During content marketing consultations, I often find people don’t know the difference between tone and voice. Both can help in shaping and molding your brand persona. Both are important to your brand’s messaging.
However, they are not interchangeable and should be used according to their definitions.
If voice were Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie, in Sex in the City, her voice might be Jimmy Choos and a pink tutu. Voice is your style, your point of view, your personality.
Common brand voice problems:
- No voice; staunch, corporate, or robotic
- Copying the voice of other brands; not authentic
- Spelling & Grammar errors (looks/sounds uneducated)
- Inconsistencies in voice across platforms
- Too much jargon; hard to understand
- Skews too negative
I use acronyms a lot, like CMGR (community manager), SMM (social media marketing), and SEO (search engine optimization). These are a part of my brand’s vernacular and voice. However, I usually accompany any acronyms with the word so newcomers or newbies in the social scene aren’t scared away by a bunch of capitalized letters making no sense.
These are things you have think about when creating your brand’s voice.
Other things to think about:
- Are you more formal or casual?
- Do you use slang?
- Do you use emoticons?
- Do you have your own words (some of ours: fave (favorite), peeps (people), awesome sauce (really cool))?
- How do you use punctuation? Casually or more formally?
- How do you use humor?
Voice is everything that encompasses your brand’s personality (and if you’re the owner of the company, probably yours as well).
We help our clients create their brand voice when working to define their brand persona. A well-defined voice is crucial to connecting with your online communities through your content marketing efforts, and should be one of the first exercises your social media or online marketing consultant works on with you.
Pro Tip: If your brand uses a lot of jargon or has many “made up” words or words specific to the brand, consider creating a Manual of Style so everyone who works for the company can get in line with the terminology and mimic brand messaging on their own.
Going with the Sarah Jessica Parker example above, if her voice is her personality and style (eclectic; pairing Jimmy Choos with a pink tutu), her tone would be witty and sarcastic (her attitude).
Tone is specific to your messaging (and therefore is a part of voice). Where your voice more than likely sits in the same spot — and is who you/your brand inherently are/is — your tone can change vastly depending on the type of message you’re trying to convey.
Think of tone like this: If your voice is funny/humorous, is your tone:
- Funny ha-ha?
- Mean funny?
- Dark humor?
Pro Tip: If you feel that your tone is coming across terse or sarcastic, try using different punctuation or an emoticon to lighten the mood.
What’s interesting is that even your punctuation can dictate your tone – even if you don’t plan it that way.
A recent article, The Period Is Pissed: When Did Our Plainest Punctuation Mark Become So Aggressive?, underscores what I’ve been thinking for a while now, that at times the period can seem really pissy, rather than neutral.
Think of it in terms of saying thank you:
Thank you, Brooke!
Thank you, Brooke.
Which statement seems genuinely thankful? And which one seems a little underwhelmed – almost as if they’re tasked with thanking you?
And it’s not just the period that can mark mood and tone. (Read the linked article above for a closer look at the linguistics behind punctuation today)
Other Points To Ponder
- Diction, or word choice, is vital to voice and tone
- Style – though similar to voice and tone, is more about the way you write
So while voice (personality) and tone (attitude) go hand-in-hand and can work quite well together, they are not interchangeable.
I’m curious, how do you define tone and voice for your brand? Let me know in the comment section below!
See you in the social sphere!
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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media management & advertising agency. She's also the Co-host of The Marketing Companion podcast with Mark Schaefer, where they discuss jaw-dropping marketing trends. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout!
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