Why every tech brand needs tone of voice guidelines

Efe Otokiti

13 Apr 2023

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

One fascinating fact about people is that most of our communication is nonverbal. And while a lot of percentages are thrown around, most experts agree non-verbal accounts for somewhere between 70-93% of all communication.

It may sound incredulous – that is, until you consider just how much you rely on hand gestures, body and facial movements, and even the amount of eye contact that takes place in any given conversation.

And while the cacophony of gestures that accompany our words may not always be consciously perceived by the listener, they remain a crucial element of communication. Because sometimes, a slight smile may be the determiner of whether what you just said is interpreted as an insult or a joke.

So how does this work for written communication, where you can’t smile, wave your hand make direct eye contact to forge a connection? Well, that’s where tone of voice comes into play. Because, without all those physical and auditory indicators, it’s much easier for people to misconstrue the intent behind written content, fail to recognise a brand, or feel like it’s inconsistent, and therefore, unreliable.

As such, it can be hard to know how many of your brand’s marketing functions are being hampered by your unsuitable tone of voice.

Are you finding it difficult to generate click-through to your website? Are people unsubscribing from your newsletters? Or are you just finding it difficult to muster up engagement on your social pages?

Much like nonverbal cues, we might not always be aware of how a certain tone of voice is impacting us, but it does. And in a world where brands are fighting for slivers of waning attention, split-second feelings can spell the difference between a successful and unsuccessful campaign.

How tone of voice guidelines codify your brand’s personality

The tone you choose to take with your audiences depends on a lot of things:

  1. Your brand’s values and objectives
  2. The nature and importance of the message you’re trying to get across
  3. Where your target audience is based
  4. Your target audience’s job role/seniority
  5. The platform and format they will be reading your content on

For instance, when broadcasting on social platforms about something topical and cultural, it makes sense to sound more human and fun. In this situation, you’re communicating with the whole world – not just your stakeholders – so coming across as more approachable is likely to endear you to prospective customers who might be trawling your social pages.

However, say you’re writing a whitepaper about one of your business’s key offerings. In that instance, it makes more sense to write with a more formal and authoritative tone to demonstrate your expertise.

While both of the above scenarios are true, every brand also needs a level of consistency running through every piece. You always want to sound recognisable to audiences – because trust is built upon a brand identity.

Your brand identity should come through as a personality. And just like your personality, it’s made up of several traits that can only be determined after you’ve interrogated your internal values, the values of their audiences, and your overall objectives.

So, if you’re a challenger brand, what type of language and formatting will ensure you’re always coming across as a disruptor in your industry?

And more importantly, how do you ensure that every member of your team can easily and consistently recreate that tone when they’re creating content for your audience?

A recipe for the best tone of voice

Tone of voice is fundamental to defining your brand’s identity to the rest of the world. But to ensure that tone is consistent, reflective of your values and helping you achieve your desired objectives, there needs to be a single source of guidance that everyone across the business can access – which is why you must develop tone of voice guidelines.

As these guidelines need to work across several teams and duties, their creation needs to be a collaborative affair, with the opinions and insights of a range of individuals and teams taken into account.

The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of what your audiences want, how they speak and what they will – or won’t – respond to. So, the people you bring in should be those who regularly communicate with your brand’s customers, partners and other external stakeholders.

Leadership also needs to buy into the process as they can not only inform on the brand’s current objectives but where they want it to be in the future. Where on the maturity scale do they currently see the business? What language specifics do they feel need to be included? And how do they want the brand’s personality to evolve as it matures?

These details will go towards creating the values that underpin your tone of voice. Brand values act as the bedrock upon which the persona and characteristics that will define your brand identity rest.

Then you can begin to figure out how these traits should be varied by which key audience you’re talking to, the formats you’re talking through and the regions you’re addressing.

For instance, you may want to sound informal when talking to Western audiences, but a casual tone may be received disrespectfully if used to address demographics in the APAC region.

So, your guidelines must feature easy-to-understand tone of voice examples, a style guide to ensure you’re all following the same rules, and any other relevant guidance for your brand and the audiences you talk to.

And while building this guide can take a lot of work – and will have to be reappraised as your brand evolves – the benefits are significant. Because once you have a consistent and reflective tone of voice utilised by everyone, your persona becomes more tangible to your audience.

As such, it can help elevate and differentiate your brand from the chorus of businesses vying for customers’ attention. A distinguishable tone enables your brand to become more familiar, more human and thus, more trustworthy.

Because as every marketer worth their salt knows, people are emotional creatures. A stilted, inconsistent tone of voice will always get in the way of allowing you to emotionally connect with your audiences.

So, in our digital age, the most effective way to differentiate your brand from the competition is to make sure you’re always being your brand. And this is exactly what comprehensive and well-considered tone of voice guidelines allow you to achieve.

Want to translate your values and objectives into a tone of voice which connects with key audiences? Harvard’s Content and Editorial team can help, so do get in touch here or via the button below!

This blog post was co-authored by Efe Otokiti and Annabel Harper