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Corporate Tone of voice: what is it?

Content Marketing, Industriemarketing, Intercultural Competence, International Online Marketing, Marketing News

 

We all know how important it is to use the right tone of voice in everyday life: the same sentence can be perceived as a compliment, as an ironic statement or as a careless observation, just depending on the tone of voice we use.

 

In a world where companies are increasingly perceived as having their own values, culture, style and personality, marketing and communication specialists have started to talk about corporate tone of voice as part of brand identity.

 

Now, what’s corporate tone of voice and how does it work?

 

Synonyms aren’t synonyms at all

 

The idea that a company has a tone of voice and should pay attention to it was born out of the copywriting world. Copywriters and communication experts know the same message can be expressed countless ways, and that synonyms aren’t synonyms at all: each word comes with a set of mental associations with deep roots in our personal experience and cultural background. These associations are as important as the meaning of the word itself.

 

Consider, for instance, the whole new set of associations linked to the word positive after the pandemic started. But let’s see concrete examples of two different brand communication strategies. Here is how differently Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic manage their 404 error messages:

 

Screenshot of an error page from Ryanair’s official website

 Source: www.ryanair.com

 

Screenshot of an error page from Virgin Atlantics’ official website

Source: www.virginatlantic.com

 

Ryanair’s message is colloquial, concise and playful. These guys have no time to waste and get straight to the point: “Whatever happened to our website is beside the point; why don’t you just book a flight? Like, right now?” After all, it has never been part of Ryanair’s brand to offer excellent customer service. They just offer the best prices. And that’s totally coherent with their error message.

 

On the other hand, Virgin Atlantic takes the time to explain what may have gone wrong and offers you some help to find your way back.

 

These are two shining examples of companies keeping a coherent tone of voice throughout their communication, even in bits of text as seemingly inconsequential as error messages. Coherence engenders brand trust, just as it does among human relationships. And trust is money for 21st century companies.

 

From freezing to hot

 

Now that we know what a corporate tone of voice is, let’s see what using it thoughtfully can offer a company.

 

In her book, Brand personality strategist and Pennamontata CEO Valentina Falcinelli uses a thermometer to illustrate the spectrum of corporate tone of voice. She characterizes tone of voice as cold, neutral, warm or colorful.

 

Screenshot-from- Lush’s-official- website-showing- an-example-of- warm-corporate- tone-of-voice

 Source: Testi che parlano by Valentina Falcinelli 

 

Cold

 

Coldness in particular is easy to recognize. When reading the text, you understand that whoever wrote it does not really care about you. Not for a second. It’s the language used by institutions and public offices.

 

Is it rude? Maybe. Is it coherent with their identity? In most cases it is.

 

Coldness can even be useful. Think of cultures with a high degree of power distance, where there’s a rigid social hierarchy and a clear division between high-ranking and low-ranking individuals. In this case, a cold tone of voice helps to convey the message: “I’m not asking for your opinion, this is a one-way communication.”

 

But in business, there are few situations when a cold tone is appropriate, and you rarely stand to benefit from its use. So while there’s no singular right or wrong tone, the most important thing is to find the one tone that best suits your company and stick to it. A consistently cold tone of voice probably isn’t a good idea for any company.

 

Neutral

 

When in doubt, go for neutral. As Falcinelli defines it, neutrality is authoritative without being authoritarian, and serious without being severe. In other words, it’s professional.

 

Most companies choose a neutral tone of voice: they speak about their company in third person, show no irony or affection, and avoid casual language and slang.

 

But while neutrality conveys reliability, these companies risk sounding too detached. To warm up this tone a bit, you can switch to the first person and use more colloquial language that more closely resembles how people communicate in everyday life.

 

Warm

 

But if you want to be friends with your audience, you should go a bit further to show empathy in your corporate tone of voice. Showing empathy means letting go of any sense of superiority or authority and talking to your audience like a dear friend would, and most importantly, putting their needs in the center of your communication.

 

Lush offers a great example of warm tone of voice:

 

 

Screenshot from Lush’s official website showing an example of warm corporate tone of voice

 

Source: www.lush.com

 

As you can see, the reader is always addressed, conveying the feeling that Lush is there for you, exists to make you happy.

 

In fact, Lush can be considered a love brand: you may not like Lush, but if you do, you don’t simply like them - you LOVE them. You talk about them with your friends, gift their products to your loved ones, and feel cuddled when you use their soaps and shampoos.

 

Colorful

 

If you want to go step further, you can choose colorful tones of voice. But be aware of the risk: colorful tones may be ironic, provocative, edgy, aggressive and even excessive, as Falcinelli suggests. But they definitely capture attention and make you memorable.

 

Durex uses this communication strategy, especially in real time marketing on their Instagram profile. Which is a fitting strategy given their product.

 

But guess who else is using this tone and has become a case study among marketing experts? Taffo, an Italian funeral services company.

 

They have started using black humor in their communication on social media, joking about uncomfortable or taboo topics like death or pain. Since they began using this tone of voice a couple years ago, they now have more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, have become a franchise, and have written a book.

 

Still curious?

 

No such thing as a tone of voice that is always right or always wrong. What can be detrimental for a brand or company is a lack of awareness of their tone of voice and incoherency in their communication. On the other hand, a wise use of the tone of voice offers plenty of benefits and helps building a strong brand identity. If you want to find out more about finding the right tone of voice for your company or have any question, feel free to contact us or comment below.