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What is tone of voice?

At Wordtree, we describe tone of voice as an organisation’s personality expressed in words. Each of us gives away clues about our personality, experience and intentions when we speak and write – so much so that law enforcement agencies can profile individuals from the words they use.

In the world of brand, when you create a tone of voice, you’re deciding which types of language – words, phrases, sentence structures and devices – best align with a brand’s personality and values. It’s a sophisticated and strategic piece of work – which acts by triggering subliminal recognition in readers and audiences. In other words, it makes the words your organisation uses recognisable to your audiences because they feel consistent and they align with your brand.

It’s an approach to language that’s used across an organisation, both internally and externally, in all of its communications – from contact centre conversations to policies, marketing materials, emails and presentations.

A tone of voice from Wordtree is an approach to language that’s aligned with your brand and business objectives. It’s documented in detailed, easy-to-use guidelines with examples from across your business – and it’s embedded throughout your organisation through training and awareness sessions.

Is tone of voice the same as verbal identity?

Yes. Tone of voice and verbal identity are the same thing. Tone of voice is also known as brand language or brand voice.

Why do you need a tone of voice?

As individuals, we judge other people by the words and phrases they use (even if we don’t know we’re doing it). The language we use reveals information about our personality and what we’re like to deal with. It can help us decide if someone is likely to be a friend – or someone we’d rather avoid.

The same is true for organisations. The way an organisation writes and speaks makes an impression on its customers and other audiences. So it makes business sense to use communications deliberately to convey the right impression of your organisation. You can do this by creating a tone of voice.

When your organisation has a documented tone of voice, it has a consistent approach to communicating. All of your teams communicate in a brand-aligned way and your brand becomes more identifiable to your customers and other audiences.

Is tone of voice worth investing in?

Yes. Language is a powerful business tool – but for many organisations, it’s an untapped resource. Introducing a tone of voice can be hugely beneficial for your organisation. A brand-aligned tone of voice helps you to bring your brand to life in all of your communications, build trust and develop relationships with your customers.

Introducing a new tone of voice is also good for your teams. It gives them insight into your organisation’s objectives – and how they can help to achieve them. It gives teams a shared way of communicating internally as well as externally – and can help to break down silos and increase efficiencies.

When your organisation has a tone of voice, your teams have a framework to work to – making it easier for them to create communications that are on brand and instantly recognisable. It helps them to tell your story to customers and other audiences.

Is Wordtree a tone of voice agency?

Yes. Wordtree is a tone of voice agency and is specialist in creating organisation-wide language programmes. We have decades of experience of creating and embedding tone of voice and we’ve worked with organisations in a variety of sectors, all over the world. You can see some of our tone of voice case studies here. And if you’d like to talk to us about creating tone of voice for your organisation, please get in touch.

How does Wordtree create tone of voice?

We have created a trademarked model to creating and rolling out tone of voice across entire organisations – Tone of Voice the Wordtree Way®. This robust communications programme is underpinned by a framework that’s completed aligned to an organisation’s brand. And it works for all audiences, all channels and every situation.

Our starting point with creating tone of voice is always the brand. How does the brand blueprint/platform/framework describe the organisation’s personality and values? Sometimes brand documentation is a really useful source of up-to-date information and we can work directly from it. Other times, a brand can consist of some fairly generic values – generally around being honest, dynamic and open.

When we’re working from brand documentation like this, we have to dig a little deeper. We look at business plans and interview key stakeholders. We find out what is important to this organisation and where their limits are. Then, based on what we find, we suggest a brand personality and a tone of voice that aligns with it.

When our client agrees, we flesh it out with explanations and examples – and show how it can be flexed for circumstance.

Every organisation is unique – so there is no one-size-fits-all tone of voice. Each tone of voice we create is bespoke. But generally, projects include the following stages:

  • Creating tone of voice and comprehensive guidelines
  • Creating training materials
  • Delivering training and awareness events
  • Creating library of examples
  • Delivering train-the-trainer sessions

You can learn more about our tone of voice model in our textbook.

What do tone of voice guidelines look like?

Tone of voice guidelines need to explain what your organisation’s tone of voice is and what techniques you can use to convey it in all your communications. It should be detailed, with examples and helpful tips.

