It may be tempting to dismiss tone of voice as a vanity project, with little measurable impact on business goals. However, as marketing budgets tighten, we make the business case that defining your tone and adapting it for local markets is more important than ever.
Consistency. Connection. Continuous growth.
Three good reasons your brand should have a distinctive tone of voice. Defining how you sound allows you to present your brand consistently, build connections with customers, authentically communicate your values – and convince customers to repeatedly buy from you.
Innocent were the poster boys – their distinctive tone helped them chime with customers and power their way to continuous growth. Gradually, tone of voice started to play an important role in other companies’ brand and marketing strategy too.
But for some companies, articulating their brand voice isn’t living up to its potential. They try to be Innocent, but lack the smoothie maker’s bold approach. Instead, they settle for a “safer” tone that’s functional but forgettable. Often, they relegate tone of voice to the last few pages of a brand strategy – with no consideration for overseas markets. Guidelines are limited to what is essentially good (but predictable) business writing. The whole project may remain the exclusive preserve of the brand or marketing teams, with little impact on the wider company or key business goals.
In this period of restricted marketing budgets, it’s understandable that this kind of tone of voice isn’t a priority. You want to focus on generating sales and surviving the storm – not playing around with pretty words.
But to ignore tone of voice altogether is to miss a great opportunity. Identifying, embedding and localizing your tone of voice for each market will help you build a meaningful connection with your audience. It will also significantly contribute to your brand’s international success.
That’s why, in this blog post, we’re putting forward the business case for investing in your brand’s international tone of voice.
It can be tempting to see tone of voice purely as the preserve of the marketing and brand teams, without any tangible business outcomes. However, the data suggests that’s not the case: it can help your company meet its international objectives.
According to SEMRush, 65% of customers emotionally connect with brands that make them feel appreciated, while 64% trust a company because of shared values. It takes time, consistency and an authentic tone of voice to establish and maintain these customer perceptions. But it’s worth it – and now more than ever. When a brand invests effort into presenting itself consistently, revenue can increase by as much as 23%.
This long-term investment in consistency particularly pays off during crises. Kantar’s research into the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour revealed that customers want brands to use a reassuring tone (72%) and communicate brand values (65%). However, they didn’t hesitate to criticize brands like L’Oréal and Amazon for touting values that didn’t line up with their previous words or actions.
Of course, focusing solely on connecting with customers consistently will not achieve your business goals. In fact, COVID ads that offered pure emotional support performed less well than those offering tangible help – or those continuing with business as usual.
Even in times of crisis, only 8% of consumers think you should stop advertising. Customers are looking for clarity and transparency, but they’re willing to hear about unrelated topics, including your products and services. However, without the right tone, you could risk coming across as exploitative – something three-quarters of consumers are against.
A consistent tone of voice that reflects your brand’s values and purpose is essential for walking this tightrope. Investing time to connect with customers will increase goodwill towards your brand.
And solid guidelines can show you how to promote your products and values at the same time. It’s an essential tool in your crisis response kit, helping you generate sales without tarnishing your reputation.
When done badly, tone of voice can be a waste of time, money and resources. You can misjudge the tone altogether or be so bland you’re immediately forgotten about. Poor execution and uptake are common – and you can spot them immediately.
Tone of voice guidelines will be limited to a couple of pages in a 60-page brand book. Typically, they’ll say things like “We are confident but never arrogant” and “We are humorous but never offensive”. There won’t be any concrete advice about how to translate these principles into writing. Or examples of the tone of voice principles in action on different channels. Often, only the marketing team or your copywriters will know where to find this information and how to use it. And most likely, adapting the guidelines for greater local market relevance won’t even have been considered.
There is no business case for this type of tone of voice. It’s an expense that will not provide a return on investment. (If it sounds like your brand, click here to find out how to fix it.)
To be worthwhile, a tone of voice can’t be a document gathering dust on your server. It must be a living, breathing part of your brand’s DNA. And it needs to be adapted for local relevance in each target market. In practice, this means:
- Keep your tone of voice up-to-date with any changes to your company direction, brand values and vision.
- Make sure the guidelines are specific and easily actionable, especially for colleagues who aren’t natural writers. Include before and after examples to show your tone of voice in action across a variety of channels.
- Use training workshops (for all stakeholders) to embed the tone of voice as part of your company culture, with regular refresher sessions.
- Work with local markets to adapt the guidelines for their audience so your brand resonates with your international customers.
Of course, this will require a greater investment. But you will see a greater return. Plus, this level of commitment will make it easier to assess the cross-market business impact of your tone of voice.
Ultimately, the only way to tell if your tone of voice is working is to measure its performance. This should take place on two levels.
Firstly, monitor how your tone of voice is being used by colleagues across the company, in your home market and internationally. Carry out a regular content audit – including internal and external emails, presentations, social media, website, brochures and legal information. Use a pre-defined checklist to measure this content against the key principles of your tone of voice. Verify that any local learnings have been taken on board and implemented by your regional teams. If you identify any weaknesses, run a refresher workshop to provide further support.
Once your tone of voice is in good shape across the company, you can start measuring its impact on your business goals. It will be difficult to directly link your tone of voice to increasing sales. But there are a number of metrics you can look at to identify the impact it is having. These metrics include:
- Increased engagement on social media, e.g. likes, shares, comments and click-throughs.
- Stronger website performance, e.g. longer time on page, lower bounce rate, more conversions.
- Improved scorecards for call centre customer service.
- Qualitative data in website surveys.
- A/B testing old content against the new tone of voice in paid media copy.
- Improved engagement with customers in international markets.
Set KPIs for your tone of voice. If it’s not meeting those targets, keep tweaking it until it does. Regularly survey internal stakeholders and external customers in all your markets. Once you’ve got your tone right, your customers will come to value how you communicate with them, and you’ll start seeing the impact on your business goals.
With tone of voice, you get out what you put in. Low-effort guidelines could yield poor results that are at best a professional writing guide, at worst something quite bland. A greater investment upfront – combined with ongoing training, local adaptation and measurement – will add value and help you achieve your brand goals.
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