How to do marketing Writing Advice

Creating a distinctive tone of voice for your startup

The right tone of voice helps you tell a story. This matters. Marketing isn't about an individual service or a product feature; it's about your customer's story and where your company fits into that story. 

We've already covered how to sit downand actually write your tone of voice guidelines: research, templates, balance and more. But that alone won't guarantee something distinctive. This post is all about that extra edge; the je ne sais quois that will get people talking about Apple, Google and you.

Talk to your tribe

tone of voice: west side story gang gif

You need to figure out your buyer personas to create an effective tone of voice. You need to know both who you are as a company and who your tribe is. This goes beyond simple semantics. It means the energy and ideals you emulate through your tone, which people can identify with and feel at home with.

Simon Sinek talks at length in his 'Start with why' presentation about the need to understand why your company does what it does. Not how you do it, or what you do, but why. He discusses Apple as a perfect example of a company that started with 'why' when building out their tone and messaging. Why do they exist? To challenge the status quo. To 'think different'. People are Apple fans not because they love the computer, but because they find with a tribe of people who want to empower the individual.



Your tone of voice has to serve as proof of your why to resonate with your tribe. 'The most basic human desire on the planet is to feel like we belong,' argues Sinek, and when you find that community of people who believe what you believe, you feel trust. And trust is vital if you want people to not only buy, but believe in and promote the what that proves your brand's why.

Be consistent or look clueless

tone of voice: clueless gifThe thing about companies like Apple and Google is that even if they change how they make their money or alter what their product focus is, they are still Apple and Google. You still know who they are even if you don't know exactly what they do. That's because they make sure their copywriting is consistent with their brand.

Think of your brand identity as a person, advises Nigel Edginton-Vigus.

They each have their own conversational quirk, a personality, something that makes them different or unique. If you’re a brand, if you can actually identify and recognise what that quirk or what that affectation or what that point of difference really is that will naturally give you your tone of voice.

People (well trustworthy and likeable people at least) don't change their personality every five minutes, and neither should you. If you have a tone of voice that changes with every industry whim and fashion people will be wary that you're just in the market for a quick buck. Being consistent with your tone of voice means people can come to trust that they'll always get the same quality of customer service, value for money or whatever other benefit you offer. The last thing you want to appear is flakey and untrustworthy.

Don't do quirky for the sake of it

Tone of voice: lego gif with confused character

It's incredibly tempting to look at companies like Innocent or even Google, with their not the usual yada yada, and think being a bit fun and 'different' is the way to create a distinctive tone of voice. You couldn't be more wrong. Doing quirky for the sake of it will completely confuse your customers and audience. You can only be quirky if you're quirky through and through as a company. And even the companies you think of as quirky have to work very hard to get the tone of voice right; perhaps harder because of the risk of overshooting the mark and ending up with silly, trite or glib.

Say you sell a specialist banking app to financial services firms. You are experts in security and compliance and your actual product is top-notch. Then you start putting out blog posts and product descriptions that make jokes and take digs at all 'that crazy regulatory stuff!' Your customers will have no idea what you're talking about and you will undermine the very core of who you are as a company. Tone of voice has to aid understanding and communication, not hinder it.

Be influenced, but don't imitate tone of voice

tone of voice: man copying a cat

Don't be a copycat. Or for that matter copy cats. Sure that GIF's funny, but the guy also looks ridiculous. He is not a cat. Why is he meowing? Companies like Apple and Google are great for inspiring the idea of a tone of voice, but you shouldn't listen to them when it comes to what your voice actually sounds like.

If you are too heavily influenced by another company, even if you feel they are part of your tribe and they emulate the same ideals as you, your voice simply won't be distinctive. You need to keep digging to find what differentiates you. Where your heart is.

Of course, once you find it, then all you need to do is shout, whisper or sing as confidently as you can. Express yourself.

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(Hat tip to for the gifs. This post was originally published on 17 July 2014 and we updated it with new content and links.)