How to Create Effective Brand Tone of Voice Guidelines

Tone of Voice is one of the most powerful means of expressing brand identity and earning customer loyalty. While content is the message you wish to convey, i.e. what you say, Tone of Voice represents your brand personality across all verbal communication. In other words, how you say it.

As marketers know, brand personality is key for global success. When you think of world-leading brands, such as Coca Cola, Nike, or Tiffany, you can immediately figure out which personality traits make them different and desirable across multiple markets.

This is why defining your brand voice is crucial if you want to stand out from the competition, and build trust and awareness among your target audience. But how can you preserve your brand personality worldwide, making sure your core values are conveyed consistently?

A very useful tool to achieve these results is a document called Brand Voice Guidelines. Put simply, this is used to describe – to internal and external stakeholders, including creative agencies and translation partners – how your brand should speak to your target audience.

Writing detailed yet clear and straightforward guidelines will give you additional control over the way your message is crafted, helping your brand connect with customers around the world.

4 Rules for Effective Brand Voice Guidelines

Here are four best practices to follow when writing effective ToV Guidelines for your brand:

1. Always refer back to your brand’s personality traits

A strong brand personality should reflect the values your company stands for, expressing these through every linguistic choice that is made. For example, let’s imagine you are selling jewellery, and one of your core values is ‘timeless beauty’. In this case, you should pay attention not to use expressions or sayings that could go out of date, or references to current affairs and recent events.

On the other hand, if your main value is ‘sustainability’, you might put the accent on inclusive pronouns like ‘we’ or ‘our’, to indicate your orientation towards collectivity, as opposed to individualism.

2. Look at your Audience and Competitors

Once you have defined the key values to convey through your brand voice, the next step is to analyse your target audience. Is it a niche group, or a mass market that includes different demographics? Does your target audience use specific jargon, or a dialect? What is the best way to address these people, in each case?

In addition to your brand voice varying depending on the type of customer, it may also change depending on the characteristics of your competitors.

Furthermore, when it comes to global brands, it’s important to include cultural considerations and provide specific Tone of Voice guidelines for translation.

In fact, while consistency in tone works in most cases, you may find that your highly informal language is completely inappropriate in a given culture, and therefore needs adaptation. A translation partner that works with native-speaking linguists can help you research and understand the cultural environment in all of your target markets.

3. Mind the context

As a marketer, it’s unlikely that you would use the same type of language for all of your copy – from ads to social media posts, from press releases to customer support emails. At the same time, you want to keep your brand personality and tone consistent across every touch point with the customer.

This is why it’s important that your brand voice guidelines include references to every type of media that you use to communicate, and the rules that go with them. Let’s say that, according to your brand guidance, you should avoid abbreviations. In that case, how should you deal with character limitations on Twitter? This is the kind of issue you should address when writing your Tone of Voice guidelines.

4. Provide lots of examples

Describing your brand voice simply as “innovative” or “human” doesn’t really help those whose task it is to create, or translate, copy for your brand. This is why another fundamental rule for writing excellent ToV guidelines is to stay away from generic terms, and provide as many on-brand/off-brand examples as possible.

It might be easier to start by listing some terms, adjectives or linguistic structures to avoid. Then, for each of these, provide a list of preferred alternatives that better convey the brand image you want to project.

Another strategy – as suggested by Econsultancy in this article – is taking the personality traits you have defined earlier, and providing three examples: too hot, too cold and just right. So, for instance, if your brand personality is ‘simple’ and ‘honest’, you will address people in emails with ‘Hello’, since ‘Dear’ would be too formal, and ‘Hey’ too colloquial.

Expressing Brand Personality through Language: Key Elements

Delving deeper into the actual process of writing brand voice guidelines, we have listed below some common elements you may wish to include in your document, in order to ensure consistency of writing style across all markets and channels.

• Degree of formality
• Use of slang, colloquialisms and dialects
• Your stance on swearing
• Emphasis on the reader, e.g. addressing the reader as ‘you’
• Personal vs. impersonal speech, e.g. use of the first person
• Attitude towards humour, e.g. word play, idioms
• Punctuation, e.g. use of exclamation marks
• Use of tag questions
• Use of contractions and abbreviations
• Reference to latest news and/or pop culture

Other elements worth considering are formatting, such as brackets and bullet points, capitalisation, underlining and hyphenation, or names and addresses, numbers and percentages.

While these may seem like small points, they all contribute to achieving a clear and consistent brand voice. Every detail counts.

Tone of Voice Consistency as a Driver of Global Marketing Success

In conclusion, if you look at the global marketplace, it is clear that brands that have been able to define and manage their brand personality across different markets are the most successful, and are leaders in their sector. In contrast, those who have failed to maintain a consistent brand voice have probably ended up on the scrap heap.

In addition to writing proper brand Tone of Voice guidelines, using translation memories and qualified linguists who specialise in your sector is also critical to ensure your translated copy is powerful, on-brand and connects with your audience in any market.

Useful resources

Why Brand Personality Matters: Aligning Your Brand to Cultural Drivers of Success

Finding Your Brand’s Voice: How to Shape a Tone of Voice

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