The Meaning in the Message: the importance of voice in communication

Using the wrong tone can start an argument, ruin a friendship, create aggression, and even destroy a marriage. The way you say things matters. And that fundamental truth applies most pertinently in marketing.

Whenever you communicate as a business – whether verbally, in pictures or the written word – there is a tone to your message. This tone is vital in how people perceive what you’re saying, interpret your meaning, and judge your brand.

Verbally, you can perhaps control this tone – but in the written word it becomes more tricky – because the tone in your writing is as important as your choice of logo, company colours, typeface and presentation. Tone of voice in the written word is that subtle element that gives your business character and personality; in short, it is how you confirm authenticity and trustworthiness in your brand.

Writing is therefore one of the most vital ways you can positively brand your company. Here’s how it works:

  • Absolute care should be taken in choosing not only the words – but the way these words are going to ‘sound’ in the recipients’ minds.
  • Slogans, straplines, websites, emails, brochures, labels, presentations are all talking to your customers – and you need to understand how what you choose to say, and the way you choose to say it, impacts on how people will interpret your message. If words are powerful, tone is the all controlling force.
  • Your tone of voice in written communications should drive influentially across all marketing strategies; just as the colours and image of your logo become recognisable, so does your tone of voice.

Brand voice in action

Brands with strong voices stand out because they ensure their voices are unique and consistent across all marketing materials and customer service. Think of Coca-Cola and their happy, friendly, optimistic, good times feeling – so relevant, recognisable and unchanged over decades. Think of Apple: high-tech made accessible, desirable, innovative and future-focused – their tone impacts with cool clarity and sophistication of their product.

If for instance, you were writing for a young fashion house, you might use words such as: cool, sassy, cheeky, bright, edgy, etc – inspiring playfulness, fun, colour and light-heartedness. Alternatively, for a financial house, you would use entirely different words: steady, reliable, vision, strategy – inspiring honesty, trust, seriousness, confidence.

Great examples of differing voices would be:

  • The Mercedes latest ad targeting younger buyers, featuring only two words: Grow Up. And the logo. The tone is confident, exuding sophistication and power. Taken out of context, the tone might be considered rude, but in conjunction with the ultimate in driving luxury, the tone becomes one of persuasion and desire – implying you will only achieve adulthood and success when you drive a Mercedes.
  • Dunkin Donuts on the other hand, achieves friendliness and a sense of community with: America runs on Dunkin. The tone is positive, reflecting energy, efficiency, enthusiasm. The tone implies the product is a stalwart of the American culture and an irrefutably vital commodity.
  • The Disney Company brand concept is captured in the words: Where dreams come true. The tone is that of promise and imagination, wistful, full of possibility and fulfilment. The tone implies that a visit to Disney will empower you with extraordinary experiences.

Voice points to remember:

  • All content should be consistent in tone. The message is always couched in reliability and the promise of a good experience. A good tone of voice helps to replace face-to-face engagement.
  • It allows you to connect on a deeper, more emotional level, makes you more human in approach; your customer knows from the get-go just exactly who they will be dealing with, and how they will be dealt with.
  • Your tone of voice should demonstrate the values of your brand.
  • It should promote a relationship with your customers that will build trust, belief, confidence; and ultimately influence their buying behaviour in your favour.

Crossing the lines: voice and segmentation

Before you begin to plan your voice, you will have to know your market, and the various differentiations in that market. Segmentation helps to divide potential customers into groups dependent on characteristics; in this way you are able to define your market, a fundamental process to planning your strategy and objectives, including your tone of voice.

Demographics:  Age, gender, family size, income, occupation, race, religion, nationality.
Geographic:  Where people live and how this experience affects their outlook.
Behaviour:  Individual reactions, what choices people are most likely to make.
Psychographic:  Lifestyle, activities, interests and opinions.

Using the same voice to customers as disparate as baby-boomers and teenagers, is probably not going to work. Having a good handle on the sensitivity of your tone, and how you can adjust it for different segments of the target population, is key. Use language to make your brand distinctive and recognisable, while maintaining cognisance of the different types of customer. While your brand should carry a common theme, the canny marketer should find a way to make that work without creating too many differing voices that may simply confuse the brand.

For instance, a bank, using a common tone that is sensible and personal, may wish to promote across all ages. Younger clients: Don’t put long-term savings security as last on your bucket list. Make sure it’s with you on every adventure. Tone: advisory, friendly, factual.
But to older clients, they may say: Retiring? We know that bucket list isn’t done. There’s still time to safely pair financial investment and travel. Talk to us about security and adventure. Tone: assuring, supportive, promising.

Finding us… Out of the Blue

Many people struggle with tone in the written word. Sometimes the wrong note in an email can lose a customer. It’s tricky. You have to consider what you are writing at all times. And that should include all stakeholders you deal with from suppliers to staff to the general public. Tone is tightly aligned to strategy and to goals, and how you want your customers to perceive you. The challenge is to remain consistent, understand your customers’ expectations, and to bring a canny flexibility to your reach across locations and demographics through the influence and power of the written word.
Come and talk to us. We’re in that edgy business of surprise called marketing. At Out of the Blue Creative Communication Solutions we work with clients to build communications that do better business through concepts that are smart and relevant.

Find us at: www.outoftheblue.co.za