It's all in the tone of voice and the turn of phrase
What is it about bathrooms and shower cubicles that temporarily transforms the vocally challenged among us into the next Mariah Carey or Beyonce?
We’ve all been there, belting out a song from the depths of our bellies, while scrubbing ourselves clean believing that we are hitting all the right notes. Only to finish showering, exit the room and then have someone ask if we have finished murdering the cat trapped in the bathroom.
Tone is a two-way street; you can think you are in tune only for someone else to point out that you are acutually off-key.
2020 has been a year full of brands getting called and caught out for being out of tune with their consumers and audiences. Nowhere has this been more evident than in matters relating to social justice. There has been an increase in public awareness of inequalities and disparities and significant calls for systemic change. Amid this, some companies have made statements, pledges and donations that have thrust them into the limelight.
However, many people have critiqued these same organisations, asserting that brands are doing this to retain and exploit their customers who are becoming more politically aware/ motivated in a desperate attempt at relevancy. One of the reasons that this criticism has been levelled at these organisations revolves around the issue of tone.
Organisations and brands have ditched their usual tones and replaced them with corporate, sanitised, professional pledges. These pledges when read favourably are often empty of personality and integrity, and at their worst, they read as board reports rather than anything that belongs on a social media timeline.
Brand tone — what is it?
In last week’s post we wrote about brand voice being like a signature perfume, it creates a particular mental picture or association for your audience. Tone is like the accent of both the perfume and your brand voice. Often people say that it isn't so much what you say but how you say it. Tone allows your brand voice to maintain its uniqueness while adjusting and accounting for the situational context of your message.
It takes at least two people for a tone to be present because it is a vehicle, tone relies on and utilises the feeling and action of anticipating how your audience will receive your message and creates the best conditions for this. Think of it as an accompaniment if you will, like ketchup with chips (or fries for our US friends) or a bassline line with a guitar lick it enhances the flavour of your message.
A brand that is aware of its tone and voice is Ben and Jerry’s. They describe themselves as a 'values-led company' stating that their board is committed to preserving and expanding their 'social mission, brand integrity and product quality'. They have put effort
and work into crafting a unique brand voice which is just as concerned about ice cream as it is about social and environmental justice. The way that they communicate their passion and commitment to these causes is authentic and believable. Their brand tone is informal, easy-going and inviting, they discuss issues which have the potential to be polarising in a way that encourages their customers to come alongside them.
3 reasons why tone is important
The variation of tone is what helps you remain relevant to your audience without it seeming forced or insincere. It also shows that as a brand you are dynamic and responsive, that your brand voice and identity is a communal one.
All communication is about mutual understanding and exchange, whether you are writing product copy, engaging with customers on social media or campaigning for a cause. Your brand messaging should not be solely announcements, you need to have a balance of information, dialogue and feedback. The tone that you use should communicate to your audience that they are part of the brand too, that their opinions and actions are valid beyond keeping your company accounts in the black.
Emotions matter, not only for socially-oriented organisations like charities and not-for-profits but for everyone. Your audience are human beings with emotions, they feel happy, they feel boredom, irritation, excitement and while your brand is not human — it can have a personality. The use of different tones can show off this personality and will help create and sustain brand voice and integrity. The right tone can make you more relatable or even more memorable.
I hope these tips have helped you identify whether you are a one-note wonder or a master of the scale. Subscribe to the blog if you would like to read more insights.