But at Radix, we think “tone of voice” is a bit of a misleading concept. Because voice and tone are actually two separate (but related) concepts.
After all, your brand’s voice might be approachable, friendly or even fun. But it’s unlikely you’ll be cracking jokes in a legal contract. Nor would you pop a zinger in a letter of apology. (I mean, you could, but the outcome might not be fantastic.)
A clear personality is important. But brands that stick too rigidly to one “tone of voice” for all their content run the risk of sounding insensitive, monotone, or oblivious to the reader’s needs at key moments.
We went into more detail in our B2B Content Tuesdays webinar series – sharing how voice and tone relate to each other, with some tips to help you find an appropriate voice for your own B2B content. Here are some of the highlights – and you’ll find a video of the full discussion at the bottom of this post.
So, what is the difference between voice and tone?
There’s a clear way to define the two:
Your voice is how you express your brand’s personality to the world. Not necessarily information about your company history, but how you want to make customers feel about you. You voice is your character; it doesn’t change.
Your tone is how you talk to your reader once you’ve taken account of their situation, their state of mind and the intent of the content – so it’s going to change depending on the context.
Think about it like this: when you go to the pub, you’ll chat to your friends a certain way. And when you’re in a meeting with your boss the next morning, you’ll likely adopt a more professional manner – but you’re not going to develop a new regional accent. You are still you; your voice hasn’t changed. Only your tone has.
Three tips for finding your B2B voice
1. Get specific about your character
“We want to sound human.”
When we run our voice and tone messaging workshop, this phrase comes up a lot. But with nearly eight billion people in the world, it’s annoyingly vague.
So, think about the specific character your brand would play a story – and in this case, the story of your customer. Are you the loyal companion or the cheerleader? Are you the warrior fighting alongside them on the battlefield? Or maybe you’re the know-it-all – the unashamedly clever one your customers can’t live without.
2. Lean on your thesaurus
“We want to sound professional, but friendly – an approachable expert.”
This is another one we hear all the time. But what does “approachable expert” even mean? Arguably, Sir David Attenborough and Gok Wan both fall under that umbrella, but there’s a world of difference between how they sound.
This requires you to be specific in a different way. Think about what kind of professional you want to be: skilled, competent, experienced, methodical or something else. And there’s a multitude of ways to be friendly – are you chummy, neighbourly, cordial or helpful?
3. Opposites don’t attract; they confuse
“We want to sound reliable, but exciting.”
Values like these sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, which means it’s hard for your brand to convincingly evoke both emotions at once. You need to prioritise one over the other.
Drilling into what you think about your brand is critical. That’s why we’ve put together a prototype “voice wheel” to help…
The Radix voice wheel
The voice wheel is a visual aid we’ve developed to provoke discussion in workshops and help marketers to make clearer choices about brand voice.
It works similarly to a colour wheel. Each word is subtly different from its neighbour – and it’s hard to embody two words that sit opposite each other.
The wheel can broadly be divided into four quadrants. The top-left reflects how you behave, the top-right suggests new ideas, the bottom-left is related to your trust and track record, while the bottom-right is knowledge-based strengths.
It should help you make some of the harder choices, and focus on what you want your brand’s voice to be (and, just as importantly, not to be). It works best when you use it as a team.
Here are a couple of exercises to try:
- Quickly circle three or four words that reflect how people might feel about your company. Then, compare results. Look for ones you agree on, ones where your views oppose, or any particular groupings that highlight a certain theme.
- Where there are some areas you’re not sure about, pick two word-pairs, and decide which quadrant your brand comes under. For example, if you highlight “methodical” and “inspirational”, as well as “informative” and “hands-on”, use those as X and Y axes, and ask where each person in the discussion would place you, and why.
(If you’d like a copy of the voice wheel prototype, feel free to get in touch.)