How to Decide on an Effective Tone of Voice to Reach Your Target Audience
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There are two questions every writer must answer: what do I want to say, and how do I want to say it? Tone of voice refers to the latter — it's the way you express yourself. In other words, it's the language, style, and attitude used in your writing to convey your brand’s values and identity.
As a copywriter who helps companies with digital marketing, I’ve seen many businesses make the mistake of not choosing a consistent tone of voice that represents their brand. They switch from writing one blog post in a professional tone to another post in a conversational tone. The result is an inconsistent and confusing brand message that fails to attract a target audience.
In this article, I'll share how to align your tone with your target audience, and provide tips to help you create a consistent brand voice.
Why should marketers care about tone of voice?
Your target audience is the specific group of people you are trying to reach. While your products or services may appeal to a lots of different people, you are more likely to succeed if you personalize your brand to a specific audience.
For example, the luxury brand “Chanel” may appeal to many fashion enthusiasts. But, Chanel would struggle to market to every fashion-conscious person. After all, fashion is subjective and different for everyone. By focusing on high-end consumers interested in luxury and elegance, Chanel can consistently market and appeal to these customers for repeat business.
Once you understand who your target audience is, you can tailor your messaging and tone of voice to appeal to them. This is part of your content strategy. A consistent tone will create a cohesive brand experience. This ensures a customer experiences the same brand voice regardless of which content platform they are on. This includes social media, your website, and any other marketing efforts, such as email marketing.
As well as creating consistent customer experiences, a specific tone of voice can make your brand recognizable, memorable, and trustworthy — thus improving customer retention.
This is because consistency shows reliability. You may appear unreliable or uncertain about your marketing if your messaging changes constantly. Repeatedly using the same tone of voice provides a clear picture of your brand that people can relate to and create an emotional connection with.
Another reason tone of voice is significant is because it makes you stand out from the competition. Using a specific tone can make your brand come alive. For instance, Coca-Cola uses the slogan “Real Magic is only a sip away.” This has a positive and uplifting tone, with the word “Magic” evoking feelings of excitement and wonder. If they had just written “Coca-Cola is only a sip away,” it would not sound as thrilling.
How do you decide what tone of voice to write in?
Now you understand the importance of tone of voice and how it relates to your target audience, let’s look at how to align the two.
Identify your core values
Before deciding on your tone of voice, consider your core values. Understanding your brand’s mission, goals, and beliefs will make it easier to choose a tone that best represents your company.
- Brand associations: What words and feelings do you want people to associate with your brand? Consider how you would like people to feel. For example, do you want people to feel inspired, confident, motivated, knowledgeable, or less stressed?
- What really matters to your business: Avoid generic words such as “trust” and “quality.” These terms are vague which makes them difficult to follow. Instead, come up with ways to embody these terms. For instance, you can convey trust through valuing expertise, and quality through appreciating craftsmanship.
- Decide what’s achievable: Your company’s values are meant to guide your business day-to-day. Writing down “Sustainability” or “Inclusion” is great, but ensure that you and your team can demonstrate these values frequently by meeting achievable goals. Otherwise, they are meaningless words that don’t truly represent your brand. As the capabilities of your company develops, you can always adjust your language to better reflect values that are being met.
- What do you want people to say? Imagine a regular customer telling a friend about your business. How would you want them to describe your brand?
Create a spider diagram to brainstorm these ideas. Once you have finalized your values, put them together in a mission statement. This is a short summary (anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph) that summarizes your business’ top priorities.
As an example, Nike’s mission statement is to “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
This statement clearly tells you that they want to inspire everyone to enjoy fitness and perform at their physical peak (like an athlete).
A mission statement will help you decide the type of customer you want to target as well as your brand’s tone. A motivational statement, for instance, may suit an inspirational tone, while an educational statement for entrepreneurs may suit a professional tone.
Define your target audience and personas
With your brand’s values decided, you now want to analyze your target audience.
There are several ways to define your customers and their needs:
- Website research. If you have a website, analytical tools such as Google Analytics can determine who your customers are and how they find your website. Many website-hosting platforms such as Wordpress and Shopify also provide data on your customers and their behavior. This includes their location, age, and how often they visit particular web pages.
- Social media insights. Another useful tool for seeing who is interested in your brand is social media analytics. These can reveal details about your followers, such as their age, gender, and location.
- Competitor research. You can learn a lot from knowing who your competitors are targeting. Write a list of popular words people associate with your business. For example, you can associate Wordtune with the keywords “AI tools,” “Writing assistant,” and “Online editor.” You can put these words into a search engine such as Google to see who your competitors are. Look for gaps in marketing and services that others are not addressing. Is there a benefit your competition hasn’t fully explained? Do their services fail to address a particular type of buyer? It could be lucrative for your business to focus on benefits and services that others are not mentioning.
- Surveys and feedback. Feedback from customers can reveal their needs and pain points. You can add surveys to social media, newsletters, blog posts, and as pop-ups on your website.
- Market research. As well as researching your competitors, you want to know what is happening generally in your industry. Are certain products unpopular? Is there a growing demographic becoming more interested in your services? Tools such as Google Trends can analyze the popularity of search queries so you can see what people search for.
