By David Drickhamer published November 13, 2014

10 Harmonious Tips for Managing Tone of Voice for Maximum Impact

79H_REVGetting your tone of voice right is central to making the biggest possible impact with your content. The impact of your content marketing can be gauged by the quality of your story amplified by your tone of voice, as Doug Kessler, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Velocity Partners, explained in his presentation at Content Marketing World.

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Tone of voice is not style, flavor, or spin that you add at some point, but the content within your content. It carries all of the implicit messages about who you are, who your company is, and what your brand is all about.

Because it’s a highly focused conduit for such messaging – especially for text-based content – tone can be disproportionately powerful. Kessler offered the following 10 tips to help content marketing teams manage tone of voice across their organizations.

  1. Actively manage it. Tone of voice is a strategic marketing asset, so it needs to be someone’s job, or at least part of someone’s job. In contrast to the “brand police” enforcing style guidelines, whoever you appoint should operate more as a coach pushing writers and employees to escape the land of bland speak and use your brand’s distinctive tone of voice.
  1. Decide who you are. Like other brand attributes, you have to identify your tone of voice. It could be friendly, direct, confident, vibrant, or sassy. It should feel natural to your organization. One indicator that your content’s tone of voice is on target is when it starts attracting more clients and customers who mesh with the personality and culture of your company.
  1. Use voice to differentiate. In crowded markets with similar products and offerings – that is to say, most of them – you can stand out based on how you say what you say. Using standard professional business language will not differentiate your company. Tone of voice can be used to break out from a category and connect on another level. This example from Sprint Business Solutions clearly diverts from traditional, professional telecommunications speak and expresses a casual direct tone where “weirdos” is a fitting word:

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  1. Capture your tone of voice. Write it down in your style guide. Explain what tone of voice is and isn’t. A writing checklist can provide guidance on how to talk about what you do and who you are. Include lots of examples of what your tone of voice is and isn’t. Of course, your tone of voice guide should be written in your tone of voice, as this example from the University of Leeds demonstrates:

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  1. Choose three base notes. The best brands, like perfumes, have a short list of base notes. “Simple, friendly, and silly,” is the example Kessler uses from Innocent Drinks. And, “Enthusiastic, positive, helpful,” are HubSpot’s base notes. Hit these base notes everywhere you can, even on the jobs page of your website because you want to hire people who, by getting your tone of voice, will get what your company is about.
  1. Add accents. Determine how you are going to talk to different people. Adapt your content to the situation and context. Tune your tone of voice for each audience. How you talk on Facebook vs. an eBook will be different. You should shoot for “consistent variety,” according to Kessler, with a common personality that crosses everything but flexes to the given situation as long as your base notes are consistent.
  1. Craft your microcopy. Use your tone of voice to inject a bit of life into the boilerplate copy that nobody usually reads. This includes error messages, check-out instructions, order confirmations, and FAQs. Tone of voice can build your brand in all kinds of communication crevices, like this contact line at the bottom of the website for Chubbies:

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  1. Beware of lawyers. Lawyers can murder tone of voice with over-qualified legal-speak. Marketers tend to give too much respect to lawyers. Their input is only advice, notes Kessler. It’s not a law or a judge’s verdict. You don’t always have to take the legal advice, and shouldn’t when it comes to writing good copy that reflects your brand’s tone of voice.
  1. Embrace good jargon. Most writing guides say to avoid jargon at all costs. Like all such rules, take that one with a grain of salt. There is good jargon and there is bad jargon. Good jargon is precise, shorthand, and connects with people. If you’re selling to the head of sales of a major corporation, for example, and you don’t use jargon like “CRM,” it will seem like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  1. Fire your good writers. “Good writers can’t build great brands, great writers build great brands,” Kessler says. It’s as simple as that.

Tone of voice is a force multiplier for your content. Applying any or all of these tips will help amplify the impact of your content marketing efforts.

Doug Kessler raised the volume on the importance of tone at CMW. Didn’t attend the presentation or couldn’t make it to CMW this year? You can still catch up on the practical tips, biggest issues, ideas, and innovations in content marketing. Check out our Video on Demand portal for more info.

Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design, Gratisography via

Author: David Drickhamer

David Drickhamer helps clients tell and share stories that engage today’s business executives and leaders. Like any good liberal arts major, he's flexible and open to new opportunities, but tends to specialize in developing thought leadership content focused on operational excellence, management, business transformation and innovation. You can follow him on Twitter @biznotboring.

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  • Robert Gibb

    Great insight! It reminds me of an important document I came across but never saved …

    The document, shared by Joe in a CMI post or Epic Content Marketing, contained all of CMI’s brand guidelines as applied to writing. For instance, use “internet” – not “Internet.”

    Any idea where I can find this document? If someone can share a link, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

  • DaneOnFire

    Can’t help wondering. What the difference between a good and great writer, and would it be possible for good writers to become great by following the advice from, let say, a content marketing blog. Or should we just fire the bunch for being good? Seems to me that these lists of advice are just endless, and often useless when it comes to the day to day naggles of a real job. If you want to be great, read great books and stop the daily feast of good knowledge-fastfood.

  • Philip

    Thank you for this clear guide. It certainly has helped me understand the topic better.