How to define your B2B brand’s tone of voice
Posted by: Steve Doyle - 08.02.23
When you’re Innocent or The Economist, it’s easier to have some fun with your brand’s tone of voice. But for B2B brands who need to come across as professional and serious while also sounding warm and engaging it can be like trying to nail a jelly to the ceiling.
As the folk who often find themselves on the sharp end using Tone of Voice guidelines we’ve noticed that a lot of B2B copy guidelines are little more than a ‘middle of the road’ list of adjectives. Something that any brand could sign up to. After all, how many B2B brands don’t want to sound ‘human’, ‘professional’ and ‘committed’?
Why does TOV matter?
Tone of voice is a powerful tool in the more memorable, differentiated and ownable and therefore increase recall and build salience. Done well, it can be an important part of your brand equity. People engage more strongly with brands that talk to them in a language they understand and can relate to, and is a key element in building brand trust and loyalty.
Here are a few suggestions from the Ride Shotgun copy team to help you get your tone of voice to the right place.
Before you start your tone of voice guidelines be prepared to go back to basics. Writing tone of voice guidelines is whole lot easier when you’ve done your brand groundwork.
Get your key brand messaging sorted
Spend some time working on your key brand proposition and messaging. Make sure that you involve key stakeholders within your business in the process. Then turn it into an approved messaging matrix. When you know what you need to say, it’s much clearer how you need to say it.
Create customer personas
Doing some research and creating some engaging and insightful customer personas is a really useful tool to help you define your tone of voice. Once you can visualise who you’re talking to it’s much easier to define your tone of voice.
Find the gaps and be inspired by the best
Do some research into how your competitors use language and try to identify any gaps or opportunities to create more stand-out with your language. Seek out brands that are doing tone of voice well as a source of inspiration. For example, Mailchimp is an oft-cited example of how to strike a good balance between professional and chatty. It’s not afraid to tap into and empathise with customers’ emotions, and uses everyday language and touches of humour to sound human and relatable.
Think Tone and Voice
Brands usually need to write copy for different audiences, channels or scenarios. How can one tone of voice work for all? Think of it like this: We all have a voice, but tone is something we can all dial up and down to suit a situation. Slightly more formal for one group, more technical for certain targets or more relaxed and conversational for internal colleagues. But always still your voice.
Define a primary tone of voice
So, rather than worrying about having a single tone of voice that does everything, think about having a primary voice. For a lot of B2B brands that’s just a simple, straightforward, accessible, warm voice that you would use to any of your target groups. Then think about different scenarios where other related, but slightly different tone attributes might be appropriate.
Pay attention to structure
How you structure your writing can affect your tone. If one of your brand attributes is ‘clarity’ or ‘helpfulness’ or ‘customer centricity’ shouldn’t your words be easy to digest and helpfully structured? Similarly, if you’re a dynamic, modern brand, short punchy copy creates a different tone than long, complex, technical sentences.
List your communications channels
It can be really useful to list your communication channels and demonstrate how your tone of voice flexes across them by defining some key tonal values for each channel. For example;
- Primary channels like your website, emails, social media and advertising
- Secondary channels that sometimes get forgotten are website error messages, call centre scripts or the words on packaging, signage and vehicle livery.
Show, don’t tell
One way to avoid the generic list of B2B Tone of Voice qualities is to show some real examples of how your brand sounds and writes and how it doesn’t.
Like accidentally overhearing your grandma singing along to Stormzy, seeing your B2B brand proposition paragraph written in the style of Innocent Smoothies or M&S can be weirdly unsettling.
Equally, demonstrating dry, technical information rewritten in shorter, livelier more active language is equally enlightening. Show some real examples of how your brand uses language across different channels is a great way to get your writers on board.
Get the details right too
Since most tone of voice guidelines also serve as a style guide to writing for the brand it’s a good idea to define some of the finer details that writers would otherwise end up scratching their heads about. For example:
- Do you always capitalise certain words, or use initial caps for particular phrases, names or concepts?
- Do you want full stops at the end of your bullet points or just on the final one?
- How about using sentence case for headings or do you capitalise every word?
- Will your audience understand acronyms or do you always spell them out in full the first time you use them?
- Do you always refer to clients, or customers?
- Are your people ‘people’ or ‘colleagues’, or ‘employees’?
- And so on…
Don’t be quirky for quirky’s sake
Finally, tempting though it may be to want to write like Virgin or Innocent, it could be entirely wrong for your brand. Think about who you’re trying to engage with. Are they buying a smoothie from you or a complex financial service or digital platform? Sometimes playing it simple and straightforward (without being dull, naturally) is perfectly acceptable.
Of course, one surefire way to get a great tone of voice is to employ great writers. But we would say that wouldn’t we?
We love working with brands in all sectors to help them create usable, distinctive tone of voice guidelines. If you’d love to know more about how our copy team can help you, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today.