What are tone of voice guidelines, and do you need them?

by Anna Fozzard

image overlay

There’s a misconception that tone of voice is something only marketing teams use to bring fizz to writing. The reality is that we all apply tone of voice, all the time. We show that we’re cross, delighted and stressed all through the speed at which we speak, the volume and pitch. In writing, it’s the words and punctuation we choose. We convey meaning not just in what we’re writing, but in the way we write it – in the way we construct our sentences.

If we haven’t been careful about how we write something, we may inadvertently give the wrong impression. Many of us have been accused of being passive aggressive or grumpy, even when we don’t mean to come across that way. And in a professional setting, we’ve seen businesses accused of shirking blame or unintentionally scolding customers.

Tone of voice guidelines can show businesses how to communicate with all audiences and how to sound on brand in every piece of writing. And that’s not all they do. Yet less than half (39%) of respondents to a recent Stratton Craig poll said they had guidelines in place, which means many businesses are missing out on the following key benefits.*

Stake your place

In a crowded market, a distinct tone of voice can help your brand stand out. It adds flavour to your communication, making it instantly recognisable and memorable. It can also show audiences why you are different from the competition and what you’re like to work with.

Keep consistency in check

Every time someone comes into contact with your business, the language your people use will be part of the experience. That could be an email to remind customers about a bill. Some guidance from a customer support executive. Or even terms and conditions. Keeping the tone consistent across all marketing and communications reflects well on your reliability. It will help your audience build trust in your business when they know what to expect.

But maintaining consistency is a challenge. In one of our own polls, 61% of respondents said inconsistent communications was their biggest tone of voice challenge. It was second only to business writing lacking in personality. Practical tone of voice guidelines that everyone can follow are essential to nailing down consistency. Not only will they help your colleagues to write in the brand style, but they will make it easier to spot language that feels jarring.

Getting sign off made simple

Everyone has an opinion. Most of them are helpful. But when you need to move forward with a project, conflicting views can instantly apply the brakes. Tone of voice guidelines can streamline the review process by establishing some shared principles. When senior stakeholders agree on how communications should sound, it’s easier to push back on amends that don’t align with the brand identity.

Get closer to your audiences

The right tone of voice will help you connect with your target audiences. (We say ‘audiences’ because most businesses need to communicate with a range of stakeholders.) As with any branding exercise, tone of voice development involves digging into your audiences and understanding the aspects of your business that your stakeholders value most. By emphasising these traits through the language you use, you can show that you keep your stakeholders’ priorities in mind.

Supercharge your strategic goals

Tone of voice is a vital piece of the puzzle to achieving your business goals. That might be to position your brand as an authority on a subject. It could be to reach a wider audience. Or you may be keen to reduce the complaints or calls you receive. Whatever your objectives, guidelines will help you create the experience that best engages your stakeholders.


Creating tone of voice guidelines

In our experience, people instinctively know if a tone of voice isn’t working. But getting tone of voice right isn’t always instinctive. It takes careful consideration to align your tone of voice with your brand, your audience and your strategic direction. And it requires expertise to pick out the nuances in language that will bring your brand to life on the page.


Want to find out how Stratton Craig can help you build and embed your tone of voice? Get in touch today.


*Survey of 28 participants during our webinar, ‘Winning loyalty with words: How to connect through verbal identity’, on 28 June 2024. 


Sign up to hear from us