A corporate identity does not only focus on ensuring a uniform company design and company culture. It also includes a homogenous language image for a brand – the so-called tone of voice. This can contribute to the rudimentary and long-term profiling of a brand.
Why a company needs a tone of voice
The tone of voice describes how the external and internal company language should sound. The basic choice of words, the style, the way the customer is spoken too, to name just a few. This uniform language is important, as it creates trust and mirrors how a company handles its customers.
The choice of words can shape the image of a company in a major way. Should it be serious or rather casual, very confident or reserved after all? Does it want to convey an intellectual touch or appear very down to earth? Such a clearly defined tone of voice also gives employees the peace of mind that they can communicate the brand’s voice across all channels and touchpoints in a uniform language – basically, setting the right tone.
Of course, this intention cannot always be implemented smoothly. For instance, it is different if a text is speaking to a company’s own employees, posted on Facebook or sent via email to the management of a potential customer. Small discrepancies are allowed and necessary. Communicating across all channels in a uniform way as much as possible, while communicating the brand’s personality at the same time, requires a lot of tact and intuition. But all the effort is worthwhile, because this allows content to be created which makes the company unmistakable and memorable.
Defining a tone of voice: how to get started
The idea of how the tone of voice should be defined largely depends on the target group structure and the company’s offerings. A solicitor is advised to have a different tone of voice than, for instance, a B2B service provider from the Catering field. Based on this, companies should ask themselves the following questions:
- Which topics should be focused on and which should be purposely avoided?
- Which content formats and channels should communicate the content?
- With which tone of voice should the content be created?
For potential topics, the question arises if only industry-specific content should be generated or if other areas should also be touched on. In this way, many companies can position themselves as especially sustainable, while political topics are often a no-go.
The selection of the format heavily depends on the product or service being sold. For instance, white papers or explanatory videos are suitable for particularly complex content, whereas opinionated blog posts can generally fine-tune the company profile. When it comes to the selection of the channels, it’s essential that the target group is reached.
All in all, companies should anchor their desired style and tone of voice in a comprehensive style book. How are customers spoken to? How complex can text be, and which length should it have? Is it desired to have serious content formulated in a professional way or may it also be surprising, humorous or even provocative?
Important in this thought process is always that style and content match up with the brand. Then the tone of voice can contribute to making the brand stand out from the mass of text and make it unmistakable.
Tone of voice and the use of chatbots
In the opinion of many experts, B2B marketing will profit from the opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI) in future, similar to the B2C segment today. Products and services can be automated thanks to this technology, and yet communicate individually with customers. At the moment, though, companies often rely on standardised chatbots which do not consider the brand identity and personality of the company.
AI solutions which pick up on the tone of voice and actively integrate it into the dialogue with the customer are still an exception to the rule today. Not only the choice of words and tone of voice, but also the voice of the voice assistants themselves can have a decisive influence on brand awareness. Companies are therefore encouraged to not only automate customer communication in a professionally correct way, but also to put the focus in this area on brand awareness.
Best practice: DHL
The parcel service provider DHL set the goal of making the company identifiable solely based on its communication – regardless of the topics and whether speaking to start-ups, multinational companies or end consumers. To achieve this, a tone of voice was developed which clearly distances itself from the dry, technical descriptions of individual steps within the supply chain, something you would perhaps expect from a parcel service provider.
At DHL, the focus should be on the emotions that are triggered by the service amongst customers. Formal words and senseless specialist terms are to be avoided; the writing style should be close to the spoken word. CEOs are addressed in the same tone of voice as private customers, as the communication in both cases takes place person to person.
On top of this, the tone of voice specifies that DHL writes in the first, not in the third, person (“we are” instead of “DHL is”). In terms of topics, the areas Sustainability and Innovation should be picked up based on examples from the logistics field, as they are important components of DHL’s brand personality.