Tone of Voice | How to develop an authentic tone of voice

by | Mar 6, 2024 | Thinking, Uncategorized | 0 comments

When I was young my girlfriends and I used to dress up as the Spice Girls and practice dance routines (I’m really showing my age here). We each had our favourite and I was Scary Spice. My preference for this Spice Girl was the same reason I liked Han Solo better than Luke Skywalker and Pippin more than Frodo. I was drawn to the naughty rebels, pushing boundaries with their laissez faire attitude and disregard for the rules. Character and tone of voice matter. It’s why I started working in advertising. Last month I had the privilege of talking at a panel discussion on Tone of Voice hosted by GO! If you missed it, here are my big 4 takeaways:

What are the key factors that make up a stand out “Tone of Voice” for a brand?

PDA. Not a public display of affection but Personality, Distinctiveness and Authenticity.

  1. Does it have personality? I love to work with archetypes to help create a deep connection to the subconscious and avoid a voice that sounds like all things to all men. If you look at some of the greatest characters in film, their appeal was because they had a clearly defined personality that played into an archetype; 

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates.” “May the force be with you.” “To infinity and beyond.” “Here’s looking at you kid.” “I’ll be back.” 

These characters have become so adored and lodged in our memory throughout time because they represent the eternal and universal archetypes of the regular guy, sage, explorer, lover and hero. 

  1.  Is it distinctive? Does it take a point of view rather than trying to be universally appealing? And could any other brand say it?
  1. Is it authentic? Is it genuinely true to your organisation or is it a blatant contradiction to the culture and behaviours of how you operate from within the brand.
What are the risks of not having clear tone of voice guidelines across different channels?

Without clear guidelines your tone of voice will become inconsistent across the different touch points and this hampers trust

Think about someone you’ve met who speaks and behaves differently to people depending on who they are talking to. You never truly know who they are and it’s hard to build trust with someone who seems to change their spot so often. Lack of trust is a big killer for business.

Consistency builds awareness, so over time your message and brand becomes more recognisable and therefore, more effective. If the Economist stopped communicating with their wry knowing humour or innocent stopped their naively playful personification of objects it would take a lot more time and money for them to get noticed.

Trust is a huge factor in brand-audience relationships right now – How does this link into the way you go about strengthening TOV and brand identity?

For me it is essential that brand and tone of voice is not just an exercise for the marketing team but has to be bought in from the entire business. Everyone from HR, your sales staff, finance and R&D should know and support the brand’s identity, we no longer live in an age where an advertising veneer can fool consumers. 

How you behave has to match what you say and, as mentioned before, consistency and authenticity are essential elements to maintaining brand trust – you have to practise what you preach. The people that make up your organisation are an essential part of your brand identity, especially founders and the leadership team who have influence or, sales and customer service, who are the shop window. If your identity is understood as part of the business’s DNA, not just the marketing department, your tone of voice can impact everything from recruitment to product design.

That’s why I really believe in building the brand tone of voice from the inside out, taking into account the existing culture can reveal an authentic brand tone of voice for your business. Taking staff on the journey of discovering your tone of voice can create a sense of belonging. With staff turnover being a major cost to business, it pays to have an invested workforce.

How does Kitchen help strengthen a brands’ tone of voice?

At Kitchen we are a full service brand building agency so it is our job to understand brand DNA from the absolute beginning, developing the brand framework and then taking it all the way through branded touch points and communications.

The other thing we offer is our KultureLab tool – our brand archetype data tool which does the assessment of your brand character from the inside out – heroing the people that make your brand and taking them on the journey. It is an especially great tool for founder led startups, at the beginning of their brand identity journey, legacy brands needing a reinjection of personality if they’ve lost relevance, for service brands where their people are the front line of the brand identity and for mergers and acquisitions where brand consistency and staff belonging can be compromised with clashing cultures.

By Vaila Robertson, Head of Strategy, Kitchen