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Brand Voice Vs. Tone and Why The Difference Matters

Announcing the Next BAM Book Jam with Arianna Davis

Corporate messaging communicates the purpose and vision that leads a company.

This messaging helps differentiate companies from their competitors and is the foundation of any company’s marketing and PR initiatives. Paid, earned, and owned media relate back to the story of the brand, so continuity and consistency is key.

During our messaging workshops and messaging camps, we help clients develop their corporate messaging — everything from a mission statement and description, to company personas and differentiators. One of the key concepts we cover in those workshops is the difference between brand voice and tone. It's a subtle difference that many companies get wrong when developing their corporate messaging. 

What's the difference between voice and tone?

Voice is a brand's personality and point of view. Tone is a brand's attitude in a particular moment. Since tone is specific to messaging, it is inherently part of a brand's voice and identity. But tone changes depending upon the situation, such as the marketing platform it lives on, the audience, and the purpose. 

Think of it this way: You have the same personality (voice) all of the time, but your attitude (tone) changes depending on the situation. You might use one tone (playful, candid, approachable) when you're out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone (professional, formal, clear) when you're in a job interview. You still have the same voice (personality) but your tone (attitude) changes depending on the situation.

For brands, the messaging should stay the same across collateral, but the tone adjusts for the audience, the medium, and the message a brand wants to convey. 

Some common voice mistakes that brands make include:

  • Their voice is too robotic or corporate, or it may not exist at all (they just come across as sterile)
  • The messaging is riddled with complicated jargon and acronyms that only executive insiders would understand what it means
  • Spelling or grammar errors — the ultimate messaging sin
  • Inconsistent voice across channels, platforms, products, and even pages on their website

Elements of tone

There are many ways a brand can express different tones in their messaging. One of the best tools is punctuation. We all do this every day without even realizing it. How many of us put in an exclamation point in an email when it's completely unnecessary? I'm certainly guilty of this. But we do it because the exclamation point conveys a lot about the tone of voice we want to communicate. They're used to present a casual, friendly, and amusing tone. Check out how the tone of these sentences changes just by replacing a period with an exclamation point:

"Hi Ramel. Confirming I received the first draft of your blog post. Looks good." 

vs.

"Hi Ramel! Confirming I received the first draft of your blog post. Looks good!"

Examples elements of voice and tone 

When building our your brand's voice, think about if your brand was a person, "who" are they? What are the fundamental elements that make your brand who it is? Some examples include:

  • We are trustworthy. Our audience can trust us and the information that we provide them because we’ve in their shoes before.
  • We are challengers. We question the way the industry works today. We push our audience to consider a more modern way to do business.
  • We are conversational. We speak to our audience like they’re our friends. We’re focused on keeping it real and making things simple.  

Because tone is a an expression of a brand's character in a specific situation, tone changes depending upon the medium and audience. Here are some examples of how a brand's tone adjusts for the medium. Notice how even across specific social media channels, the tone has to change for that channel's audience.

Medium

Tone

Events and Webinars

helpful, energetic, informative

Blog

Challenging, candid, informative, direct

Sales

Candid, trustworthy, conversational

Client Emails

Conversational, candid, trustworthy

Website

Clear, approachable, friendly

Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Clear, approachable, helpful, edgy, playful

Social Media (LinkedIn)

Formal, clear, helpful

 

With a clearer understanding of your brand's voice and tone, your messaging will tell the story you want to tell, across all your channels, campaigns, and platforms. Happy writing! 

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