The tone of your brand tells customers what they can expect from your business and how you want them to feel when they come in contact with you. For example, if a customer walks into a store that has an angry or rude tone, they might not stay for long. On the other hand, if the same customer walked into an office where everyone was happy and helpful, they would likely feel welcome, too!
As small business owners we need to know our audience so we can create content that resonates with their needs. Therefore, understanding how tone affects people's perception is crucial to building trust and loyalty within your target market.
Does it feel like a distant concept to you--something that doesn't have a real impact on how people see your brand? Well, think again. The tone of your posts and content can make or break the way people view your company.
Your company's tone of voice is more than just a personal preference. It reflects the values and culture of your brand. It is important for small business owners to understand how their message can be perceived by customers. So how can you watch your tone?
How do you establish a voice for your brand?
If you don't think your brand already has a tone, you're wrong. Whether or not that tone is conveying what you want it to about your business is another question. The easiest way to get a feel for your current brand tone is to see what other people are saying about your company through online reviews and social media channels. Are their interactions mostly fun and positive? Are they professional and courteous? Are they negative and disappointed?
If you discover that your tone is already conveying exactly what you want it to, congratulations! However, most brands will discover that their tone could use some work. If that's the case, fear not! You can begin to change your tone for the better right now. Ask yourself how you'd interact with a customer or potential client if you were talking to them in person. That's the voice you want to have in all of your communication platforms, including social media channels and your website.
With an established voice it becomes easier to shape your social media strategy and make sure all of your content is consistent with the image you are trying to establish with customers.
What companies are using tone well?
A great example of tone and how it plays a role in marketing is Wendy's. Take a look at their social media channels. You can tell that Wendy's has a very young, hip, approachable voice. They are unafraid to be silly and sarcastic, and to poke fun at themselves and others. It shows customers that they are just like them. They use slang, emojis, and pop culture references that a very specific target market would understand - it is very effective at speaking to a Millennial audience.
A slightly different yet just as effective tone is that of Apple. They use a very professional and authoritative tone. This voice is used to command attention and credibility, and they do it extremely well. They may be targeting a similar audience, but their tone communicates something different: instead of "we are just like you", they are communicating, "you can be just like us."
What about tone-deaf companies?
Sometimes, as brands evolve, they decide they need a tone shift. For example, Etsy had originally branded itself as a marketplace for creatives to have one-on-one interactions with customers. It was homegrown and organic in nature.
"It’s the feel of a farmer’s market instead of a supermarket,” CEO Chad Dickerson told Entreprenuer in 2013. “We want to bring the Etsy ethos into the larger retail ecosystem.”
Three years laster, Dickerson said in an investor letter, "We believe that Etsy has the long-term potential to transform the world economy into one that is more people-centered and community-focused—one that values and honors designers and makers and one that creates stronger connections among people who make, sell and buy goods…We believe in an economy that transcends price and convenience, one that emphasizes relationships over transactions and optimizes for authorship and provenance. We call this the Etsy Economy.
“The conventional and dominant retail model has relentlessly focused on delivering goods at the lowest price, valuing products and profits over community, short-changing the future with the instant gratification of today. I do not believe that this race to the bottom is a sustainable, successful model,” he said.
However, as pressures built to increase stock prices and compete with big online retailers like Amazon, Etsy's messaging took a big turn just a few months later (and the company took on a new CEO). Although revenues went up after this change, sellers on the platform were not happy about the changes and began moving away from it.
In recent years we've seen a switch back to the original tone of marketplace, person-to-person interactions, and the value of the solopreneuer.
Should you sound like yourself or your audience?
After identifying the core audience and knowing your product, you must know who is buying it. Is your audience mainly young? Older? Male? Female? High end or low end products? If you're selling high end products to an older demographic, then a hip and edgy tone may not be as effective as a more refined and tasteful approach. Conversely, if you're selling a product or service geared towards young creatives, a fun, non-traditional tone may be more effective than a conservative approach.
Your tone should be a blend of who you are and who your target audience is. Often those two things organically coincide. Small business owners are usually inspired to start enterprises that fit the needs of the community around them, and their passions and personalities already line up with their target audience.
But if you aren't sure if you're already speaking a language your target audience will understand, just hop on social media. Search out brands that you feel have a similar target audience as yours and see what they're saying and how they're saying it, and then see how their audience is responding to it. Check out people that you know are in your target audience and see what kinds of pages they're visiting, what types of information they're sharing, and how they're sharing it. What are they saying? What language are they using?
And then speak that language!
To get your company or personal brand speaking in a way that will help you reach the people who are the most important to you, it's all about identifying your audience and understanding what they want, need, and expect from you. Your customers will let you know if it feels like their needs are being met by reading or watching content on social media, or visiting your website.
And if all of this sounds overwhelming, don't worry- we're here to help!