Remember the days before caller ID when you had to answer the phone not knowing who was on the other end? (If you were born after the George H.W. Bush administration, you probably do not. (Cleary, we suffered.) You knew who it was based on the sound of the person’s voice.
Brands are the same way, or at least they should be. We all know that organizations create their face, so to speak, through the use of the logo, color palette, fonts, etc. But many do not think much about their voice—the tone it uses, the sound it makes.
Without thinking carefully about your tone of voice, you run the risk of coming across like this great ad from the early 2000s:
There are a number of reasons why your tone of voice must align with your messaging strategy as well as your visual identity (aka your brand’s face). The first is authenticity. The world has shifted away from accepting organizations’ messages at face value. More and more, we demand that they are authentic in what they say and what they do. Having a tone of voice that aligns with your organization’s brand is paramount.
The second is differentiation. We’ve written here a lot about the importance of differentiation for both for- and non-profit organizations. We are all competing against someone or something else for time, talent, or treasure. It’s critical that we stand out from those others as the better choice. Having a distinctive tone of voice can help do that.
The key to finding your organization’s authentic tone of voice lies in knowing who you are as an organization, part of what we call a Focus & Messaging Framework, sometimes known as a brand house. A key component of the framework is the WAY your message comes to life or your brand’s personality attributes. Is your brand academic? Is it irreverent? Perhaps it’s optimistic. Then again, it might be alarming. There’s no right or wrong answer; the importance lies in knowing what your organization is.
Here’s an example:
From The Nature Conservancy
Climate change is here now. We can limit further warming and the dangers it poses—if we act now. Every fraction of a degree matters. What we do between now and 2030 will determine whether we can slow warming enough to avoid climate change’s worst impacts. We must drastically cut emissions and remove some carbon from the atmosphere. Fortunately, plants naturally absorb and store carbon. By protecting natural habitats and carefully managing farmland and forests, we can store billions of tons of this “living carbon.”
Tone of voice: Serious, optimistic
The fight to save the planet and everyone who calls it home is at a tipping point. The devastating impacts of climate change, an extractivist, racist, and inequitable socioeconomic system, the destruction of ecosystems by greed-fueled corporations and governments, and the deterioration of our oceans grow more dire by the minute. The time for gradual change has passed. What we need is a transformational change — and the stakes are too high to wait.
Tone of voice: Urgent, aggressive
Two completely different tones of voice. Neither one is wrong or right, but both paint distinctly different pictures of themselves using tone of voice.
Finding your organization’s tone of voice isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t be daunting. It is, however, time well spent. Before you begin, you might want to consider a messaging audit to understand better what tones of voice other like organizations are using.
If you need some help, let us know.