Every television show sells you on a specific angle. Everyone loved The Office because it was about crazy regional manager Michael Scott (played by the delightful Steve Carrell) who cared too much about something insignificant: selling paper. He was the bedrock of the show, and while we cared about the other characters, Michael set the show’s voice and tone.
So when Michael left at the end of the seventh season, you’d think that the show would be over. Instead, it ran on for two more seasons—but unsurprisingly, reviews and viewership sank. People had watched The Office because of the off-beat, uncomfortable-but-endearing demeanor Carrell created. Once he was gone, the show’s voice was gone.
Just like a TV show, your brand’s marketing strategy has a voice and tone. The only way to gain a following and create something people love is to stay consistent, to deliver week after week. You have to find your own Michael Scott and stick with it. Have you ever watched a TV show and thought “I could have done this better”?
Well, now’s your chance to create content with a strong voice and tone that keeps audiences hooked and invested in your company.
The difference between voice and tone
While often used interchangeably, voice and tone aren’t the same thing.
Voice remains consistent, no matter what. Think of it as your brand’s personality. How do you want to sound when you’re talking to someone? Working with a branding consultant can help you pinpoint the right voice for your company if you’re starting from scratch (or needing to start over with your branding).
Tone changes depending on the message you want to convey. Think of tone as how you use words to invoke an emotional response from someone. If you want them to buy your product, then you’ll write an informative, educational blog post that meets your target audience’s needs. However, if you’re addressing concerns a current client has about your product on social media, you want to come across as humble and understanding.
Three steps to discover your brand voice
To keep your content consistent across your various social media platforms (and the teams who work on them), you’ll need to communicate a clear voice to your internal employees—especially those that are going to be working with content creation or content sharing.
Follow these three steps to discover your brand’s voice.
1. Outline your core values
Before you can create your tone, you must know what your company stands for. Gather with your founding members and write your mission statement at the top of a whiteboard.
If you don’t have a mission statement, write one by thinking about:
- Your company goals
- How you plan to achieve those goals
- What morals and attitudes you want people to associate with your company
For example, think of the outdoor company REI. The first line of their mission statement says it all: “At REI, we love to get outside and play, and we know first-hand the importance of quality outdoor gear.” By reading this phrase, you know their core values are playing outside with quality gear.
Think through the values related to your mission statement. These should be directly related to what you just wrote, just outlined further with a finer point.
Answer questions like:
- What are the non-negotiable beliefs that your company holds?
- What makes your company different from competitors?
- How do you want people to think about your brand?
- How will people feel when reading or watching your content?
Take the answers to these questions and create 3-5 simple, one-sentence values to go under your mission statement.
2. Craft three words from your values
The next step is to take the big ideas from your core values and distill them into words that can be easily used to create the right tone for your content strategy and social media plan. Brainstorm 75-100 adjectives that describe or could be associated with the industry that you’re in.
Sort these into two columns:
What you want your brand to be
What you don’t want your brand to be
If you already have a marketing strategy in place that you’re not happy with, you could include a third column highlighting which adjectives describe your content currently.
Once you’ve gone over all the words, choose the three that best describe your brand. A helpful tool to whittle them down is to use the four dimensions of tone of voice.
These four broad dimensions are:
- Funny vs. serious
- Formal vs. casual
- Respectful vs. irreverant
- Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact
Think of adjectives that make a clear distinction between these dimensions—and try not to choose these words as your adjectives. While it can be helpful to know if you want to be funny in your branding, simply telling people to be funny isn’t enough.
3. Think about your target audience
Last but not least, you want to hone in on what your audience likes. For this, you’ll want to “think like a journalist” to understand what your audience likes.
Research your consumer voice to identify pain points. Pore over surveys, interview customers over the phone, listen to recorded voicemails, and seek out all data points to understand the problems your customers are having. Once you’ve whittled those down, look for overarching themes that you can use to create exciting content that solves problems with a perspective that is attuned to what your customer needs.
Also, be sure to use social listening tools to follow what your followers say about you on their social media pages and in dark social spaces. This gives insight into consumer sentiment and what improvements you can make in your content strategy and product or service development.
How to create authentic tone guidelines for your brand
Now, take your core values, three adjectives, and information gleaned from your target audience to outline clear tone guidelines for your brand to share internally.
The first three pieces you outlined above should be at the top of your brand guidelines document.
The next step is to create clear instructions on how to put these into action. Include a list of what types of words to use and what types of words to avoid. A helpful way to make this clear is to create a chart of “do’s and don’ts.”
Take your adjectives from before and put them in the far left column. At the top right column, include a phrase you like that matches that adjective. Then include words that you like for them to use in the “do’s” column, and words to avoid in the copy or content in the “don’ts” column.
After that, you’ll need to highlight style rules. These are the nitty-gritty of how you want your content to look. Do you use ampersand or spell out “and” every time? Are exclamation points okay, or do you prefer only periods and question marks? What is your position on emojis, GIFs, and memes?
These details will depend on what your target audience prefers, so keep an eye out for their preferences in your research and consider embracing them here.
Last, include any other guidelines you need. For example, you may want to be funny, but you know that pop culture references will fall flat with your audience. Be sure to include those specifics at the end of your guidelines to give your writers and creators clear boundaries in their content ideas.
These guidelines should be readily accessible to anyone who needs them. Create a PDF to send out internally and to any contractors that create content for your brand. Make sure it’s easy to skim through—keep it clear, concise, and easy to understand so your team can successfully implement it.
Also, every six months to a year, review your guidelines and see if any changes need to be made. If so, update the document and send it out with the day’s date so that everyone knows it’s the most current copy.
Find your company’s voice with Clearview Social
The social media experts at Clearview Social are here to help you make the most of your content strategy. Our robust analytics tools include customizable dashboard to track the metrics that matter most to your target audience. See what they’re saying about you online to create a voice and tone that caters to their needs.
Plus, our other employee advocacy tools make it easy for your team to share your company’s content and simplify your content-sharing strategy, including:
- PeakTime™ AI, our all-knowing algorithm that posts for you when the majority of your target audience is online, so every post receives maximum views
- Article queue builder, which lets you plan out posts in advance in the queue to stay on top of your content strategy
Map out your content strategy in a snap with our robust employee advocacy software and schedule a demo today.
In case you missed it: Part 2