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Tone of Voice Documents — What Are They and Why Should Every Brand Have One?

Most business owners will tell you that branding is something they’ve chosen to invest in. We spend hours choosing the perfect colours, fonts, and images that tell our potential clients who we are and what we do.

But what about your words? I’m willing to bet that the majority of small businesses don’t have a tone of voice document. Amiright? Selecting which words go where is an art form as much as it is a science. It’s not as easy as it looks and is why top copywriters charge the big bucks.

The power of good copy can’t be understated, and all that starts with tone of voice guidelines. If you’re reading this thinking how the heck am I supposed to know what my tone of voice is, we’ve slung together the next thousand-ish words to give you a helping hand. Here’s everything you need to know about tone of voice documents — what they are, what they should include, and why every brand should have one.

What Makes a Great Tone of Voice?

A well-thought-out tone of voice can forge connections and make you stick in the minds of your audience. If your tone of voice ticks the following three boxes, chances are you’re on the right track.

Consistency

Once you have your tone nailed down, make sure it features in all your comms. The goal is for you (and your team/freelancers you collab with) to be super clear on your brand’s voice and to use it every time you speak to your target audience.

There can be a little wiggle room while still maintaining a consistent voice — imagine your TOV on a sliding scale that you can adjust to ensure it’s fit for purpose. You might choose to tone down or ramp up individual elements depending on the content — less humour in how-to blogs, more more vulnerability in newsletters, for example.

Woman working on a laptop

Authenticity

Opting for a tone of voice that doesn’t feel right to you is like trying to maintain an accent that isn’t yours every time you speak. Imagine how exhausting that would be. Whenever we work with clients on their tone of voice documents, we start with them. It doesn’t have to be ‘full you’ (more of that in a second), but your tone of voice guide shouldn’t feel like notes on how to play a character. 

Cohesiveness

Your business’s voice should speak the same language as the rest of your branding. If your visual branding could be described as bright, bold, and brave, a tone of voice that is formal and meek will feel jarring and confuse your clients. 

Your voice should also fit with your products and/or services, and the folks you’re hoping will buy/use them. If you run a waxing studio for example, establishing your expertise and creating a sense of trust will be key for making potential clients feel comfortable. Copy littered with puns and F-bombs might not work well here, even if that’s who you are as a person (no shade, that’s who I am as a person too).

Our Fave Tone of Voice Examples

Tone of voice is one of those things that most consumers don’t even realise they’re noticing. But done well, a brand’s voice’ll make its intended audience sit up and listen. Here are a few of our most-loved tone of voice examples:

Oatly

This brand features on pretty much every list of great TOV examples, but as an oat milk aficionados and lovers of words, these guys spark joy in us. Their irreverent, sarcastic, casual approach makes them memorable, but for us, it’s their bravery that makes them our fave TOV.

An advert by Oatly that says 'It's like milk but made for humans'

RyanAir

Whether you love or hate this low-cost airline, you’ve got to give their marketing team props for the tone of voice we’ve been seeing from them in the past year or two. This is an excellent example of a brand owning its identity. They know folks flying with them are furious about the tiny bag allowances and the annoying AF tune they play when they manage to land on time, and they tap inot this with their conversational, witty, and massively cheeky comms. They happen to be the only airline I follow on TikTok (along with 2.2 million others), so what they’re doing certainly seems to be working.

A screenshot of a TkTok by RyanAir with a person on a plane wearing a huge backpack and the caption 'when people say they'll fit it under their seat'

Monzo

Neobanks have seen a massive leap in popularity over the past few years with their easy-to-use app-based platforms and perks like no overseas fees. Monzo is a leader of the pack — and that didn’t happen by accident. Their branding is open, inclusive, and positive, and their TOV is as energetic as the fluoro orange card they’re famous for. See Monzo’s full guidelines here for a brill example of how to define a market-leading tone of voice.

The front page of Monzo's tone of voice document

How Can You Use a Tone of Voice Document?

The quick answer is LOADS OF WAYS. The following are some of the many reasons we think every business needs a handy guide to how it communicates:

You Can Use Teach ChatGPT How to Speak Like You

AI is a handy tool for writing blog posts and social media captions, and platforms like ChatGPT can save you heaps of time and money when creating your marketing materials. However, it’s not quite as foolproof as you may think. AI-produced words often sound as robotic as the machine that wrote them, and that’s going to make it mighty challenging for your audience to connect with your brand (because who wants to work with a robot!?).

That’s where your TOV guidelines come in. If you have a solid understanding of your brand’s tone of voice, you can use that info to train ChatGPT to write copy in your (non-robotic) voice. We’ll be doing an in-depth post on how to make AI write like a real person soon.

A white toy robot on a blue and purple gradient background

It Makes Working with Freelancers Easier

Think about it this way — you wouldn’t hire a graphic designer without sharing your business’s style guide, wouldya? You can apply the same logic to sending your tone of voice guidelines to the admin assistants, blog post writers, and social media managers that you work with.

Sharing your TOV document will ensure that everyone speaking on your behalf knows how to speak on your behalf. This’ll help you with that all-important consistency we mentioned earlier.

How to Create a Tone of Voice Document

Like visual brand guidelines, your tone of voice guidelines can go as granular as you’d like. Big brands with massive teams might find it useful to drill down into every last detail of how they use their voice. Girlguiding, for example, has gone all in on their tone of voice document with a whopping 60 pages covering every last detail about how they speak to their target audience.

However, if you’re a solopreneur or a small business, you really don’t need to go into that much detail. A one-page PDF is a much better approach — not only is this stripped-back version quicker and easier to make, it’s also quicker and easier to digest which means the folks you share it with will be more likely to adhere to it. Here’s what you should include on your one-page tone of voice document:

Brand Personality

Start by picking your brand words. These are the words that best sum up your business’s core values and they’ll help guide your overall branding (not just your tone of voice). If you’re already set up, a good way of doing this could be to ask your customers what words they’d use to describe your biz. If you don’t fancy doing this, we’ve compiled a list of words for you to choose from, instead.  

A woman writing in a notepad in front of a Macbook

Characteristics

To figure out your brand’s language characteristics, you need to choose its dimension:

  • Humour (funny or serious) 
  • Formality (formal or casual)
  • Respectfulness (respect or irreverence) 
  • Enthusiasm (enthusiastic or matter-of-fact) 

Rather than picking one or the other from the above options, you should look at these as spectrums. Your brand will sit somewhere along the spectrum for these four dimensions, and that’s how your unique TOV starts to take shape.

Language

Language is the backbone of connection, so you’ve gotta ensure that you’re using words and phrases that resonate with your target audience. For example, will you use conversational, everyday language or will your comms be more complex and elaborate? Will you be direct and authoritative in your messaging, or will you aim to evoke a sense of dreaminess? 

Syntax and Grammar

Contrary to what we were taught at school, grammar can be played with and the way it’s used says a lot about a brand’s energy. Will your voice be active or passive? Will your sentence structures be short and punchy or long and flowy? Will you follow grammatical rules to a tee or will you be more playful? Choices choices!

A yellow paperback book with the title 'English Grammar'

Want Your Tone of Voice Guidelines PDF Done for You?

Still not sure how to create a tone of voice document? Fret not! There’s a Good Egg to help you with that!

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be launching our new tone of voice service where we define your voice for you. You’ll receive a handy tone of voice guidelines PDF that you can refer back to F O R E V E R.

Sign up for our bi-weekly Highly Emotional Business Owner newsletter to be the first to get your Good Egg tone of voice document (subscribers will receive a discount for this service as a thank you for joining our Good Egg community).