March 7, 2017

Why Nailing A Brand’s Tone Is So Difficult


In branding and marketing, the tone of voice is what makes a company’s product or services sound human. Especially for consumer brands, it’s critical in capturing audiences and instilling a sense of familiarity and trust. Brand tone can be defined as a brand’s personality, as it’s expressed to its target audiences. Brand tone is the lens through which your brand views the world. Is your brand optimistic, adventure-seeking, critical, indulgent? The list can go on and on.

Brand tone of voice is always a challenge. In an ideal world, brand tone is developed to appeal to a company’s target audience, while also demonstrating the values of the brand itself. With the vast amount of touch points that consumers have with brands (from myriad social media platforms, web content, video content, traditional media and more), staying true to a brand tone is crucial in getting consumers to really understand who the brand is and what they stand for.

So, why is brand tone so hard to nail?

It can be extremely difficult to articulate aspirational brand attributes (or, characteristics people would like to see their brand reflect). Sitting down to list brand attributes induces writer’s block in almost everyone. Much of brand tone feels intangible, so it’s important to find pathways for arriving at these conclusions. One good way to do this is to use examples: Ask your client to think about brands they know, and pick a couple that they’d most like their brand tone to emulate.

To help our clients articulate what they’re looking for in brand tone, we often ask them to bring a mini-moodboard, or evocative image, something that captures what their brand is or what they want it to be. Then, during our vision session, we invite all these stakeholders to share what image they picked, and why. This nearly always leads to a robust discussion about the nature of a brand, and allows the Delucchi Plus branders, writers and marketers to tease out important brand attributes and articulate them in a way that is actionable for others who will touch the brand.

For most writers, tone is innate. Tone and voice are typically attributes that develop for a writer early on, and stepping outside our comfortable boundaries can be a difficult task. At Delucchi Plus, we have writers that skew skeptical and wry (cough, me), highly technical, friendly and upbeat and more — really running the gamut of natural writing styles. When we take on a new client, we think carefully about which of our content team members fit that client’s brand tone best.

Data is now at work in pairing writers with brands: Contently, a content marketing platform that started as a network for freelance writers, has developed algorithms to match brands with their network of more than 100,000 freelancers — all with the goal of making the process of matching writer with goal tone of voice more seamless.

One small note: In our experience, brand tone is also quite cultural. When you think of American advertising versus British advertising, for instance, you find that Americans appreciate nostalgia and pathos, while British folk tend to favor understatement and wit. If you have an international brand, it’s certainly worth exploring how your tone can adapt for different regions or countries. What works well in one region may fall completely flat in another!

Tone can be an evolving part of a brand — but once you’ve succeeded in articulating those core tone attributes and pairing them with a writer whose natural style fits the profile, you’re off to a solid start.