Game of Tones: how to hit the right tone of voice for your brand

Game of Tones: how to hit the right tone of voice for your brand

This is an excerpt from our Calling the Shots Ebook.

In my next life, I’m going to come back as a successful writer. It will be a life of endless coffee, sleepy mornings, burgeoning bank accounts, and afternoons that inexplicably turn into early mornings as I tap, tap, tap away at some of the most extravagantly wondrous prose ever put to paper. Ahhh, I can smell the Pulitzer from here.

But until then, I’ll continue to madly scramble to string words together and visit more times than I visit the fridge. I’ll continue drafting half-assed blog posts and losing sleep over misspelled Instagram captions. I’ll continue cursing my calendar as I struggle to find the time to block out just 30 minutes of solid writing. Like now, for instance, today alone, I’ve already been to 4 meetings, an appointment at the Vet, taken 6 phone calls and a checked my calendar for the 48th time just to tire myself out a little more. And as I sit here typing, wondering exactly how many coffees I need to purchase in order to not get kicked out of this cafe, I dream about life in the slow lane as a writer.

Writing is an art, that’s for sure. Luckily for me, before I started Smack Bang, I studied Journalism (my fourth University attempt) for a whole two semesters. I fell completely in love with writing, reading and feeling noble, sipping tea with a leatherbound book in hand — and I did my best to refine the art of all three. And now, with the beast that is Smack Bang bursting under my fingertips, I’m so thankful that I at least have enough writing know-how and pizzazz to put fingers to keyboard and communicate my ideas. Albeit a little shaky.

It took me a good three or so years to feel confident in owning the Smack Bang voice. At first, it was more inconsistent than the weather forecast. Our ‘voice’ lacked confidence and clarity, and felt flimsy and feeble. While I knew I wanted to own a specific brand voice, and that it was important to our brand, I just couldn’t quite dial the exact tone. But, just with anything, practice makes perfect, and if you you do anything for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re bound to become reasonably good at it. I’m now incredibly happy with the way our comms represent the Smack Bang brand DNA, and I have a helluva-lotta fun crafting each new blog post, web copy and even those tortuous Instagram captions.

Science says that it takes a grand total of 0.2 seconds for the brain to detect and make an assessment about a person’s vocal voice. Without seeing what a person looks like, what they’re wearing or what facial expressions they’re making, the sound of their voice allows us to make assumptions about who that person is. The same principle applies to brands. When we start to engage with a brand through copy or the written word, before we even know what this brand sells or what they stand for, we start to make assumptions about their offering, their service, their quality and their style. For this reason, crafting a gold-medal brand voice is crucial is communicating your key brand messages, values and vision, and generally winning at biz.

It’s about sticking to your guns. Owning your line in the sand. Wearing your heart on your sleeve. And publicly declaring your calling from the rooftops.

Let me tell you, skipping this part of your brand DNA is a one-way train to mediocrity. I’ve seen brands crash and burn because they failed to articulate who they were and why they mattered through an engaging brand voice. Why? Because if you’re missing your voice, you’re missing your connection to your customer. You’re like a landline with no dial tone.

The same goes for failing to hit the right tone of voice for your brand. If you’re not speaking directly to your ideal customer, you’re speaking to no-one. You can’t speak the same way to a kindergartener as you would to an adult police officer, nor the same to a potential first date as you would to your dentist (we hope), and in the same way, you’ve got to adjust your tone to speak to the right people.

So how do you figure out if your brand voice should resemble the sexy, gravelly Barry White or the graceful, impeccable Helen Mirren? We’ve checked in with the lady in the know, Ainslie Murray — brand strategist and marketing guru — to bring you the juice.


So, you’ve created a brand (yay, go you) and now it’s time to give that brand a set of lungs and let that bad boy speak for him — or her — self. Before you create your social accounts, draft content for your brand-spanking-new website, or start strolling Trump on Twitter, you’re going to need to define your ‘brand voice’. You’ve no doubt heard people bang on about the importance of nailing a tone of voice that’s right for your brand – well, they’re not wrong. It’s the heart and soul of your communications and arguably the most g-damn important thing you will do for your brand from a marketing perspective. It will either set your brand up for longevity and sky-rocketing success or contribute to your brand crashing and burning in this start up phase like so many do. Don’t be afraid, you got this.

