First, if you don’t know the difference between tone and voice, make sure you brush up on my last article. This article’s no good to you if you haven’t nailed down your brand voice, or if you don’t understand that you can change your content’s tone while keeping voice consistent.
Second, brush up on your customer personas. Without a target demographic in mind, trying to pin down the tone of your content is like painting a room with your eyes closed and hoping you haven’t missed a spot.
Finally, we can start talking about tone. Tone is vital to your brand’s health, whether we’re talking about your website, your blog posts, your 404 pages, your ads, or even your social presence. The right tone draws customers in and gets them invested in your content, while the wrong tone spoils the mood, like a racist uncle at Christmas dinner.
Worse still, the wrong tone destroys brand credibility and drives customers away.
How to Set the Tone For Your Content
First and foremost, your tone should always stay true to your brand voice.
It wouldn’t make sense Henley Bond, with their voice reflective of the modern gentleman, to turn around and create content littered with slang and irreverent humour. Though I see some potential for an April Fool’s Day joke…
Now let’s turn to Ailsa Partridge’s “How to Develop Your Website’s Tone of Voice” article. She’s developed an excellent tonal guideline that matches tone to customer personas.
She begins with the “X, but not Y” statements I discussed in when contrasting tone and voice, then adds to these descriptors with more definitions that will help you hone in on content for specific demographics.
For example, if you’re creating content for a persona you’ve identified as youthful and energetic, your tonal guideline might look like this:
- Imaginitive: Use anecdotes and examples that illustrate points vividly. Keep content hopeful and looking forward.
- Informal: Use casual language, easily accessible, avoid jargon.
- Immature: Avoid patronizing language and excessive censorship. Keep an air of professionalism.
- Inexperienced: Explain necessary terms, but don’t dumb down or over-explain.
- Passionate: The writer should be excited about their content and that should show in the writing.
- Current: Content should have an air of fresh discovery and excitement—avoid rehashing old news.
- Unfocused: Don’t get so involved in your enthusiasm that you lose the focus of your content. Also, don’t try to fake enthusiasm.
- Excitable: Don’t use hyperboles, tons of exclamation points, or inappropriate iconography (emojis, etc.)
To quote the esteemed Ann Handley, “Voice doesn’t change, but your tone should, depending on the feeling you are trying to convey.”
When we adopt different tones of voice in our content, it’s to better connect with our readers—to make them feel the sadness we feel, or the frustration, or the joy, or the excitement. When we connect with our readers on an emotional level, then we’re finally doing content marketing right.
I’ll end with one of my favourite quotations, from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He wrote, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well.”
For more great articles on tone of voice, check out Harriet Cummings’s Finding Your Brand’s Voice and Joel Klettke’s Finding Your Brand Voice (Without Losing Your Mind).