What’s missing from your tone of voice?

Volume Control

Every now and again, an organisation comes to us and asks us to fix their tone of voice. They’ve got one, but it’s not working. Their teams are struggling to make it work on anything that isn’t fun packaging copy. And for serious communications, it’s completely useless. People are abandoning the tone of voice and going back to what they felt worked OK before.

So what to do? First, you need to go back to what tone of voice is. We define it as personality expressed in words. As individuals, we all express our personalities through the words we use. And when organisations create a tone of voice, they should be expressing their brand personality through their words too.

So far, so good. But just because you’re expressing your brand personality, it doesn’t mean your brand has to speak in exactly the same way, all of the time. Personality has to flex – to make sure it’s always appropriate for the situation you’re communicating in. And if your organisation’s tone of voice is going to work in every situation, you need to include this flexibility in.

We’ve developed a mechanism for this that we build into every tone of voice we create. We call it Volume Control®.

Here’s how it works for people…

Imagine – you’ve applied for a job and you’re at the interview. You’re sitting up straight and listening intently to each question. You’re thinking carefully about your answers before you speak and you’re articulating clearly. You’re being polite, but reserved. In short, you’re trying very hard to come across as the most professional and competent version of yourself. You’re still you, but you’re you on low volume.

A few days later, you get the job and your friends take you out to celebrate. You’ve had a couple glasses of bubbles and you’re in the mood to party. You’re talking quickly, your words are more spontaneous and you’re definitely not thinking too much before you speak. You’re the most carefree, celebratory version of yourself. You’re still you, but the volume of you is most definitely turned up.

The thing to remember in both these situations is, you’re still you. You don’t go into an interview and suddenly become someone else entirely. But you do adjust the amount of your personality you let out for the situation you’re in at the time.

What about for organisations?

For healthy people, dialling the volume of our personality up and down is something we do without thinking. If we’re in a serious situation, we know to rein it in. If it’s more celebratory, we’re free to let our personalities out on full volume. Most of the time, we’re somewhere in the middle.

For organisations, adopting Volume Control® means you can use your tone of voice consistently in all situations. All you need to do is identify whether a comms situation is low, medium or high volume.

What’s low and what’s high?

What makes a situation serious or celebratory really depends on what your organisation does and how it works. But usually, low volume circumstances are things like:

  • Ts&Cs
  • Contracts
  • Policies
  • Disciplinary comms

At low volume, you might have slightly longer sentences and fewer contractions. There might be occasions where you use the passive voice. Your personality is there, but it’s dialled back.

On the flip side, celebratory situations are where your organisation’s personality can really shine through. These could be:

  • Promotional materials
  • Marketing communications
  • Sharing good news

You’re more likely to use short sentences and sentence fragments, and written comms will sound more conversational. You might even use creative language and imagery.

It all depends on your brand’s personality

The important thing is, whether you’re right down at low volume or dialled up to the max, your brand personality is still the same. Your tone of voice is still consistent – for all audiences, across all channels. You’re just controlling the volume.

How you do this could be completely different to how another organisation would. High volume for a wacky and fun brand might include puntastic questions and super short sentences. For a traditional, responsible brand, it would be more restrained – but still express its personality in a celebratory way.  

And remember – regardless of how you define your brand personality – if your tone of voice doesn’t have Volume Control® built in, it’s not really a tone of voice. It’s simply quirky pack copy. And while it looks great on a Facebook ad, it’s not going to do you any favours in your terms and conditions.

If you’d like to talk to us about introducing Volume Control® into your tone of voice, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. And if you want to learn more about tone of voice, check out our FAQs.

*Volume Control® is a registered trademark and belongs to Wordtree. You can read more about it in Brand Language: Tone of Voice the Wordtree Way.