Watch your tone! Brand identity and the tone of voice matrix.

Some brands are recognizable just by their tone: from Nike’s inspirational “Just Do It” messaging to Old Spice’s humorous TV ads to Wendy’s cheeky Twitter feed. These brands have a tone of voice that is integral to their brand personality, sets them apart from their competitors, and has helped earn the trust of their audience.

Developing and maintaining a clear and consistent tone of voice is crucial for building brand identity. Agencies and marketing professionals often use a helpful tool called a “Tone of Voice Matrix,” to assign attributes and characteristics to define tone of voice. By using a matrix, you can identify the appropriate tone of voice for your brand and communicate messaging that aligns with it.

The Tone of Voice Matrix

Formal/traditional:

Brands that use sophisticated language may appeal to a mature or conservative audience. High-fashion, luxury brands, financial institutions and law firms often fall into this category.

Casual:

Casual brands use an informal or friendly tone of voice, often evoking humor or colloquialisms to connect with audiences. Brands that fall into this category include fast food chains, social media platforms and clothing retailers.

Playful: 

Some brands are creative and expressive, using bold language and pop culture references to create engaging messaging. Toy companies, gaming companies, candy and entertainment brands often fall into this category.

Modern: 

Modern brands are innovative and cutting-edge, using concise and technical language that may appeal to a younger, tech-savvy audience. Brands that fall into this category include technology companies, startups and design studios.

Apple is an example of a brand that has consistently maintained a clear and distinct tone of voice. If we use the matrix above to measure Apple’s tone of voice, the brand falls into the “modern” and “formal” categories. Apple’s tone of voice is focused on innovation and cutting-edge technology while remaining formal and precise. Apple’s tone of voice is strong and recognizable and resonates with customers worldwide.

You could create an entire list of qualities to measure a brand’s tone of voice against.

Here are some we see on a regular basis:

Empathetic:

This tone is caring, supportive and understanding. It’s ideal for healthcare, social services and other fields where empathy and compassion are important.

Authoritative: 

An authoritative tone of voice is knowledgeable, confident, and trustworthy: often used in finance, legal and other fields where expertise and authority are valued.

Conversational:

This tone is casual, friendly and approachable, making it ideal for social media, customer service and fields where building customer relationships is top priority.

Inspirational: 

An inspirational tone of voice is aspirational, motivational and optimistic. Marketing agencies, social causes and fields where growth, improvement and uplifting messaging is desired will often use this tone.

Educational: 

This tone is informative, instructional and helpful, making it ideal for education, training and fields where teaching and learning are important.

Humourous: 

Brands use humour when they want to be playful, funny, and irreverent, making it ideal for entertainment, advertising and other fields where humour and wit are effective tools for engaging audiences.

Measure tone on a sliding scale. 

Instead of listing attributes to describe your brand tone of voice, you might consider measuring your brand on a sliding scale between opposing qualities.

Where on the scale below does your brand fit?

Sliding scale to measure tone of voice.

When can tone of voice vary?

Once your brand has developed a clear tone of voice, you can begin to play with variations. Just as you might differ your tone around your manager and around your friends, brands have a myriad of reasons to adjust their tone of voice, too.

Brands may need to resonate with different audience segments, align messaging to various digital platforms, or convey a brand story on a new medium. Varying your brand tone isn’t about creating a totally different tone of voice, but about adjusting to connect to different audiences.

By skillfully adjusting tone of voice, brands can create meaningful connections and convey their message in a way that captivates a certain audience within a specific context or situation.

Can you use AI to generate tone of voice? 

AI-generated content has quickly solidified its place in the world of content creation, but it can’t replace the creativity, nuance, specificity and expertise of human-written content.

If you choose to use AI for content creation, we recommend using it as a tool to draft content in your brand voice. Try following these three steps:

  1. Train the AI with existing content: Help the AI to learn your style, tone and vocabulary by feeding it a large volume of your already-created content.
  2. Provide guidelines: Clearly outline your brand’s preferred vocabulary, qualities, grammatic preferences, and any brand-specific language or tone requirements to ensure the AI-generated content aligns with your brand’s voice.
  3. Review and refine: Carefully read through the content generated by the AI, ask the AI to refine its output, and then edit the generated content before publishing.

Find your brand tone of voice and identity. 

At Honest, we work closely with organizations going through big changes or cultural shifts to develop or refine their brand voice and brand identity.

Generating a brand voice is a key component to creating a strong brand identity that resonates with your audience and helps you stand out among a crowded marketplace.

If your company or organization is undergoing a change, let’s chat about how we can help you meet your goals and create a brand voice and identity that sets your brand apart.

Casey Challes