TONE OF VOICE – Just tone it down a bit, will you?

16th Nov 2021
ENTRE LES LIGNES AGENCY

Just tone it down a bit will you, OK?, the teacher growled in exasperation after Johnny had viciously yelled that he could go to hell. We hope you have a pleasant stay in our boutique hotel, smiled the receptionist to the guests in the lobby. Hey Maggie, come over here and gimme a hug," Louise called out when she ran into her friend on Trafalgar Square.

Can you hear them saying this? And more particularly can hear how they are saying it?

Well, that dear friends, is what is called tone of voice. Literally. The tone people use to express themselves. 

In the marketing and advertising world this term is used for the written tone of voice of a brand or an organisation. And it defines how you hear this voice in your head. ⚠️Brand voice and tone of voice are key parts of the DNA of your brand identity or brand personality.

We should point out that ‘tone of voice’ and ‘voice’ do not have the same charge:

  • VOICE is what you say.

  • TONE is how you say it.

 

WHY IS TONE OF VOICE SO IMPORTANT?

Consumers are ultra-sensitive about the way brands present themselves and about the nuances in the language used by brands to achieve this. Perhaps Johnny was given a second chance by the teacher, but if a visitor to your website is made to feel like he’s in kindergarten he will be gone in a flash. Bye bye, ciao, arrivederci any sales opportunity. 

Consumers are human beings. They want to be spoken to in a language they recognise and that they are familiar with. Some of us may think we are rational thinkers, but the average mortal being is predominantly an emotional creature. If you want to generate the trust needed to persuade someone to become a customer, a fan or even an ambassador you have to create an emotional bond with the brand or organisation.  

Embed this following message in your brain: people may rarely remember what you say, but they never forget their emotional reaction to what you said.

 

NO TONE OF VOICE WITHOUT BRAND IDENTITY

As we mentioned above, the notion of tone of voice is broken down into two charges: tone and voice. As a brand or company, it is important to first develop your own voice and only then can you determine how that voice will be received in certain situations.

The notion of voice ties in with your brand identity or brand personality. If you haven't clearly defined it, you can't make it sound (tone) right. So you first need to ask yourself what your company stands for or what your brand wants to communicate. Below are a number of questions that will help you with this:

  • How would you describe your brand using no more than a dozen key words?

  • What is the raison d'être of your brand?

  • What is your mission?

  • What is different about the way you operate?

  • What values does your brand defend?

Or check out this formula: 👉 Which automobile brand, which Hollywood star or which animal is the best fit for your brand? If it is of any interest to you, Entre les lignes Agency is a Volvo with Meryl Streep behind the wheel and a labradoodle on the back seat. 

Another tool for defining the personality of your brand is the brand personality spectrum.

Does your brand veer towards the casual or more corporate? Do you take a modern or a more classical approach? Do you position yourself as accessible to everyone or do you lean towards a specific and exclusive audience?

The greater the number of pink dots on the left, the younger, more modern and more innovative you will appear. If you have more dots on the right, you will exude a classic, traditional and professional image. Nothing is ever black or white of course. 'Neutral' is also a personality, just think of Switzerland.

  

A TONE OF VOICE THAT IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE

Now that you have defined your brand personality, fine-tuned your values into a mission statement and agreed on how you stand out from the crowd, you can start to determine how you want to communicate all of this to the outside world.

And don’t forget to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Who is your target audience? 

2. What do you want to achieve?

3. Which channels will you use to disseminate your message?

4. Under what circumstances?

But at the very top of the list, don’t forget to let your own personality speak for itself. If you try to set a tone to please everyone and you forget yourself in the process, you will lose any kind of credibility, and you can be sure that this will not go unnoticed by your readers. Your tone of voice is first and foremost the expression of the people behind your brand, not the people who buy your brand

Let’s look at the tone we have chosen for Entre les lignes Agency: does our message sound like something Meryl Streep might come out with at the wheel of her Volvo with the labradoodle in the back seat? If so, we got it right.

💡 Here’s another important tip: don’t force it. A good tone of voice will sound natural and draw attention to your message, brand or product. Otherwise you’ll sail right past your goal.

