Don’t use that tone of voice with me, son!

tone of voice

I can just hear it, a lippy teenager giving an elder a correct reply, just said in too-smart a tone of voice. However, having the right tone of voice should not just be a distant memory of how we as rebellious youngsters used to get back at teachers, parents or other figures of authority, its very relevant in the business world.

We read so much about content in this age of digital communication, but delivering the content with the right tone of voice is just as important. Of course, this is just as true of traditional forms of promotion such as advertising, PR, brochures and even pack design as it is of social media and web.

That there is more than one way to say things is easily seen if you think about newspapers, a tabloid headline sounds significantly different compared to a broadsheet’s. The former being more familiar and to the point, the latter more formal and hopefully more eloquent!

Certain industries and sectors tend to traditionally verge on formal, conservative tones of voices. Many financial institutions forget that they are dealing with people and we receive stuffy, pompous communications. The same can be said of many public sector messages. New entrants to the market are often successful because their whole strategy is focused on communicating the same messages in a more user friendly way. Think of how dry insurance advertising used to be, compared with the more engaging, wittier approach used in the recent campaigns of Compare the Market, Go Compare and Sheila’s Wheels.

I often see highly erudite people, who are very charming and great company, falter when it comes to social media. Their Tweets and Facebook messages fail to engage, because their tone of voice is too professional, too dry and full of professional jargon; whereas, a chattier, informal tone would have yielded much more success. The key is to engage and inform through the tone of voice you might use if talking naturally to a person from a given segment.

So what are the rules?

  1. Understand your target audience, making sure that you are using the right tone of voice for each segment.
  2. If you are dealing with a complex target audience, you might need to consider several different tones of voice and utilise a segmented approach to communications. Just as we might modulate our tone if talking to children, spouses or colleagues, we might wish to adopt a different approach for the same message if dealing with different countries or sectors. What might be ‘cool’ in Australia, might be ‘too hot’ in China or UAE.
  3. Communications whether formal or informal, should always be clear and coherent.
  4. A good message, delivered through whatever medium, should sound natural and be relevant and be medium appropriate too.
  5. Avoid long stuffy, communiques.
  6. Just because everybody else in an industry sector communicates in a certain way, doesn’t mean that they have got it right!
  7. If possible test your style through research or a trial. What response are you getting.
  8. Finally, the tone of voice should always be brand appropriate too.

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