AI tools can quickly and accurately perform website, competitor, market, and social media research. The latest Google Analytics update, for instance, includes an AI “insights” panel. Many marketing companies, such as HubSpot and Salesforce, use AI to predict customer behavior and make detailed customer predictions.
With this research, you can create customer personas. This is a semi-fictional representation of your target customers. Personas can help you visualize your potential customers in more detail.
Let’s say I own a coffee business. I create instant coffee for people who want an affordable energy boost. My target audience is people aged 18 - 30 who like drinking coffee but who don’t have the budget for a fancy coffee maker.
One buying persona I could develop is university students who drink coffee while studying. Another buying persona that matches my target audience is young city workers who don’t want to invest too much in coffee while saving for a mortgage.
Here are some things to consider when building a buyer persona:
- Who are your target customers? What is their age, gender, and location?
- What do these people struggle with? How can your product or service provide a solution?
- Is there anything about your brand that could put people off? For instance, could the price or lack of brand awareness turn people away?
- How can you sell your business to these different personas in a few words or sentences? Think what parts of your business will appeal to your personas. For instance, I could sell my coffee business to university students by using research that shows how coffee can benefit studying.
Depending on your business, you may have one or five different personas. Try to not create too many, as this can make it difficult to narrow down your key audience.
Note how your audience communicates with one another
Based on the previous steps, you should now know your brand's values and target audience. Before we create your brand’s tone of voice, the last step is to look at communication styles.
As mentioned earlier, tone of voice helps tailor your message to your target audience. This is why it’s important to decide on your audience before choosing your tone.
One way to show your customers that you understand them and their needs is to adopt the same tone as them. McDonald’s, for example, targets young people by offering them inexpensive and quick meal options. The brand uses a casual and conversational tone of voice that matches its younger audience’s language.
Look at the example below. This McDonald’s advert for their app deliberately appeals to younger audiences by using the slang word “yup” in place of the more formal “yes.” They also abbreviate the word “them” to “‘em” and swap “McDonald’s” for “McD’s.”
Reflect on customer interactions. Imagine speaking to your customer — what tone would sound appropriate? If I ran a coffee shop, for instance, it would make sense to speak to customers in a friendly and welcoming tone. After all, I want them to feel welcome and relaxed in my shop.
But, if I ran a software company that sells to entrepreneurs, a professional and confident tone of voice would be more appropriate, as this will convey my knowledge and expertise in software. If I sounded relaxed and doubtful, customers may assume I am not taking their concerns seriously, or even that I am not confident in my product.
Create your brand's tone of voice
To choose your tone of voice, I recommend creating a table with three columns that have the following titles:
Fill in these different columns using the tips given in this article. Now look at different tones and see if they work in all three columns. For example, does a casual tone match your values, target audience, and their communication style?
Here are some examples of different tones you might like to use:
You may find that your brand suits a couple of different tones, such as helpful and friendly or serious and authoritative.
Once you’ve established what kind of tone you would like to convey, you can use AI to help you create consistent and engaging copy in your chosen tone. For example, the AI writing tool Wordtune can help you follow your tone of voice. The Wordtune Editor has “Casual” and “Formal” buttons that edit your copy to reflect these tones. As you can see below, I clicked on the “Formal” button which generated different ideas to help me create a formal tone.
The Wordtune Editor’s “Spices” feature can also help you create different tones. For instance, you can ask it to help you craft a joke for a fun or humorous tone, or to provide you with a statistical or historical fact if you want to create a serious or educational tone.
Implement a tone of voice guideline document
After choosing a tone that aligns with your audience and values, create a tone of voice guideline. This is a document that will help you and your team consistently follow your tone.
A tone of voice guideline should explain exactly what your tone of voice is. For example,
“We are helpful
- Helpful is professional, friendly, supportive, practical, and personable.
- Helpful is not unfriendly or disagreeable.”
A tone of voice guideline should also explore how your brand’s tone works in different marketing materials. For instance, if your tone of voice is “friendly” and “inspirational,” this could work well on social media platforms. But, you may want to switch this tone to “friendly” and professional” for a blog post on product instructions. Think about the tones you need to cover different types of content.
Observe what works and adapt
Be prepared to adapt your tone of voice as you work on different content formats, such as an ebook or blog post. For example, you may find that your original tone of voice does not work for social media marketing, and so you may want to set new guidelines for the tone you use for social media posts.
Equally, you may find that the initial tone of voice you selected does not lead to a strong brand personality. For example, you might find that you want to personalize a “helpful” tone by also making it “witty” or “direct” in order to help you stand out.
Play around and brainstorm some ideas using the three columns from earlier to create a tone that matches your audience and values.
Pro Tip: Use Clear and Concise Sentences
Regardless of which tone you use, it’s important to create clear and concise sentences. This ensures that your readers can quickly understand your ideas. If your writing has confusing and drawn-out sentences, your audience will not be engaged.
Wordtune Editor’s “Rewrite” tool transforms lengthy text into succinct sentences. As shown in the example below, I clicked on the “Rewrite” button to generate clear examples of different ways to make my text clearer and easier to read.