Copywriter: What is Tone of Voice in Marketing?

Just like music and colours, words can have different tones, and qualities.

Tone of voice, it’s the *way* you say it.

Don’t take that tone of voice with me

*Don’t you speak to me with that tone of voice* sounds like a parent chastising a child, but tone of voice is essential to marketing, and a consistent tone of voice across channels keeps you on brand.

The tone of voice is the “quality” of the way the words “feel”, so it helps to speak the words and understand context, to understand TOV. 

Words to describe tone of voice

Examples include; warm and cold tones, brash and loud, angry, calm, patronising, sympathetic, empathetic, vehement, old-fashioned, colloquial, friendly, formal, polite, rude, impatient, fun, and even Dickensian – what the Dickens do you mean, Sir? 

Examples of tone of voice

TOV may be communicated with adverbs.

 e.g. “Sit down” she said, *angrily*

“Bottoms up”, he winked, *playfully*

Now, compare and contrast the “feel” of the next paragraph with the second paragraph.

“Judge Kerrigan is bored by the pedestrian advocacy of a twenty-something upstart apparently channelling an unholy trinity of the Jeremies Paxman, Clarkson and Kyle as they superciliously showboat their intellectual advantage over the bewildered Mr Tuttle.”

The Secret Barrister, Stories of the Law and how it’s Broken

“In hindsight, intentionally making terrible tea could legitimately rank as the highlight of my dull, dreary days in the corporate world.”

James Smith, Not a Life Coach

Both are written with formal vocabulary and use humour, but which one “feels” friendlier, warmer, less formal in tone?

Now let’s compare two email extracts.

“Not-so-short shorts. The wardrobe must-have to instantly add casual cool to your look this season. Choose from our range of versatile & stylish shorts to find your new transitional dressing hero.”

H&M marketing email

Here the tone is salesy, friendly and informal, for a young fashion brand. It features a CTA to browse shorts on the online shop. 

Now compare that to this email copy:

“We stand with refugees. Dear Lucy, You may be following recent developments regarding proposed changes to UK asylum policy. In particular, the plans would see asylum-seekers treated differently depending on how they arrive in the UK.”

UNHCR marketing email, the UN Refugee Agency

The tone of this copy “feels” more formal, and urgent, and serious, because it is. The refugee crisis in Europe and the UK is catastrophic and a shame for so many people. This email features a CTA to read a Q&A about UK asylum.

Brand guidelines

A tone of voice document is an integral part of any marketing brand guidelines and strategy. A copywriter should work with the brand manager to set clear guidelines for TOV on all touch points to ensure a company speaks to customers in the right way.

For everyone who doesn’t work in marketing, tone of voice is about being sensitive to the subject matter and knowing your audience.

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From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow.

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