6 tone of voice mistakes and how to avoid them

The path to a strong, consistent tone of voice isn’t always smooth. Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid when developing and rolling out your new tone of voice…

The power of a strong, consistent tone of voice can’t be underestimated when it comes to setting your brand apart from the competition. But developing and rolling out a tone of voice needs careful handling. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Putting your concepts before your audience
    You really like Apple’s tone of voice and you’d like your brand to sound just like them. The only problem is, your main audience is insurance intermediaries – and you’re having trouble shoehorning your material into the TOV ideas you’ve had so far.

    A better approach: Tone of voice offers the chance to be really creative. But a voice that doesn’t communicate with its audience or work in harmony with the messages it needs to convey, can’t be expected to succeed. Work with your material and audiences, not against them. It might be more challenging – but you’ll get better results.

  • Not letting people have their say
    It may seem quicker and simpler just to get a few highly-involved stakeholders and creatives together to brainstorm your tone of voice. But excluding interested parties from around your organisation may mean you miss out on insights and remain unaware of problems until the last minute.

    A better approach: Canvass opinion widely at the very beginning of the process. This can be done by sending out questionnaires or setting up an online survey. You’re sure to get some very interesting insights into how your comms should sound.

  • Keeping compliance and legal out of the loop
    It’s extremely tempting not to let compliance and legal have any input into your lovely new tone of voice. After all, you don’t want it strangled at birth by jargon. But not having any early input from these key stakeholders, especially in highly regulated sectors, can give you unrealistic expectations about how much your TOV can achieve. And it can make sign-off extremely slow.

    A better approach: Give compliance an idea of what you’re doing right from the beginning. Get them to flag up areas where there are likely to be major issues, so you can start thinking about how to deal with them. You might even find these stakeholders can be quite helpful…

  • Sticking to the big ideas
    You’ve surveyed and brainstormed and now you’ve developed a set of imaginative, expressive tonal values. You’ve defined them in a document that you’ve sent to everyone. Job done. So why aren’t your content creators getting your new tone?

    A better approach: Tone of voice needs to be practical as well as creative. Tonal values are just the starting point – you need to develop strong examples showing people exactly how the tone should be applied. And the don’ts are just as important as the dos.

  • Letting everyone comment on TOV during sign-off
    Getting lots of people involved in the very early stages of tone of voice development is great. But as the process gets further down the line, the number of people involved needs to diminish. And when it comes to sign-off, letting everyone give their opinion really is a case of ‘too many cooks’.

    A better approach: Once your TOV is nailed down, make it clear who owns it. During sign-off, they’ll be the ones responsible for making sure it’s implemented. Everyone else involved in sign-off should stick strictly to their areas – whether that’s product or compliance.

  • Not dialling your tone up and down
    It’s a principle of a good tone of voice that you use it everywhere, from your home page to your customer service emails and your form and button text. But how exactly does that work?

    A better approach: A good tone of voice gets everywhere – just not in quite the same way. You’ll need to stress some tonal values and not others, depending on whether you’re writing marketing and promotional copy or creating instructional copy. A strong tone should never get in the way of clarity and usability.

Share this article

Sticky Staff Spotlight: Nick Bain

Sticky Staff Spotlight: Nick Bain

Read more
Teenage girl looking up the ingredients to a content cookbook in the kitchen

The content cookbook: Getting long-term value out of your content

Read more

Sticky Staff Spotlight: Jamie Wood

Read more