“Don’t take that tone with me!” We have all said this at some point in our lives, because we recognise that how something is said matters just as much as what is said. In this respect, what holds true in personal life also holds true for financial marketing and branding.
Tone of voice is closely related to personality. If you are a frequently happy, “up-beat” kind of person then this will likely be reflected in how you talk to people – the pitch, pace and content. For some people, this kind of personality and tone of voice will be wonderful to experience. For others, it may be deeply irritating – depending, largely, on their personality!
This potential for a “personality clash” is one reason to give careful thought to the tone of voice for your financial brand. You do not want to risk alienating the people you are trying to reach through your words, and how you say them. Indeed, you want your tone of voice to help forge an emotional connection with your brand – instilling a sense of identification and belonging.
Great brands have done this very well, and there is much that financial services firms can learn from them. Below, our marketing and branding team at CreativeAdviser outlines what tone of voice is, how it works and some case studies to gain insights from. We hope you find this content helpful and invite you to contact us if you’d like to discuss your own branding project.
Tone of voice: overview
In simple terms, tone of voice refers to the style used to communicate with an audience. Your choice of tone matters deeply because, as mentioned above, it impacts other people’s perceptions of you. It plays a vital role in shaping their understanding of what you do, how you do it and why.
Tone of voice is more than just “what you sound like” – e.g. angry, hostile, happy etc. On a deeper level, it is about your choice of words and phrases. It is about how your sentences are structured. To take a simple example, by using second-person pronouns (“you”) on your website you are automatically signalling a friendly, inviting tone.
Deliberately omitting these, however, creates a more distant and possible corporate impression to your readers. This is also achieved by using longer sentences with complex jargon. Regardless of your tone of voice, a financial firm should be careful to keep it consistent across all communications. Not doing so is typically unsettling to your audience, as they sense that you are being inauthentic to your values and brand personality.
Establishing tone of voice
How do you know which tone is right for your brand voice? This can be difficult to answer. It is easy to strive to be something you are not, just as this is tempting to do in our personal lives (to try and “fit in”). Part of the process involves defining your values – what you stand for, what you believe in and what matters to you.
Financial firms need to take care with defining their values. It is easy to rattle off the regular clichés such as “honesty”, “integrity” and “client-focused” (although these are important). The danger with doing this, however, is that if fails to differentiate you from other businesses in the market – both for your customers, and for your team. So, invest time in defining the values that are core to your business and set you apart.
For instance, is your primary driving force innovation? If your main passion is finding new, better financial solutions for people (e.g. through technological advances) then perhaps this is the primary value on which your tone of voice needs to hang.
Examples to learn from
What are some well-known brands which can demonstrate some different tones of voice? Let’s start with BrewDog; a multinational brewery and pub chain based in Ellon, Scotland. One of the defining attributes of their brand is the “challenger” tone of voice. In short, they project a rebellious and sarcastic streak in all of their communications (even as they not occupy a market leadership spot!). Examples can seen in the names of some of their products, such as the Nanny State beer; brewed at 18.2% because of, in their words, “Your inability to know your limits”. Not only does this appeal to beer enthusiasts but also to an anti-authority audience.
Contrast this with Aviva, who wanted to encourage staff to start using their newly-defined tone of voice: Personal, Expert and Energetic. Whilst the first two words are fairly common values self-attributed by financial services firms, it is their combination with the last – energetic – which helps set this tone of voice apart. This was powerfully communicated in a little, fold-out booklet titled “A little taste of Aviva”, which sets a more informal tone and conveys imagery of fruit (or other delicious food) as part of the brand experience.
The key in all of this is knowing your audience. Who are they, exactly? What do they care about and what resonates with them? For the best chance of success in your tone of voice, try to find areas of overlap between your values and your customers’ values. Think carefully about what they want out of you as a financial services firm.
Are they looking for speed in your solutions, or long drawn-out care? Do they want a friendly, personal service or a detached, more “transactional” one? Do they want you to be a political campaigner, or absolutely not?