Call that a tonal value?

Quirky, creative, sophisticated, proud… how should you sound? We look at what makes a good tonal value.

Tonal values help to create a consistent way of talking to your audiences. So how do you know which ones are right for you?

Most organisations want to find a way of sounding that sets them apart from their competitors. Tonal values are the foundation for creating content that’s both distinctive and consistent.

But finding values that suit your organisation and – most importantly – that can be applied practically, involves more than just picking adjectives. Here are a few ideas for tonal values that can work – and tonal value pitfalls to avoid.

Don’t confuse tonal values with brand values

Brand values are what your organisation is. Your tone is how it sounds. Tonal values are an expression of your brand values, but they’re not quite the same thing. For example, your company may be pioneering – but what would pioneering sound like? Probably not like anything you’d want to read.

Think about your users

As with any element of content strategy, tone needs to put users first. You may see your organisation as particularly on-trend, but what do users want from your content? And what values will help provide that? Helpful, for example, might not be a very sexy value but it might be just what your users need to get them through your buying process.

Be true to what your organisation is

You may sell a quirky, creative product to a quirky, creative audience. If that’s the case, then these types of values could work very well for you. But they won’t work if you’re dealing in something that demands clarity and seriousness. Don’t use tone to make your business sound like something it isn’t. Work with what you are and what your customers expect and need.

Beware of abstracts

Some tonal values are particularly tricky to execute. Think of different and unique. Do your customers want or need you to be different? Are you really unique or do you just have some good USPs? Try to ground your tonal values in something real that you have to offer.

Defining your tonal values

Whichever values you choose, they need clear definition that all content creators can follow.

Without this, your tonal values are just a set of adjectives open to each writer’s individual interpretation. This could leave you open to the very inconsistency you’re trying to avoid.

Good definition includes dos and don’ts, so writers can see tonal values in action – and you can demonstrate that they work.

You can also consider things like lexicons of words to use and words to avoid, as well as instructions on when to emphasise particular tones. All of this will show the substance behind your tonal values and make them genuinely usable and effective.

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