Any time you create content, your tone tells the reader how to feel about what they’re reading. Your brand tone communicates a distinct personality and style, unique to your business. But what makes up tone? And how do you differentiate between the different tones of voice, and your distinct brand voice?

If we turn to literature, Walter Cummins, former editor of The Literary Review, describes tone of voice as a combination of elements such as:

“Sentence rhythms and patterns, word choices, enunciations, syntax, and pauses…the details that a writer chooses to note imply a distinct worldview. There’s also an attitude toward people and places, situations, and events that emerges.” 

Your tone is made up from how you want your audience to feel. Your tone is there to explore a certain feeling associated with what you’re communicating, which when done correctly, becomes your viewer’s mood. So when defining your tone of voice for a particular content type or piece, the best place to start is by asking yourself: How do we want our target audience to feel when they consume this type of content? For example, you might want your audience to feel reassured, inspired, motivated, and optimistic. That’s different to asking how you want your audience to perceive your brand, because it’s your voice, not your tone, that captures your brand personality.

The trick to writing impactful content is that good writing doesn’t tell your audience what to feel — it sets the mood with a good story line and the right choice of words with a complementary rhythm and structure. Your tone may (and should) change depending on your different content types, but it should retain characteristics of your overall brand voice, so you can deliver a unified customer experience across all your channels.

To summarize:

Your brand’s feelings and attitudes about certain topics and subjects. Felt by your audience as a mood. Your brand’s personality as expressed in writing. Felt by your audience as a consistent presence across all content types and channels. 

Examples of different tones

There are far too many brands out there aiming for a “human” tone of voice in their content – but in comparison to what, robot…alien? In our opinion, if you know you want a human-sounding tone of voice, you’ll probably still need to decide the specific characteristics of human expression you want to develop in your content. After all, no one mentally labels the vocal tone of a disgruntled bus driver or a fastidious relative by thinking “gee, how human of them!” The most human sounding content is unnoticeable, in that it engages the receiver in their interpretation of how that person sounds without much effort involved. Communication is full of nuances, and good writing tries to capture them.

As you build out your content strategy for different types of content, you’ll want to not only discover your brand voice, but the different types of tones of voice for different types of content. Technical content isn’t the place to be facetious, but a combination of pragmatic and occasionally witty (there’s some pretty fun release notes out there) might make solving technical problems a little more enjoyable. Legal information needs to be clear, sincere, and matter-of-fact. Healthcare content tends to be empathetic, reassuring, and approachable. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a short list of some different types of tone to get you started. 

Type of ToneDescription
AnimatedLively and energetic
JoyfulExpressing delight
InformativePasses on knowledge to reader
SatiricalIrony or sarcasm designed to be funny
WittyFunny, clever, somewhat intellectual
ContemplativeDeep in thought, ruminating on ideas.
PragmaticPractical, logical
SolemnSincere, borderline serious
Facetious Inserting humor at inappropriate times
HaughtyArrogant and aloof
AffableFriendly, easy to approach
CompassionateEmpathetic, willingness to help
OptimisticConveys positivity about the future
ReverentA sense of awe or respect
WhimsicalPlayful and out of the ordinary
AuthoritativeAssured or self-confident
InformalConversational and expressive, much like spoken communication
DiscursiveRambling, takes tangents in conversation
Light-heartedBright and cheerful

Brands can afford to speak in more creative tones of voice for their different content types and channels because it gives your content a competitive edge over those who aim only for “friendly, professional, and human.”  Research shows that consumer’s emotional responses to products and brands are powerful, predictable drivers of buying decisions. The better you nail a unique tone of voice, consistently for that audience, content, or channel, the better you elicit an emotion from your audience that might lead to better conversions, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. That’s worth getting creative for!

Tips for implementing your different tones of voice

Documenting the different types of tone of voice and where they are appropriate in your enterprise content is essential. That’s to make sure that each individual content contributor isn’t inserting their own tone of voice into every piece of content they create, which creates a jarring customer experience. Once you’ve distilled the different types of tone of voice into the different content types and channels you should:

  • Create a detailed tone of voice section in your content guidelines
  • Give content creators examples of what a certain tone of voice looks like in writing. That might be telling them to avoid too many exclamation marks, or refrain from making certain pop culture references that a global audience might not understand. 
  • Make sure that all your different tones of voice are inclusive. Being unique doesn’t have to come at the expense of respectful use of language. 
  • A/B test different types of tone for different audiences and content types. Don’t leave it up to chance!
  • Use technology to help align your writers to your style guide, and choose the right tone of voice while they’re creating content. It’s a frustrating experience to spend a lot of time writing a piece of content only to have to go and edit it extensively because the tone of voice was off. 
  • Make sure you’re controlling for consistent terminology use. Your choice of words is a big part of your tone of voice, so adjust your terminology to suit your audience, and keep it consistent throughout. 

Acrolinx: Execute the right tone for the right audience 

At Acrolinx, we know that effective content is clear, correct, consistent, scannable, inclusive, and in the right tone of voice — no matter who’s writing it. Which is why our software helps you conveniently deploy and manage your content guidelines across your enterprise. You tell Acrolinx what type of writer guidance you want for a particular type of content or audience — and Acrolinx automatically aligns your content to that particular style, tone, voice, and terminology. It’s never been easier to hone a particular tone of voice for different audiences and content types, address new markets, edit existing content goals, and A/B test your content strategy at scale.