Getting your website tone of voice guide spot on is as vital to your brand as your logo. It's the verbal expression of your brand's identity. But the best website tone of voice guides can be far more. They can be a motivational tool for everyone in a company.
As a copywriter, I get to see lots of website tone of voice guides. The one that I'm going to share with you, though, I really rate. It's for a brand in the financial sector whose target audience is the under-30s. Their buyer persona wants financial information about uncomfortable issues such as credit scores in an accessible and understandable way. That's quite a challenge, but they really succeed at it.
A Website Tone of Voice Guide Is Empowering
Why does this brand succeed in communicating its message so well? Because every piece of online content follows their website tone of voice guide. It underpins every word that's written. That's important for consistency of voice. It builds trust with customers.
A well thought out website tone of voice guide is worth sharing with all company employees. It's basically an informal company mission statement. The best website tone of voice guides help staff make sense of and relate to their brand's ethos and values. Done well they can be an excellent incentive tool, as well as a writing bible.
How to Write a Website Tone of Voice Guide
To create an effective website tone of voice guide, begin by brainstorming your company's values. Write down the adjectives that encapsulate your brand's personality. Be honest and authentic about this. A good marketing copywriter can work with you to help you put the colour and flesh on your rough draft. The result – a functional website tone of voice guide – can then be used by everyone who contributes content to your site.
A website tone of voice guide doesn't have to be a long tome, just a one or two-page document. It should start by simply expressing your brand values. Followed by how these get expressed by your writing style.
A Website Tone of Voice Guide to Emulate
So here follows one of the best website tone of voice guides that I've seen for finance brand xxxxx.
What Is Our Website Tone of Voice Guide?
It's how we ‘speak’? It's the rules or guides that help define the way we write copy, and the way we present information.
We’d like our tone of voice to match our core brand values: energetic, down-to-earth, optimistic and positive. Here’s what we mean…
Website Tone of Voice Guide: Brand Value 1 – We're Energetic
We use active words and describe interesting ideas, with a tempo to what we say. We try to add life and energy, and use words in a modern way. But never in a way that makes it sound like we’re trying too hard, or trying to sound like your ‘cool mate in the pub’.
People prefer active sentences, when they speak, listen or read. They're easy to listen to and understand. Active language clearly identifies the action and who’s doing what. That’s the person we’re speaking to, so we’re better able to describe how our products and services can help them. Then we add energy to this. What we’re doing is [brand values] interesting, useful, helpful. So we should talk about it with a passion and an interest. Our energy should come through in what we say and how we say it.
What we’re not is [brand values again] passive, bland or unnecessarily complicated. A lot of financial copy is in the passive voice. It gives documents a wordy, bureaucratic tone. The simplest way to remember this active/ passive approach is make people – our customers, or even us, the subject (they’re the important bit after all). Here’s an example…
Passive (not the way we speak) “Additional information (the ‘subject’) can be obtained (the ‘action’) from our website”. Yawn.
Active (the way we should have said the same thing) “You (the ‘subject’) can get (the ‘action’) a whole lot more information (the ‘object’) here” (‘link’ – we’re a digital brand after all). Perfect.
One other way to make sure (note: not ‘ensure’) we sound active and energetic is to keep sentences shorter. It makes the copy crisper, sharper. It also forces us to make a point. Ideally stick to one point or idea per sentence. It’s better that way.
Website Tone of Voice Guide: Brand Value 2 – We’re Down to Earth
So write as if you're speaking. Don’t search for impressive sounding words. The ones we use every day are by far the best to use.
We should still follow the best practices of grammar, like good use of punctuation. But contractions are fine. ‘We’re’, ‘you’re’ and ‘it’s’ help us feel natural, down to earth and conversational. And we can start sentences with ‘and’, just like this one.
Exclamation marks don't help much. Question marks do though – proving that we try to answer questions to present answers. Too many rhetorical questions though just makes us look like we’re trying to be superior. And that’s not helpful at all.
The best way to test your content out is to read what you’ve written, out loud. If you find you’re running out of breath, see where you’d naturally pause and add a comma. Or use full stops to create more than one sentence. And if you spot a word you’ve written that’s not easy to say naturally – change it.
Website Tone of Voice Guide: Brand Value 3 – We’re Optimistic
This is the big one. It’s important that we present ourselves in positive and optimistic ways. Why? Well for a couple of reasons…
Firstly, explaining anything to do with a person’s financial situation can be tricky. Nobody wants to learn their credit score is bad. The world compounds this by putting negative scores in red, with giant arrows pointing to ‘bad’, or ‘could do better’. Like it’s all bad news. And here’s the thing, it’s not bad news, it’s simply the facts as they stand today. And we’re there to help our customers. That’s why we’re positive and optimistic. We point to ways that can help, ways that people can help themselves. It’s at the heart of what we do, and who we are. We want to make things better.
We mentioned above that there are a couple of reasons why being optimistic is important. That’s because it’s fundamental to who we are, and what we believe. And it’s the reason we’ve left this point to the end – to give it that bit more emphasis.
We want our tone to be optimistic, and positive – because that is truly what we believe we’re doing. It's why our brand exists in the first place. Because we can make a positive difference to our customer’s lives, and in the finance sector as a whole. We don’t do this in a preachy or ‘higher purpose’ way, but in an honest, down to earth and helpful way.
Website Tone of Voice Guide: Brand Value 4 – We're Positive
Positive is our watch word. Our brand, and our tone is our fuel to make our brand succeed.
Our energy, positivity and enthusiasm keep us focused on making our vision a reality. And committed to the future success of our brand, and the benefits it brings. For everyone. Forever.
Website Tone of Voice Guide Checklist
- We always spell-check our writing and get someone to read it too. Mistakes say detail doesn’t matter to us.
- We make things simple, easy to understand.
- Our tone should be active, down to earth and optimistic.
- We speak with a warm, approachable tone of voice.
- We're efficient with language. So we prefer shorter, crisper sentences.
- We aim for no more than 20 words in each sentence.
- We have one idea in each sentence, so messages are easily delivered.
- We keep punctuation simple and straightforward.
- We prefer natural, everyday words.
- We describe the benefit of what we do.
- We talk about what we can do together, not what's expected of you.
- We believe in being effective, explaining how we help, open about who gets what.
- We take the time to avoid lazy writing and sector clichés.
- Everything we say adds up. We make sense. [ends]
They do, make sense that is. And so does their website tone of voice guide.
If you'd like help with creating a website tone of voice guide for your company, you can contact me here.