Let’s recap on why this pesky tone of voice is so important to your brands future. What the heck even is tone of voice, you may ask? The textbook answer is that ‘it’s an expression of a company’s thinking and the people behind the brand’. I like to think of a brand’s tone of voice as something that sets it apart from the rest. Put simply, your brand needs a voice. More than specific words and phrases, your brand voice is the tone in which you speak to and connect with your audience. It’s the hands down best way to reach those people that will spend their clams on your product or service and it will work wonders in helping you carve your own niche in the market.

People won’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Consumers buy products from brands that they connect with on an emotional level and steer clear from brands that they don’t. Think about the brands that you connect with and make you feel happy; it’s likely because you’re drawn to their tone, maybe without even realising it. Same goes with those brands that annoy you. As humans, we can be super sensitive to language and often form an impression of people as soon as we hear or read their words based on how it resonates with us. Strategically-chosen words are a sure fire way to persuade and influence your audience and spark emotion and feeling.

A killer tone of voice should go relatively unnoticed in the sense that the aim is not for your audience to note your great writing skills, but rather, to note your great brand. People want to see the humanity behind a brand. When it comes to tone of voice, there is a major link between familiarity and trust. Something that is familiar requires minimal effort to process mentally and a person is much more likely to feel at ease and comfortable around it.

Finding a voice certainly ain’t easy. Like a first date, you need to woo your audience with your brand’s voice. It can’t be plucked from thin air, summed up on a whim or be based on a trend you think may be cool. It must grow out of who you are as a brand. A brand’s tone of voice should be distinctive, recognisable and unique. It needs to embody and express your brand’s personality, beliefs and values and be consistent with your product and messaging. Your voice can be authoritative, informative, fun, or just outright witty, but whatever it is, it needs to be one very important thing: authentic. Your audience will be able to can sniff out insincerity a mile off, and if you fake it, you won’t make it. Tip: when in doubt, err on the side of approachable and conversational.

Pinning down your brand values acts as the background work prior to this stage. Before you can think about how you write, you must decide on what you write. This can start with the obvious yet easily forgotten question: what is it you want to tell the world? Once you can define the core purpose of your communication that you can start to build your tone of voice and once you have your tone of voice outlined your copywriting will flow like lava.

So how do you actually define your tone of voice? Do you open customer service emails with ‘Hey, Bey!’ or ‘Dear Mrs Carter?’ Here are five key tactics that will help you find your vibe, begin to craft your brand’s tone of voice and start putting pen to paper.


Getting into the heads of the people you’re ultimately trying to win over is an excellent way to get started pinning down your brand’s tone of voice. It’s helpful to know exactly who you are talking to beyond your basic target market. Pick one person from each of your target audiences (e.g. young families, uni students or hipsters) and answer these few of questions on each:

  • What does he/she look like?
  • What does he/she care about?
  • Where does he/she work?
  • What does he/she do for fun?
  • What does he/she want from your brand?

A clear sense of identity is what separates the men from the boys in Brand-Land. As you get comfortable with your brand voice and go on to craft your mission statement (which is basically your brand’s guiding light), keep this front-of-mind. You have to put your ‘people’ first and give them something they’re not getting elsewhere.


Because the aim is for a brand voice to remain genuine and natural, it will likely be inspired a little by your own voice. Is it funny? Laugh-out-loud funny or wink-wink funny? Is it authoritative? Boss authoritative, or like an older-sister-explaining-something-to-her-younger-sib authoritative? Take a moment to fill in the below gaps and note the language you’re using. You should start to see a pattern emerge.

  • I want my brand to make people feel _______.
  • ________ makes me feel this way.
  • I want people to _______ when they come into contact with my brand.
  • Three words that describe my brand are _______ , _______ , and _______.
  • I dislike brand voices that sound _______.
  • I am attracted to buying brands that are _______.


Once you have an idea of the vibe you’re going for, it’s worth finding other brands who have similar voices. Check out a heap of brands, old and new, for inspo. The below are a few of my faves, some have witty brand voices, others informative but all are approachable and genuine.

  • Nike: The company that coined the winning tagline ‘Just Do It’ has built its multi-million dollar brand voice around inspiring people both on and off the field.
  • FRANK: The Frank team have built their voice around giggle-worthy, tongue-in-cheek humour, babe. With just the right amount of sleaze and steeze.
  • Go-to Skincare: Reading Go-to’s social media posts is like hanging out with a super fun, life-of-the-party friend. It also makes you feel like you’re BFF’s with Zoë Foster Blake. Win.
  • Apple: Apple’s brand voice is like a Sriracha sauce — it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s inspiring, informative, witty and fun and because it’s been so successful in connecting with its audience, it’s trusted.

To continue reading and get access to more tone of voice tips that will save your life, download our ebook and head to chapter 7.

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