How to Create a Voice and Tone Brand Guide in 7 Steps

Does your brand have a clear voice and tone guide? If it’s just something you “know” then it may not be communicated as easily as you think. To clarify, let’s look at what voice and tone are.

A brand’s voice is not what you say, but how you say it. Voice is consistent; tone may shift depending on format, channel, or audience. You may think that consistently in voice isn’t a big deal or that your customers and prospects will surely know that your brand is friendly and trustworthy. Don’t make this assumption.

Why consistent voice matters?

When your voice is strategic and aligned, it makes for much better content. It provides clear messages to audiences, not confusion. The more consistent a brand is with voice, the more likely messaging will be retained.

Consistency in voice can make audiences more likely to see your brand as friendly, too. Inconsistency can dilute brand and harm reputation or brand equity.

Consistency pays off, too. Brands can increase revenue by 23 percent when they present consistent messaging. Further, buyers desire authenticity in your content with 80 percent citing it as the main factor on whether or not a customer or prospect follows the brand on social media.

It’s another key piece of your brand identity toolbox that will be a compass for everything you brand have to say.

How to build your voice and tone guide

Now that you know why the voice of your brand matters, you can begin to build out your guide. This exercise should be a collaborate effort across many stakeholders—however, someone needs to be the final “owner” of voice and tone. This likely is a content marketing role. Giving ownership to someone also ensures there will be accountability on how all content is created.

Let’s look now at the seven steps.

Step One: Do an Assessment of Your Current Voice and Tone

Your brand should, unless it’s new, have plenty of content to assess. This includes website copy, blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, and anything else that falls under content marketing assets. Try to determine what similarities the content has and if it’s the right direction for your brand and customers.

For example, many tech companies can come off as somewhat condescending to customers as they feel like all their expertise needs to be shoved into a paragraph.

Step Two: Decide What to Keep and What You Want to Change

Once you’ve completed the assessment, decide if there are any attributes or phrasing you want to keep. Try to piece out what you’re doing well and not so well. Then map out what your future voice should include with attributes such as simplifying language, focusing on the second person—“you”—to create a feeling of inclusion, or changing language to be benefit driven, not feature filled.

Step Three: Attributes

Attributes are characteristics of a voice and what it means to have them. A brand’s voice should have at least three attributes. These attributes will be the guide for all content, whether that’s product brochures, eBooks, or social media posts.

Here is an example with the attribute of approachable. The description of this characteristic would include:

  • Genuine and human language.
  • Not overly technical or sales driven.
  • Messages should focus on stories that connect with audiences.
  • No one is interested in reading fluff. They immediately need to understand the benefits and why your services will solve a problem or fulfill a need.
  • Use real-world examples to support points.

In order to have these characteristics, the writing style the needs to follow these dos and don’ts:

  • Be simple with language.
  • Use adjectives with purpose, not as filler.
  • Make sentences shorter, so that content is easily scanned.
  • Use technical language only when it matters and try to explain it generally.
  • Be concise.
  • Be conversational with the use of contractions.
  • Most all language should be on an eighth-grade reading level.

You’ll need to map this out for all three attributes, giving you a great framework for everything you write.

Step Four: Word Choice

The next part is a bit granular. Based on the attributes of your voice and the dos and don’ts, you’ll need to document the words. These would be words to use and ones to avoid. This may be as simple as writing challenge instead of problem because challenge indicates there is a solution.

Beyond word choice, you’ll also need to establish syntax rules, as well as structure and language considerations. This may include directives like keeping sentences less than 20 words or refraining from using passive voice.

Step Five: Establish Brand Language

If you currently have a value proposition, unique selling proposition (USP), and elevator pitch, it’s time to rethink them to ensure that the message aligns with your voice. If you don’t have them, it’s time to document them. Your value prop, USP, and elevator pitch should be the ideal examples of your voice and tone.

Step Six: When to Shift Tone

As discussed, voice remains the same, but tone can shift depending on the format. For example, Twitter posts will be much shorter and lighter than a data-driven whitepaper. Create rules around when tone will change.

Step Seven: Product or Service Sample Language

The last part of your voice and tone guide should be related to how your brand will talk about its specific products or services. This language will be the value prop for each of your solutions. It’s important not to skip this step because you will write a lot of content around these, and you need to ensure that the message stays on point.

Remember that a voice and tone guide is fluid. It will change as your industry and brand evolve. It’s something that should be revisited at least annually. Once you have a voice and tone guide, your content marketing strategy should have its compass. It helps bring all content efforts together, building trust and awareness of your brand.

Need help with creating your voice and tone guide? Partner with the experts at Marketing Insider Group. Get in touch with us today.

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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