  

THE BUILDING BLOCKS FOR YOUR TONE OF VOICE

If a tone of voice represents a particular emotion or mood it stands to reason that there will be as many tones of voice as there are emotions or moods. Right?

All you have to do is check out the different tones of the emails you receive:

 

Hey Doris!

Hope you are doing fine? 😊

I just wanted to check out how you are doing with the translations?

Just asking. No stress.

Have a great day! <3

Kind regards from Bristol,

Boris

Boris, the friendly project manager.

Pet: labrador.

 

Doris,

What is the status of the translations?

Thanks,

Laurie

Laurie, the no-nonsense procurement officer.

Status: divorced.

 

Dear Ms. Doris,

As per our previous agreement, I hereby write to you (see item 5.12 attached) to inquire about the progress of the translations entrusted to you by our institution.

Could you please confirm that you have received this message.


Many thanks in advance.

Yours sincerely,

J.P. Morris

J.P. Morris, ministerial secretary.

Terms of payment: per word.

 

See? The same message, three different tones of voice, three different moods and three different feelings for the recipient. None of them is right or wrong or black or white. You just need to be attentive to how you want your target audience to feel about your brand. 

Here are a few examples of tones and registers: friendly, warm, businesslike, concise, ministerial, formal, informal, cheerful, neutral, aggressive and cautious. And that’s just for starters.

These different moods are the result of the choices you make when you put pen to paper. They are what we call the BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS.

  • What words will you use?

  • The way these words sound also plays a big role.

  • Grammar: how will you organise your words?

  • Smiley or no smiley?

  • And punctuation really does matter.

  • Personal pronouns: direct or more formal?

Humour of course is also an excellent way to set yourself apart and build a close bond with your audience. Just make sure your message doesn’t go above your reader’s head and always double check that circumstances are OK if you are tempted to use an ironic tone. Otherwise you will look like a 🤡

 

YOU MAY HAVE NO DESIRE AT ALL TO SET UP A STYLE GUIDE, BUT BELIEVE ME YOU NEED TO

If you want your tone of voice to form an integral part of your brand, you really have to use it consistently in all your communication channels. That means creating a style guide with all the do's and dont's for your employees so everyone is on the same wavelength. 

The rules that work best for us are: take a close look at all your communications and be honest about what you are happy with and what you find absolutely shitty. Note the examples in your style guide and use them to create your own generic guidelines. Repeat, add and optimise. Take your time and be patient. This is an ongoing work in progress.

 

 

TRANSLATING TONE OF VOICE 

As you visited our website, the chances are that you want to translate a message - tone of voice included - for an international audience. You’ve already put a lot of work into your brand voice, your tone of voice and style guide. And you want your message to have the same impact on audiences internationally.

I have just three words to say to you: 1. briefing 2. briefing and 3. briefing.

That's right. As a marketing or communications professional, you know your audience inside out and you MUST share this information with your translation partner. If they have no idea who is speaking and who the message is meant for, the translation will always be a shot in the dark.

Hence: briefing, briefing, BRIEFING. 

Here at Entre les lignes Agency, we have a native team of translators and revisers all with individual personalities that are selected to form the right fit for your individual brand voice. Which in turn means that your message is also the perfect fit for the culture of your target group. You see, it's not just about translating the words accurately into another language. The people handling your translation NEED TO have in-depth knowledge of the culture of your target group with all the inherent customs and nuances.

Tip: Create a unique customer persona for each language or culture. You'll soon see that just as you can't simply clone a persona, you can't "just translate" the tone of voice you use for your different audiences.

Can’t get enough of this subject? Click our article Transcreation, the success behind your marketing.

 

Entre les lignes Agency transcribes, translates, transcreates and writes on-brand content for Belgian and international clients that really appeals to local target audiences. Some of our clients (>100) who have entrusted their creative multilingual projects to us include DelvauxCowboyKanal-Centre PompidouSisleyIkeaSamsungRenault, the European Union, LampirisServiceplan and Head Office.