3 tips to help you define your business’ tone of voice

Whatever the size and nature of your business, defining your organisation’s tone of voice is essential to communicating effectively.

Some do it brilliantly. Here in Winchester, for all his troubles, restaurateur Miff Kayam was a great communicator. Michelle Walker, who has recently moved on from her post as Director of Hat Fair, has also developed a consistent line of communication to position the summer event and its winter counterpart, Woolly Hat Fair.

Yet many find it difficult to achieve a tone of voice that is both true and distinctive. This blog offers some support to help SMEs find their voice.

As a business owner, it can be tempting to play safe and emulate those around you, saying ‘That’s what we should sound like’. There are three reasons why a failure to carve out a distinctive voice for your business does you a disservice.

  1. It makes you sound like every other business in your category. If you are the same as everyone else, why should anyone want to buy from you?
  2. It fails to account for the fact that different media require different approaches. Sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t expect the Sun, the Financial Times and Twitter to treat a story in the same way.
  3. It’s boring – no one will read it. That is the long and the short of it. People seek content that thrills and engages them and they choose media which provide that content in the form they like. If your copy, pictures and videos do not engage your audience in an interesting way or simply lecture them with your industry jargon, they will switch off.

Think of the most influential business communicators. Love them or loathe them, people like Richard Branson and Michael O’Leary have a distinctive voice and that same voice flows through to the entire way in which they companies communicate.

It’s what audiences respond to. We haven’t had a boring communicator in the White House since the first George Bush: Clinton, George Dubya, Obama, now Trump – they all communicate in their own style. The way they talk is part of who they are and what makes them popular.

So, don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd. We want our products and services to be noticed, to offer something of added value to the customer.

So how do you go about finding the tone that’s right for you?

1. Values Matter

Whatever you say must reflect the unchanging values, which underpin your business positioning. The tone must enable you to communicate a truthful expression of those values.

2. Your Audience Comes First

To what tone of voice will your audience respond most positively? If you know your audience and you know they like the fact that you and your team are friendly and approachable, reflect this in your tone. Cold efficiency may be the way your industry tends to communicate, but that’s clearly not your style, so avoid it.

A brand like Innocent Smoothies communicates a strong ethical position with a humorous, engaging tone of voice. Their entire persona is crafted around being quirky and fun.

However, not every organisation is zany and off the wall, so don’t feel forced to become something you cannot sustain. Audiences see through insincerity fast and will avoid companies which don’t match up to their tone.

Take the craft beer market. For every Brewdog which seems to push the boundaries and appeal to the outliers, there is a Freedom Brewery to stress authenticity, quality and taste. It’s no surprise that there is room for both types of approach in these markets.

3. Simplicity is key

No one responds well to being talked down to, but neither do we want to be bamboozled with science – real or pseudo. There is a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein that, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

When we communicate, we want to be understood. That means speaking clearly. Using words your audience would use themselves helps you get your message across.

One of the lessons learnt from the EU Referendum and the US Presidential election is that the winners had very clear campaign slogans, which allowed different shades of opinion to coalesce around them. If you cannot sum up what you are about in a few words (or in 140 characters for The Donald) you will struggle to make your message persuasive enough to bring about changed behaviour.

We all like to think we can do this ourselves; after all, this is my business, I know how I want it to come across to people. But, sometimes, it’s too easy to get wound up in our own groupthink, our own expertise. That is when a professional PR company can help. Expect them to challenge your thinking, your way of doing things. They represent the customer, the shareholder, the community, making sure their interests, their objectives and their manner of understanding is not lost in translation.

And in doing so, they will help you formulate a tone of voice which gets the results you desire.

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