Over the last few weeks — if you’ve been following along — we’ve been examining the words you use to help uncover your brand voice. We looked at your diction, your syntax, your similes and metaphors, and today we’re going to look at how all those things come together to create your tone.
Tone is the overall attitude you as the author take towards your subject. It decides how readers will read a piece and how they will feel about the subject. It creates a mood.
And, more than any other single piece of the puzzle, it determines your brand voice.
As I think you may have realized if you’ve been reading along, you can say the same thing in many different ways.
“What a beautiful day!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands into the air like the birds flitting past.
“What a beautiful day,” she grumbled, pulling on her rain coat and popping open her umbrella to create another dark spot in the sky.
One of those statements is genuine, while one is sarcastic. One is upbeat while the other is downcast. The difference is all in the words I chose and how I chose to string them together, the punctuation I used, and the similes and metaphors I chose. Overall, all those choices add up to the tone.
And your tone is like your mood lighting. The same way the colors of your website, your photography, your graphics all set a mood and a tone for your business, so too do your words. (And if they clash, it’s even worse, but that’s a topic for another day.)
How to determine your tone and brand voice.
If you go back and work through the exercises in the previous posts in this series, you’ll have a piece of writing all marked up with diction words circled and similes highlighted. Take that piece of writing (or any piece of writing, really — I’m not picky) and answer the following questions.
Using only the words you actually put on the paper (not what you meant to say or wanted to convey):
How do you feel about your subject?
How do you feel about your clients or customers?
How do you feel about your worldview?
You may find that your words are serious, comical, spectacular or distressing. You might notice that your words seem formal, informal, sarcastic, sad, or cheerful. Whatever general sense your words convey — totally apart from what you may or may not have intended to convey — is your tone.
How do you feel about what your words are saying about your topic?
For example, if you found you use a lot of negative diction words, you may not like what that says about your brand—or it may feel like a perfect fit, because you’re a realist and want people to face their problems.
I worked with a health coach who had two different brands. One she wanted to feel very loving, accepting, and helpful, like a word hug; the other was aimed at a different clientele, and needed to be more energetic, to-the-point, and witty.
How do you want your brand to feel?
Why does understanding your tone matter?
Here’s the funny thing about tone: Whatever you’re feeling will come out in your writing when you least expect it. If you’re reviewing a product you don’t really like, but you want to give a positive review because the manufacturer sent you a free sample, I would bet money that your tone will shift slightly to the negative. And when you’re thrilled about something happening in your life or biz, your words will be just as ebullient.
But when you’re conscious of those choices, you can choose different words and actually influence how your reader feels while reading. That’s a powerful tool.
One of my favorite clients, Sarah Ancalmo, has been tweaking her brand to make sure that her clients understand (and are thrilled about the fact) that she is a luxury service provider, and that working with her is not like buying a dress off the rack, but rather custom ordering a bespoke gown from the designer.
The blog posts we’d written in the past were funny and flirty, irreverent, witty and conversational, but when we started working on her catalogue of services, her intake questionnaires, and other documents her clients would directly interact with, we wanted the words to feel as special and luxurious as fine silk and champagne.
I spent many hours with a thesaurus, picking exactly the right words, because that was the tone of elegant precision we were trying to create. Get became acquire. See became envision. And with those word choices, Sarah’s quirky blog voice morphed into a polished representation of her new brand.
The Internet is, at its core, a literary medium. You can have videos and images on your site or not, but you will almost certainly have words. And those words matter.
When you spend a little time understanding how and why they matter, you’ll be heads and shoulders above your competition. Because whether your words are the equivalent of Barry White or some tinny accordion music, they’re going to set the mood for your potential customers. Better to choose the mood than to leave it up to chance!