Finding our voice — why TotallyMoney is crafting a new tone of voice document
By Rob Barrie, Senior CopywriterFeb 2nd 2022
Just a couple of months after I joined TotallyMoney, we refreshed our value proposition. In the simplest terms: that means we decided to talk about what we do in a different way.
As a copywriter, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to craft a new tone of voice.
But what’s the point of a tone of voice document? And why should anybody care?
1. It’s your brand’s personality
We all have a tone of voice. It’s our unique way of speaking and it comes from the tiny split-second decisions we make every time we open our mouths to talk.
It’s things like whether you use slang, whether you’re upbeat, sarcastic, overly formal — and so on and so forth.
It’s stuff you don’t think about. Most of it, you picked up in childhood, but it keeps evolving for the rest of your life.
It sets you apart. It’s why your friends could probably do an impression of you. It’s what makes you authentically you.
Companies have a tone of voice too — only we write it down to make sure it’s consistent. Here’s why.
2. It reinforces your brand values and builds trust
Let’s look at two lesser-known brands: Apple and Microsoft.
They both do basically the same thing: they make computers and software. And they’re both so big that any two pieces of writing you read will probably have been written by two different writers. And those writers might not work in the same office, or even know each other.
And yet — you could probably tell their websites apart. You could likely say what each company stands for.
Apple is confident, imaginative, playful. Microsoft is more down-to-earth, helpful, simplistic. It’s why you think of creativity when you think of Apple — and why you think of spreadsheets when you think of Microsoft. Neither is better. Both are correct.
That’s a tone of voice hard at work. It gives your brand personality. It says: you can trust us to do what we’ve promised.
3. It’s for everyone
Consistency is key. Apple’s product pages often start with a pun, or an aspirational statement. If they wrote something boring and functional, it’d break the spell. You’d suddenly start to question if this company could actually help you write that novel you’ve been working on after all.
So having a tone of voice is mostly about keeping everyone in your company on the same page.
Writing is sometimes like putting on a costume. Your tone of voice document is just a big dress up box you’re giving everybody access to.
That way, when someone in a totally different department suddenly has to write something public facing, they can do it with confidence — and without breaking that spell you’ve worked so hard to cast.
4. It’s a guide, not a rule book
Most tone of voice documents are kind of short — and intentionally vague. That’s because most companies don’t want to sound like robots.
Writing should sound natural, and alive. And every piece is different.
Tone of voice documents are all about the vibe. They’re a set of guidelines you should try and stick to, but they’re hardly ever prescriptive.
Imagine an IKEA instruction manual. That’s the opposite of what you’re aiming for. A good tone of voice document wouldn’t show you how to build a chair step-by-step. It’d show you an example of a different, but similar chair and tell you to build something “comfortable and inviting”. The rest is up to you.
If your message is aspirational, your tone of voice will likely talk about staying optimistic.
If your company wants to look approachable, your guidelines might recommend avoiding formal language. They’ll tell you to address customers by their first name and keep your sentences short and easy to understand.
Including examples is vital, because less experienced writers will have a harder time putting things like “avoid formal language” into practice. Showing your guidelines in action always makes them easier to follow.
5. Here are some of the best
Like most things, it’s easiest to understand a tone of voice document by just seeing one for yourself.
Here are a few really good examples:
We’ll be sharing our new tone of voice very soon — so watch this space!