, it is worth the effort. And with guidelines in place, your writing team can operate like a well-oiled machine. The payoff includes a stronger brand and better relationships with your customers. Which of course, translates to long term business benefits.

Next week, we’ll look at some examples of brands that are hitting it out of the park with brand voice, and we’ll explore how their tone shifts with context. We’ll also look at some voice and tone guides by some of the big, famous brands you know and love. 

And by the way, if you’re interested in learning more about UX writing best practices, we highly recommend checking out the UX Content Collective, which offers certifications in an array of skills related to UX writing and content design.

If you’re ready to start harnessing the power of voice and tone, get in touch with our content design team. We enjoy building voice and tone guides, and we’re happy to help.

LimeTech is a creative tech company with a focus on app development. We help brands grow their impact by building digital products that please customers and solve business challenges. Our work includes strategy, design, content, and tech planning. Check out our portfolio or reach out to start a conversation about your project.

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