Sometimes, we see tone of voice “guidelines” that consist of one or two pages within a visual brand guideline. This is nowhere near detailed enough for teams to use. Tone of voice guidelines should be practical and allow teams to fully understand the approach to communication your organisation is taking.

When you work with Wordtree, we create comprehensive guidelines packed full of examples from across your organisation. The guidelines also include our trademarked device Volume Control®. This shows you how to flex your tone of voice to make sure it works for every possible circumstance. Our guidelines are usually upwards of 40 pages long and include 30+ examples.

Does Wordtree train tone of voice?

Yes. The Wordtree team are experienced trainers and have trained thousands of people in organisations around the world to adopt a new tone of voice. We offer various training formats and work with you to identify which work best for your teams.

Training tone of voice is a specialist skill. It’s not simply a case of memorising something new. When you ask people to adopt a new tone of voice, you’re asking them to change the way they communicate. Essentially, you’re asking them to change their behaviour. So you need to be sensitive, patient and able to answer questions and deal with challenges.

Wordtree training sessions are designed to get your teams on board and excited about your organisation’s new approach to language, to help them understand the business objectives behind the approach and to understand the role they have to play. Our training is hands-on – teams work through exercises, ask questions and get feedback from our specialist tone of voice trainers.

Which sectors does Wordtree work in?

Wordtree is a tone of voice agency that works in a number of sectors, including:

  • Financial services
  • Retail
  • Public sector
  • Education
  • FMCG
  • Fintech
  • Legal
  • B2B
  • Real estate and property management

How long does it take to develop a tone of voice?

It depends on a number of factors – including the size of your organisation, the number of stakeholders involved and your existing brand. It takes several weeks to create a robust, brand-aligned tone of voice and develop guidelines. Rolling out a tone of voice across an organisation – including training – can take anything between several weeks to 2-3 years.

How much does tone of voice cost?

We price per project. And as our tone of voice programmes are bespoke for each client, the steps we suggest you take will depend on your organisation’s needs and objectives. Generally, a tone of voice project starts at around £20,000 – but depending on your organisation’s size, needs and objectives, it could more, especially when you factor in training costs.

What’s the difference between tone of voice and good writing?

Good writing follows a number of basic principles – such as keeping sentences manageable, avoiding jargon and structuring a communication with the reader in mind. Tone of voice goes a step further. It overlays good writing with personality – using various language techniques to convey personality traits through words.

When you write well, your communications are interesting and easy for your reader to understand. But when you communicate with a brand-aligned tone of voice, you convey what your organisation is like to work with and what kind of relationship your customers might have with you, making your communications even more powerful.

How is Wordtree different?

There are many agencies and individuals who offer tone of voice – but the outputs can vary wildly. Some agencies offer a generic tone of voice that doesn’t take brand into account. Others produce tone of voice guidelines that consist of a one-pager at the back of a visual brand guideline.

We take a robust, organisation-wide approach. Wordtree are proven specialists in creating tone of voice and embedding it throughout an entire organisation. We believe your tone of voice has to be rooted in your brand. So if you don’t have a defined brand platform with a defined brand personality, we start the project by working with you to develop one. We then make sure your tone of voice is completely aligned with your brand and business objectives.

Our team is made up of people who have both brand consultancy and writing skills. We understand corporate environments and know how to get your teams on board with and excited about a new approach to language. Our founder Liz is regarded as an expert in tone of voice and is the author of the first tone of voice book to market: Brand Language: Tone of Voice the Wordtree Way®.

Why isn’t my tone of voice working?

If you have a tone of voice and guidelines, but your teams aren’t using it, there could be a number of things happening:

  1. Your teams need training: Using tone of voice is a skill
  2. There’s no flexibility built in: To consistently express your organisation’s personality, your tone of voice needs to work in every circumstance. But if your teams feel your tone of voice isn’t appropriate for a certain situation, they may choose not to use it. We build flexibility into all our tone of voice programmes using our trademarked device called Volume Control®.
  3. It wasn’t created by the right people: To create a robust, workable tone of voice, you need a combination of brand consultancy and writing skill. To get a tone of voice that your teams can use across your organisation – and that works for every situation – you should use specialist brand and communications agency, rather than a design agency.

Can you roll out tone of voice without training?

We published a blog on this subject. You can read it here.

If you think your tone of voice could be working better in your organisation, please get in touch. We’d love to help.