Understanding brand voice and tone

“Voice” and “tone” are two words we hear in branding that are sometimes used interchangeably, and sometimes confused. We’ve talked about brand voice in terms of how to develop one and how to keep it consistent. By the end of this post, you will understand the difference between brand voice and tone, why it matters, and how to use them.

What Voice Is

“Voice” is your brand’s unique personality. This is what makes you stand out in a crowd. When you recognize someone in a crowd, or when you can tell who wrote something without seeing the name – that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about your brand’s voice.

Everything your brand will say will be said in this voice.

What it is not

Brand voice is not an attribute. As we talked about, there’s a difference between your brand being “funny” or “intelligent” and your brand being witty, silly, wry, goofy, or another, more tangibly defined version of “funny”.

It’s not enough to just be “intelligent” because that really doesn’t tell us anything useful about your brand. Imagine yourself as a writer, trying to write in an “intelligent” voice. The phrase is so widely open to interpretation that what’s “intelligent” to one writer will read completely differently to another. And this will read as inconsistent to your audience.

What tone is

“Tone” reflects your brand’s stance, attitude, and disposition in a given situation.  One of the best ways to determine the tone to use is “how would you talk to a friend in a similar situation?”

Imagine a private message to that friend vs. a post on their Facebook wall vs. an email vs. in person. Are you being formal, are you using slang, what do you say and what do you omit depending on the situation?

Tone takes into consideration your purpose, audience, and goals to create the desired result. This is the fun part, where the more specific you can be about any of those three points, the more your brand can come alive.

What it is not

Tone is not flat. It’s consistent, but not rigid. It needs to be responsive to be effective. And it is not boring.

Social media can smell a template, and you don’t want to rely on scripting.

If it’s boring, dense, corporate, or anything other than human, you’re doing it wrong.

The difference between the two

Here’s the key: while your brand’s voice will not change at all, your tone will be consistent, but adaptive.

Think of it as music. Let’s say you’re playing a flute. The flute won’t change, but the sounds coming from the flute will – or they’ll sound like one flat, droning sound.

And that’s ultimately what you’re trying to avoid: the flat, droning sound of marketing, in favor of a sweet, tasty gathering of cohesive notes that feels like it needs to tell a story to you, and you only.

Brand voice and tone are two distinct but complementary aspects of your written presence. If you’re trying to get them right but falling flat, we’d love to help you out.

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