What tone are you going for?

What tone are you going for?

When you’re developing a messaging strategy for an outreach effort, it’s important to consider what tone of voice you want to use.

The tone of voice describes how a message or campaign will speak to the audience.

This includes what it should sound like to them – if they’re reading it aloud or in their mind – and what type of personality the message represents.

It’s a key ingredient we don’t spend enough time thinking about, yet different tones make a big difference in how a message gets received.

We’ve likely experienced these tonal differences in our personal lives. Let’s take this sentence as an example:

“Will you wash the dishes tonight?” said from one partner or roommate to another.

If spoken in a nice, light, and friendly tone, this message will likely yield positive results: “Sure! Not a problem! Happy to!”

But if said in a harsher, louder tone, this same sentence can produce feelings of defensiveness, shame, guilt, and resentment – even if it still gets the dishes done.

Same words. Different tones. Different impressions.

Think about some well-known brands across the world.

What tone are they using?

What is Coca-Cola’s tone? How is it different from other soda brands in your area?

How does Apple’s tone differ from IBM’s or Samsung’s?

How do Nike, Adidas, and Puma use different tones of voice in their messages?

Not only does our chosen tone of voice impact our audience’s perception, it can also be used to help our messages sound unique and get noticed.

How to choose your tone?

First, a reminder: substance comes before style.

Once we’re clear on what we’re asking people to do and which motivators we plan to use, we can then determine which tone we’re going for.

The tone you choose should reflect the larger personality of the campaign or outreach effort you’re developing. And there are lots of options for brand personalities you can use.

Check out this infographic of 12 archetypes, which are the most commonly used personalities found among brands (and fictional characters).

Wheel diagram of 12 brand archetypes

If you want to learn more about each archetype, then head to this site for descriptions and examples.

Your instinct may pull you towards SAGE, EXPLORER, or CAREGIVER. Those are the ones we use most frequently in conservation and environmental efforts.

Which means – unfortunately – that a lot of our outreach and communication tends to sound the same, and all our messages get lumped together into one big eco-green-treehugging blob.

So, start by considering which archetypes make the most sense for your target audience and for the project’s objectives. Is there a larger brand you’re connected to that needs to be factored into this choice as well?

And then explore new and different personalities to help your messages stand apart!!!

What would your messages look and sound like if they wore the CREATOR personality, or JESTER, or OUTLAW???

You can even create a clever combination of archetypes for a multi-dimensional personality.

Play with different options until you find the best fit for your project. And don’t be afraid to let your messages have a personality.

Tone application

Your brand personality choice leads right into determining your tone of voice. The descriptions in the chart above, and in the more detailed website, provide helpful adjectives to build upon.

And then write, write, write with that personality and tone in mind. Infuse it into every communication piece and interaction you have planned.

Hosting an event or workshop? Incorporate the tone of voice into invites, table/booth settings, presentations and talking points, icebreakers and activities, name tags, and more.

Building a webpage? Let the tone influence menu titles, headlines, calls-to-action, photo choices, and colors.

Running a series of social media posts? Your chosen personality and tone can help grab attention and create greater consistency between headlines, longer text explanations, and calls-to-action.

The options are endless!

To dive deeper into discovering and using your tone of voice, check out this cool how-to guide developed by a brand consultancy called We All Need Words.

In conclusion…

While it’s important to spend time making our messages clear, actionable, and motivating, we can’t forget to consider what impressions we want to leave and how we want those messages to sound in the mind of our audience.