Finding the Right Tone

Tone is like the latest must-have consumer accessory. Everyone talks about it; everyone wants it – and everyone else already seems to have it. You will have noticed that praise for the tone of your global competitor has reached new heights with an industry award; there is their MD smiling out at you from the trade press, directly quoted in attributing higher sales to its implementation.

However, beyond a strong sense of need, not everyone is exactly sure of what it is that they covet so much. Or – once they identify it – how they are going to apply it.

Tone? I’ll Have Two Please…

Tone articulates the face you turn to the world. It’s the expression of who you are as an organisation and how you talk to your customers – existing and potential. It’s the thread that drives communication throughout your organisation.

There was a time when was most companies were two-faced. Not in a duplicitous sense… simply they had one way of speaking to the wider world and another of speaking to their staff. Often logic was stood on its head and the staff received the stiff formalities while customers were made to feel one of the family.

Best Keep Practicing

Establishing tone still requires a process of distinguishing from the internal; even if it is only to produce a best practice to aim for. Even if your existing tone stumbled into being it offers something to build on, or to offer up as a contrast pointing you in the right direction. An ideal view would see the same tone fully taken to heart and flowing through all the veins of an organisation – both explicit and internal.

A seamless approach is more convincing. It is a less troublesome option in the long-term. Switching between the applications of two distinctive tones – with the different emphases, content and context involved – is potentially fraught with problems. Ignore anyone who claims it is easy.

Aligning all communication may feel like an unnatural process; if you over analyse it can feel forced. Participants become awkward, losing the essence and spontaneity that distinguishes the very best expression. It is why you need to be true to who you are as a company. Be honest about your position in your sector. Like social affectation you will soon be found out for any airs and graces.

Get Toned Up

Tone of voice has created a whole industry born of its central role in content strategy.

Tone simply put is how you address people. Throw some words around and emotions that describe you best. You will need decide if your main emphasis reflects a traditional, quirky or disruptive status. Whether your characteristics are to be friendly and approachable, or formal and functional? Then move onto a hard core list of words that describe what you do in these characteristic terms, as befits your niche in the industry. Try to see yourselves as others see you. Ask your existing customers’ opinion – discretely, if extensive research or disclosure is not your style. Consider how you have presented in the past. What elements worked? Have you tried to be all things to all people?

The hardest part is formulating the kind of language and words that you wish to see in all your communications. Consistency is one thing – rigidity quite another – be prepared to adjust the tone to the channel, to the constraints or conditions, and the intention of the communication. Is the nascent science and the softening influence of social media surrounding tone conclusive? Establish clarity, continuity and consistency as your watchwords. Be prepared for lots of trial and error. And be patient. It will take time for this to become second nature.

Establishing the tone that works for you and your customers is a process of evolution, developing from the base you have implemented and instituted over time. Tone encapsulates a living, breathing discourse with your customers that should remain flexible enough to incorporate change as well as creativity, differential and disruption – if that’s what you require.  It is, however, something that should be indisputably you and the voice of your company.


Michael White is the Head of Copy in Mulberry’s London office and has many years of experience writing and editing short- and long-form content for B2B and B2C audiences.