“We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Philosophical notions from historical times always seemed like an unnecessary distraction when I was completing my graduate studies in “new” media, but now I’m beginning to see the importance of those lessons and how they relate to the world of communication as we know it today.
Of course, for Nietzsche, the tone of voice he spoke of was in the context of personal interactions, but many of us don’t have that luxury in this day and age. When reaching out to new customers, most of our interactions take place online; our web content, digital marketing, corporate collateral and so on are all accessed by an audience that cannot see or hear the human element of our expression. So, if you want your ideas (products and services) to be accepted (bought) by your customers, the tone of voice in which you deliver your message is vitally important.
The most important aspect of a tone of voice is that it reflects your company’s identity. Naturally the tone of an established legal practice will differ from that of a creative start-up because of the nature of their businesses, but you also need to think about your operating environment and client base.
From my experience of working across a range of business sectors in the UK and the UAE, the nuances of different marketplaces and customer demographics are often overlooked. Perhaps this is understandable in our globalised environment, but they remain an influential factor in the perception of your brand. For the vast majority of businesses, the ground rules remain the same: be authentic, talk directly to your customers, reflect your corporate identity in every word, and as for the nuances: consider taking some professional advice.
…But don’t be afraid to be different!
In the digital space your tone of voice is your corporate personality and your best opportunity to make your business stand out from the crowd. Too often we see a ‘copy and paste’ approach to tone of voice in businesses operating in the same field. Breaking the mould and creating a tone of voice that is engagingly different (while remaining appropriately professional, of course) is a relatively untapped tool in market differentiation.
Creating a unique tone of voice also helps to create a unique corporate personality. With consistency and reinforcement, your customers will start to develop a mental image of who you are and what you stand for, building their trust in your services and bolstering your brand recognition.
Put it on paper and put it to work
If you’re going to invest the time and effort in creating a unique tone of voice – and any business that has a website or any written content should do so – then you must make sure that it’s sustained. The best way to do this is to document it in a set of branding guidelines; that way, if your team grows or personnel change, you will retain the identity you’ve created and the customers you’ve attracted with it.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s easy to create a tone that is unique and engaging while retaining the right level of professionalism and attending to the nuances of your operating environment, but once you find your voice and implement it across all your communication channels, it will be a vital part of your business toolkit.