What Is Tone of Voice and Why Does It Matter?

By the Acrolinx Team

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If you’re in marketing, you probably hear the term tone of voice get used at work sometimes. But do you actually know what tone of voice is and why it’s so important?

Tone of voice is how the character of your business comes through in your words, both written and spoken. It’s not about what you say, but rather the way that you say it, and the impression it makes on everyone who reads or hears you.

Think about it. Everyone you meet has their own way of expressing themselves that’s as unique as their face or fingerprint. Some are pleasant and polite. Others are pushy and in your face. Some say so much with just a few words. Others never seem to get to the point. Companies are no different. Take a look at the examples below.

TextTone of VoicePossible Impression
With its industry-leading, massively scalable technology, our web services platform delivers exceptional performance and reliability under the most demanding and highly variable conditions.Technical, verbose, inwardly focusedHigh-pressure marketing and empty boasts. Beware!
Our web services platform delivers 99.99% uptime and adapts to changing loads in less than a second.Factual, conciseClear and factual, but what are the company’s people like?
Web services that you can start and forget.Informal, non-technicalYou’ve got my interest, but where’s the proof?

All three descriptions mean roughly the same thing, but they’re expressed in completely different ways. That affects the impression you get, and how you feel about the person who’s speaking. Why? Because when you read a company’s content, you understand it on two levels. The facts tell the analytical side of your brain what the company does, while the tone tells the creative side what they’d be like to deal with.

Despite its name, tone of voice isn’t just about how you speak. It includes all the words you use in your business content, including in your website, sales emails, product brochures, call-center scripts, and client presentations, to name just a few examples. Oh, and by the way, tone of voice isn’t the same as good writing or strong messaging. It’s the next level up from those things. It’s about using language to give your brand its own distinct and recognizable voice.

All the content you produce should have the same tone of voice. When your tone is consistent, your audience hears the same person speaking whenever and however they deal with you. That shows them you’re a consistent, reliable company to deal with, and that every part of their experience with you will be equally good.

More and more B2B companies are getting into tone of voice as a way to engage their customers through language. For example, leading tone of voice consultancy The Writer has worked with multinationals including Cisco, Unilever, and O2; here at Acrolinx we’ve served clients including Philips, Yamaha, Google, and Microsoft.

So why are all of those companies focused on tone of voice, and why should you be too? Here are six important reasons:

1. It Makes You Human

People like to deal with people. So they like a brand to have a personality they can recognize and bond with. Sometimes, people assume that B2B buyers work in a completely rational way. But businesspeople are still people. They might have more priorities and stakeholders to think about, but given a choice, they’ll go with the firm that they feel good about.

In B2B, the trend is toward more authenticity, honesty, realness, and openness — things that were traditionally seen as B2C values. Buyers of all types are looking for the emotional truth behind an offer or brand, not just the rational benefits.

2. It Helps You Cut Through

As content marketing becomes more popular, firms are generating more and more writing — but much of it doesn’t have a clear voice. A distinctive tone gives you the best chance of connecting with people. Ideally, you want your tone to be immediately recognizable (even if you take the logo off your website or your social media feed) and not sound virtually the same as your competitors.

3. It Replaces Face-To-Face Communication

According to Forrester Research, business buyers don’t contact suppliers directly until they are up to 90 percent of the way through the purchase process. With fewer opportunities to talk face to face, your written words have to work harder than ever.

Prospects know you pretty well from your website and marketing material before they ever pick up the phone. Your tone helps to build trust with them from the start, laying the foundation for a strong working relationship. We’ve evolved to be highly attuned to subtle signals such as body language, gesture, voice, and so on. In writing, all those signals are carried by tone of voice, so that’s the only way to show your identity, your character, and your intention.

4. It Builds Authority

Think of the killer TED talks or conference presentations you’ve seen. Did the speakers stand perfectly still, reciting dull but convincing facts in a relentless monotone voice? Or were they lively, funny, and memorable, filling the stage with their passion? Tone of voice can be a huge carrier of authority and belief. Personality shows you have confidence in what you’re saying, and that it therefore has real value.

5. It Gives You Focus

Working on tone of voice can be an excellent discipline for thinking about your company’s identity. You have to boil everything down to something clear and simple that anyone can understand. That helps to cut through clutter and confusion.

Your tone can even help you set strategic direction. Markets are getting more crowded and competitive, so companies have to decide who they’re for. Instead of being all things to all people, they’re embracing niche appeal so they can hone in on the most relevant audience.

6. It Makes You Different

In B2B, tone of voice is a story that’s just beginning. Most companies haven’t woken up to the idea at all. A few have taken great strides. But almost none have successfully transformed the way they use language — and that opens up a huge opportunity.

“Very few B2B brands have been doing this for long enough that we can say they’ve definitely nailed it for their whole brand,” says Neil Taylor, managing partner at the Writer. “But what that means is that the first people who do nail it, in any sector, will clean up.”

Need Help Creating Your Company’s Tone of Voice?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what tone of voice is and why it’s important, you might be wondering how you can help your company develop its tone of voice. We’ve got a great eBook for you that will give you step-by-step guidance and instructions. You can download it for free below.

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