Set the Tone: Choosing which tone of voice works best for your brand and your content

By Rachel Gregory, Editorial Production Manager

You may be hiring content creators because, as an editor or writer yourself, you’re stretched so you need to outsource. Or you might not have a background in working with copy. Either way, you should know that tone of voice is a key aspect of any copywriting brief. It’s can be hard to nail down what’s needed in terms of tone, and just as tricky for writers to nail.

The tone of an article is the way words are chosen and ordered to convey the desired response from the reader. It’s how all the fiddly bits, such as sentence length and word order, combine to do a job or convey a message. The purpose of tone is to make a reader feel a certain way, even if that’s something as simple as being informed. It’s quite a technical thing.

Tone of voice is not the same as writing style, but style does affect tone. Style is about word choice. Tone is how you use those words. You’re bound to be influenced by what you feel makes a piece pop in terms of writing style. That can also form part of the brief. Brand tone is a bit more of a science, though.

How should I decide on the tone that’s needed?

A content team can help you with this. But if you want to get ahead by writing a cracking brief, there a few things to think about when you choose what tone of voice a piece should have.

On a basic level it pretty much comes down to two things:

  1. Who is likely to be reading what you write? Your target audience will largely be defined by who your competitors are. It can be helpful to look at how they write because it shows you the tone that people expect from a site or a publication like yours.
  2. What’s the point of the content? Are you looking to show your knowledge on a subject, or to evoke a response from readers? Do you want people to be inspired to act? Are you striving to promote behaviour change, for example? Or to showcase a strong brand or your company values?

Get a firmer idea of the brand tone that you want

Now you know who the content’s for, and what it’s for. You might have known all that from the get-go. Think about what else the content team members will need to know.

All sorts of things affect the tone of a piece. These smaller bits form a crucial part of the wider picture. Reading age and comprehension is a big one. So is inclusion, as well as who can access the text. Aspects that affect these things might relate to syntax or writing style, but they could also be to do with an article’s layout. For example, I was told last week during user testing that Gen Z hates full stops, so to strip them out of my lists. Who knew!

 Convey the tone to the content team

You know how you want the piece to read. Now for the real challenge – being able to convey that to the writer in a way that means they’ll nail it in a couple of drafts.

Did you ever try that kids’ game, where you had to pair up, think up a monster in your head and then describe it to a friend? Seven-year-old me was fuming when my friend’s drawing looked nothing like what I had dreamed up! It’s a great analogy for a brief. The key is to get your ideas across so that a writer can run with it. You might know just what you want your content to look and sound like. You could even know what’s wrong with what’s on your website right now. But trying to share your vision can be whole other level hard.

Here are some things we suggest when it comes to this:

  • Do you have a content style guide, editing guide or brand guidelines? It’s handy to have a set of rules that you abide by when making content, even if they don’t mention tone. It means your content is going to have a consistent brand tone of voice, whether you write it or someone else does. That applies whether it’s social media posts or longer form stuff. Also, the sorts of things that are covered in style guides often affect tone. Grammar has a much bigger impact than you’d think.
  • Collect some tone of voice examples. Stockpile links, clippings, voice notes, LinkedIn posts and TikTok videos that give a flavour of different tones and styles that you like. We love having snippets of things clients think work well, even if you don’t know why they do. It really helps.
  • There are also some tools and tricks that can help to remove any further question marks when it comes to tone of voice. These two are brill:
  1. Ideation. This is where team members pool ideas to come up with a concept, then decide how it’s going to come into being. Brainstorm tools like Miro can help.
  2. Pair writing. At Thrive we reserve this for clients who want to be more involved in the process. As the name would suggest, it’s done in pairs, with a member of the client team working with one of our editors to unpick a piece of content between them in real time. It’s a sure-fire way to make sure you’re on the same page. (Literally.)
And make sure a writer drafts a sample for you before they get going on the rest. That way, you can double check you’re happy with it, before they immerse themselves. It saves on time later on.
Hopefully, these pointers will help you to find, and voice, the tone that works best for your brand’s personality. At the very least, it should prove a helpful starting point for a kick-off chat with an agency partner.

Rachel is Editorial Production Manager at Thrive. She is responsible for coordinating projects, as well as editing and delivering engaging health content.

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