Why 2013 should be the year you think ‘tone of voice’

This post was originally published on the Web Managers Group site.

As web managers we have a lot to think about, don’t we?

Can people find our content? Does the technology work properly? Are we pleasing our stakeholders? Are there any broken links? Should we be doing more video?… the list is endless.

But I’d like to propose you focus on an oft-forgotten area as a matter of urgency in 2013: tone of voice.


There are many outsiders who scoff at those three words, likening it to the umbrella that the barman adds to the cocktail glass – pretty, but ultimately just decorative. The bit that gets added at the end, almost as an afterthought.

Oh, how wrong they are. If you’ll allow me to continue with the cocktail analogy, tone of voice is the usually-unseen ingredient that turns a bit of alcohol, ice and fruit into something so addictive that you keep wanting to come back for more.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that tone of voice is possibly the most important element of your website and YOU ARE THE GUARDIANS!


Obviously we’re all struggling to make our brand heard above everything else, so it’s crucial that yours stands out.
Leaving aside that tricky business of getting users to your site in the first place, you want them to stay once they’re there. And that is where tone of voice is vital.

The way you talk to your core users will have an overwhelming effect on whether they carry on using your site and want to come back.

And this tone of voice manifests itself in everything from your homepage down to that seemingly irrelevant accompanying text next to a form.

There are a lot of people who get it right, for example Apple, innocent, first direct, and Boden.

Where do you deliver?
The world is our oyster, or so we like to think. We’d like of embrace the whole of it, but things are not that simple. And our arms are not that long. In the meantime we aim to deliver to…

Going back to my previous point about every part of the site, here’s an example of a seemingly throwaway line in the ‘Delivery’ section of Boden’s site – a page that, let’s face it, won’t get monster traffic.

It may not appeal to you personally, but this small paragraph sums up perfectly the tone of voice of Boden and does just enough to turn an otherwise dull page into something a little more friendly.

Defining brand personality

Lots of brands think they have a tone of voice, but if you dig a little deeper, it’s not particularly clear. Can you explain it – with examples – clearly to a contributor?

The ‘examples’ element here is key. Lots of us want our brands to be ‘chatty, friendly and unpatronising’, but that description is useless without concrete illustrations of what we mean.

It’s hugely important to supply ‘what you do want’ and ‘what you don’t want’ as part of your tone of voice guidelines, because one person’s ‘friendly’ is another’s ‘stilted’.

Give people an example of an offbrand-written sentence and then recreate it in ‘your brand-speak’. Just five examples will make both your life and your contributors’ lives far, far easier.

So as you head home for another cold, miserable, winter weekend, spare a thought for your website’s tone of voice and make 2013 the year you pay it the attention it truly deserves.

Do you really think about tone of voice? Interested to hear people’s experiences and views

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