Tone of Voice Roadmap

Introduction to the Tone of Voice Roadmap

What is Your Tone of Voice?
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What is meant by “tone of voice”? In the literary world, authors can use thousands of words to convey feelings through writing. These words express things like sadness, happiness, anxiety, anger and sarcasm. This is the primary way they can connect with and communicate a story to their audience. This is called the tone of voice of a piece of writing, whether it is fiction, non-fiction or advertising copy!

In 2016, the Nielson Norman Group undertook a study of “tone of voice” words used in literature and culled them down to a set more appropriate for businesses in the digital world. The result was a list of 37 words they called voice characteristics or traits, which could be aligned to four dimensions: funny—serious, formal—casual, respectful—irreverent, and enthusiastic—matter-of-fact. They called these the “Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice.” This research is one of the primary resources used to establish a business’s tone of voice.

Communication in the Digital World

Communication in the digital world is quite different. It is much shorter and more frequent, so there is a very limited window to express your feelings and get your audience’s attention. creates an infographic each year that shows the vast amount of data generated every minute of every day by some of the world’s most popular platforms and companies. They are now up to the eighth edition. I have included a copy of the early 2020 infographic at the end of this post.

I have reviewed the data for the last eight years. It shows a growth in the
global internet population from 2.1 billion in 2012 to 4.57 billion as of April 20, 2020. As you can see, the global internet population has at least doubled over that period. I suspect that the complete stats for 2020 will show a marked increase due to COVID-19 and the stay-at-home restrictions imposed throughout the world.

The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice

The four dimensions of tone of voice consist of eight communication descriptors that can be used to describe how you “speak” to the world. They are broken down into four sets, each consisting of two descriptors with opposite traits, e.g. Funny versus Serious. I have listed each of the sets below and given some examples of the pros and cons associated with each when using them to communicate.

The Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice - Pros and Cons.
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Note that in this context, the term “irreverent” does not necessarily mean rude or disrespectful. It can also mean a bit cheeky or sarcastic, depending on the content!

Tips for Determining Your Tone of Voice

Tone of Voice and Communication Roadmap
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The Tone of Voice Roadmap gives you the steps needed to determine your business’s tone of voice, using the four dimensions of tone of voice. Consider the following tips:

  • Evaluate EACH piece of content or communication you write or verbalize to determine what you’re trying to communicate. Consider the goal of the message and what tone of voice and/or voice characteristics would be most appropriate to use.
  • While you may need to be fluid when considering the tone of voice in your communications, depending on your content, always try to maintain a consistent overall approach.
  • Ask yourself, “Is what we’re committing to in our business statements coming through in our communications?”
  • Where possible, study feedback from users of your content as your perceptions may be quite different from your audience’s! Casual, conversational and mildly enthusiastic tones tend to be the best performers.
  • The tone of voice of your communications with clients should reflect your brand’s personality and core values. It should consider the words you use: how you write or say them, and how the message is sent — whether via your website, blog posts, newsletters, social media posts, emails, messages, marketing or voice.

I strongly encourage you to explore the following links. They will give you valuable information and greater insight into this fascinating topic!

Other Helpful References

SEMrush Marketing – How to Define your Brand’s Tone of Voice
Map and Fire – Tone of Voice Exercise
Content Marketing Institute – 5 Steps to Find your Brand Voice

P.S. If you would like to be stepped through the process of finding your brand’s tone of voice characteristics, check out my Branding Your Small Business Workbook, which includes the bonus Tone of Voice and Communication Toolkit!

Domo 2020 Data Never Sleeps 8.0
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I would love to hear any feedback or questions you have about this post, so please leave a comment below. Thank you!
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