How to Sell More by Finding Your B2B Tone of Voice
Despite the rise of visual in B2B content marketing, words still play an extremely important part. Particularly how your readers perceive those words as a whole – or your company’s tone of voice.
Finding and maintaining a B2B tone of voice can be a real challenge, but there are some huge benefits if you get it right.
What is brand tone of voice?
Written tone of voice is the ‘personality’ of your brand or company as expressed through writing. It covers the types of words used, the way sentences are constructed, and the way language flows.
Tone of voice isn’t about what you say but how you say it and the impression this makes on your audience. It is used across all communications, so that everything your company writes sounds like it comes from the same source.
Which companies need tone of voice?
Every company should take its tone of voice into consideration. However, not many B2B companies have successfully transformed the way they use language. Their copy is particularly guilty of being boring to read because there is an assumption that businesses, lawyers, accountants, etc. only wish to be informed – as if they have no emotion.
In B2B, just like B2C, your prospects get to make a choice about whether they purchase from you. So optimising your tone makes sense because it inspires positive emotional responses in your visitors and emotional responses play a crucial part in human decision-making.
Why do we need tone of voice?
Tone of voice carries meaning. It says things about your topic and, more importantly, it says things about your brand. Like people, companies make impressions. And good impressions lead to solid business relationships. The correct tone can help a company distinguish itself from competitors, reinforce the brand’s personality, and underpin the brand’s values.
In addition to expressing your brand’s personality, your tone of voice needs to be consistent. Just as it’s desirable to have a consistent look and feel with your design, giving a brand a consistent ‘voice’ gives an impression of solidity. Conversely, inconsistent tone of voice gives a self-contradictory impression that readers wont trust, even if its only subconsciously. We find it reassuring when people stay more or less the same over time – if their style of communication constantly changes, we trust them less.
5 steps for achieving a tone of voice
1. Identify your company values
Your company values are the essence of who you are – they are the qualities you want to get across in all your communication and content.
For example, IBM is about “making a new future for our clients, our industry and our company” – and they reflect those values in the way they write.
2. Establish your tone of voice ‘characteristics’
Once you have identified your company’s values, determine two or three tone of voice characteristics that reflect those values and the personality you want to convey.
The easiest way to consider tone of voice is in terms of the personality of your brand. You should ask: “What would they be like if they were a person?”
Three broad-brush statements of personality is enough to pin down the essence of a brand.
For example, you might be honest, friendly and economical.
3. Look at your current content
Look at the content and promotions your company has created. Try to identify their tone of voice. Is it in keeping with the characteristics you’ve chosen to support your brand’s values? Is the tone consistent across platforms, target audiences, and countries? In essence, your seeing how much work you have to do to establish your new tone of voice.
4. Create a style guide
Now you have your three characteristics, you can consider how they translate into hands-on writing, including the register, vocabulary and grammar. You also need to make sure it is used in all written communication across your company.
One way to ensure this is to create an easy-to-understand style guide for all employees. Explain what tone of voice is and why it’s important and explain the details of your chosen tone of voice characteristics.
For example, if you want your tone to be “friendly” explain what that actually means when they sit down to write. What kind of language? A conversational flow? Make the definition clear and easy to follow and provide examples to demonstrate what’s right and what’s wrong.
Usually lots of people are responsible for writing for a company, creating content is not always limited to the marketing department. So once you’ve completed your Style Guide, make sure it is read and understood. Conduct training sessions with all marketers, either in person or via a webinar. Create a webcast or video for folks to access as needed.
The different characteristics of your B2B voice
For B2B content marketing, some core characteristics could probably include:
- Honest – willing to admit some downsides
- Passionate – show you care about the things you’re writing about.
- Authoritative – show you’re writing about something you know inside-out
And some less broad brush characteristics might include:
- Witty – try to avoid out and out “funny” but we like a wink here and there
- Edgy – show some attitude and energy
- Statesmanlike – you don’t want to be stuffy but sometimes you might want to sound grown-up
- Breathless – going in the other direction, you might want to get excited and hyperbolic
- Angry – passion can often include negativity but use it carefully
This list can go on and on. It’s a good idea to have at least one core value, then make this up to three with slightly more specific values like those in the second list.
Your tone of voice should be consistent with reality. You don’t want to pretend you have values you don’t just to stand out from the crowd.
It’s far easier to stick to a tone of voice if it’s in-keeping with they way you habitually write or speak. So if your IT support company is bluff, masculine and ‘all business’, make that your tone. Some people will want to work with a company like yours. This also allows you to focus on converting your most promising prospects.
Tone of voice documents
To gain some inspiration for your own tone of voice style guide it’s worth checking out these documents.
Alongside the description of the British Council’s tone, it includes examples to help its writers understand what they should be aiming for.
It includes sections for:
Our tone of voice.
What our tone is.
What our tone is not.
Another great document is the tone of voice guidelines published by Leeds University.
The author advises what each characteristic does and doesn’t mean, as well as describing how it sounds and giving a set of tips for writers. Although it doesn’t give actual examples which would be far more helpful.
Creating a brand tone of voice is certainly worth the effort. If it’s done right, everyone who writes for your brand will have a clear idea about how to write in a way that supports why people should do business with you.