Does ‘Tone of Voice’ Matter? We think so.


retro singer 28337745_mHere at Content Coms, we think ‘tone of voice’ can be a much-overlooked component of the comms process.  Our guest blogger, writer Joe Cox offers up his top 5 pointers to help B2B businesses get it right.

In the competitive world of B2B marketing and sales it’s not just first impressions that count but second, third and fourth. In fact, every point of contact between you and your customers, both potential and existing, leaves an impression.

Establishing and maintaining a consistent tone of voice across an entire organisation can sound like a complicated process. After all, your company is a collection of individuals and departments, each with their own distinct personalities and ways of doing things. That’s true for the most part, but it overlooks the fact that your company as a whole can have its own personality too.

#1 Defining your Company Values

Creating a personality around your company should always start with defining its values. Besides turning a profit, every company should have a driving force; a raison d’etre if you like. This will naturally be easier to define and articulate for some companies than for others.

Think about what your company actually does and try to pin this down to a simple concept. This could be:

  • Solving a problem
  • Contributing something positive to society
  • Doing something that’s been done before differently or better

Once you have defined what it is your company is all about, the next step is to start mapping out a way of expressing that and creating a personality. This is the first step towards building a brand identity and establishing a tone of voice.

#2 Humanising your Brand

From your website landing page to that first email, the follow up call and first face to face meeting; how your company comes across is everything.

In 2013, Google and the CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council partnered with marketing research firm Motista to conduct a survey of 3,000 purchasers of 36 B2B brands across multiple industry sectors.

The study sought to understand how these company decision makers responded to emotional appeals in B2B marketing and communications, as opposed to more rational data driven approaches. The results were certainly revealing.

  • Using Motista’s B2C research data as a baseline, B2B brands drove more emotional connections and were on average significantly more connected to their vendors and customers than B2C brands.
  • B2B purchasers were 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they saw personal value in their business decision, such as career advancement or pride in their choice.
  • B2B purchasers were 8 times more likely to pay a premium for a comparable service when personal value was present.

What this research shows is that actively building a B2B brand is about far more than showing off your technical expertise and track record. While this is important, people like the idea that they are doing business with other people. Coming across as a group of human beings, with shared values and a sense of humour, can actually give your company a competitive edge and help to build trust and confidence.

#3 Shifting Tones of Voice

Before we look at how to implement guidance on tone of voice I want to look at how tone of voice can, and should, shift in different scenarios.

Whilst it’s important to define a universal personality around your brand, tone of voice will invariably need to shift depending on who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.

  • Formal vs informal language

Professionalism is always important but that’s not to say it precludes the use of informal language. Striking the right balance is all about context and understanding your audience. Creating an approachable and friendly brand image may demand a more informal tone of voice but that doesn’t mean abandoning technical and formal language when the need arises.

  • Technical language

Using technical language to someone non-technical can not only be off-putting but also put their back up by making them feel they don’t quite ‘get it’ in the way you do.

  • Humour

Many people will tell you to avoid humour as a rule as it implies a lack of professionalism. On the contrary, when used at the right time, it can show a human side to your company that can quickly break down walls and put people at ease.

#4 Implementing Guidance

When implementing a set of guidelines for tone of voice, it’s important to strike a balance between clarity and flexibility. If you are too prescriptive then you risk stripping away any sense of individuality from your company’s marketing and coms, making it feel predictable, regimented and ill-equipped to react to context.

Too little clarity, however, can lead to a sense of ambiguity and confusion.

#5 Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Platform

The platform to which any specific guidelines apply is of paramount importance. Your Tweets and Facebook commentary will inevitably be more informal in tone than your company brochure or display advertising for example.

  • Sales Funnel

Understanding where your audience is in the sales funnel is everything. Marketing at the top of the sales funnel may well have a more human approach, using emotional appeals as well as technical ones. Further down the sales funnel, the more professionalised your tone of voice should become, as you seek to stress aptitude and technical competence converting prospects into sales.

  • Emails

Day to day emails to suppliers or established customers may require a very different approach than those sent to potential customers. Stressing the importance of audience is essential here as is the need to apply a degree of common sense.

Final thoughts

For some, establishing a company-wide strategy around tone of voice may seem like an over fixation on image, but the way you project your company is crucial. Getting this wrong could be the difference between attracting new business leads and putting people off.