A brand’s voice is present in every single aspect of their marketing. So, effective tone of voice guidelines are vital. The best brands are the ones that think about their voice, wherever it may appear, ensuring that every word captures their identity and builds a strong relationship with their customers.
But, what about when it comes to global brands? It wouldn’t make sense if a huge global brand like McDonald’s had a cheeky, friendly tone of voice in the UK while sounding aloof in France. It also wouldn’t be appropriate for McDonald’s to use English slang or humour when engaging with its French fans. So, how can brands make sure that their tone of voice translates across different markets? And how can brands maintain their personal brand tone while still adhering to the language nuances within their target markets?
With these questions in mind, we’ve put together some tone of voice guidelines, including lots of handy tips and tricks. For all you global and local marketers looking to talk your way into consumers’ hearts, here’s what you need to know…
Why do brands need a tone of voice?
Communicating is how we build strong relationships. Think about it – your closest friends are probably the ones you can talk to for hours on end. They make you feel listened to and, most importantly, they don’t bore or annoy you with their stories. Brands should provide this kind of conversation with their customers, both on a global and local scale.
To put it simply, it’s all about trust. Just look at the way we react to AI virtual assistants, automated texts or chat bots – we’re all a little wary of their robotic responses. What we want is a human voice speaking back to us, one who understands and can relate to our experiences.
Trust matters, according to research, 75% of global consumers say they’d keep buying from a brand they trust even if another similar brand suddenly became trendy (source: Marketing Charts). While, according to Motista, 71% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand if they feel they have an emotional connection.
Without personality, there can be no trust. So, while you might want copy to simply inform your audience, you’ve got to think about the tone.
What should a tone of voice be?
A brand’s tone of voice should be present in all of their messaging, across global, local, internal and external comms; this helps to raise awareness and understanding of the brand. According to SEMRush, average revenue increases by 23% when a brand is presented consistently.
People don’t all talk the same way. Even those closest to us probably find different things funny or interesting (let’s be honest, we’ve all fake-laughed at our best friend’s jokes). When it comes to brands, it’s important for them to find a unique voice. As a result, they’ll feel more personable and more memorable.
Know your audience. If you’re trying to engage with Gen Zs, then speak their language. But do your research – simply throwing in stereotypical Gen Z phrases won’t cut it. And remember, there’s huge variation within demographics around the globe. Australian Gen Zs are not the same as Swedish Gen Zs or Russian Gen Zs, and so on. If you want to reach a wider demographic, then keep your tone open and approachable, ensuring that none of your customers feel excluded.
Words change, audiences change and, more often than not, brands change too. So, make sure your tone of voice is updated at least every 5 years to reflect where you are now, the audience you’re talking to and how they’re communicating.
Creating your tone of voice
It goes without saying that a brand is only as strong as its brand guidelines. Creating a clear tone of voice section within these guidelines is the first step towards building a successful, global tone of voice. Here’s how to go about it:
1. Carry out a language audit
When it comes to building a tone of voice, thinking about the finer details really does matter. And we mean the really fine details. After all, marketers, copywriters, translators, content creators and more will be using your tone of voice to promote your brand, so having clear guidelines is essential.
Specify the type of words you use, whether that’s business terminology or colloquial chat. Determine how long sentences should be. Set out dos and don’ts with words to use and words to avoid. Clarify whether your voice is passive or active. Be clear on your writing rules. Are you a stickler for grammar? Are the occasional 😄 and 👍 encouraged? Provide a glossary of brand specific terms so that everyone’s in the know.
For an example of this in action, check out Monzo’s incredibly thorough document: Our Tone of Voice.
2. Work out the personality
In other words, if your tone of voice was a person, who would it be? What brands would it be wearing? Who would it be following on Instagram? Where would it be heading for its summer holiday? And who would it invite along for the trip? Sum up your brand’s tone of voice in a few words. That way, your tone is clear to everyone working with your brand, both in-house and externally.
3. Set the tone for your channels
Knowing where your voice will be present and deciding how personality-packed you want each vocal platform to be is vital. More often than not, brands choose to go low personality in its fine print, medium personality in its recruitment or internal content and high personality on social media, in OOH ads and digital banners etc. Of course, there are no set rules when it comes to these platforms but consistency is key. If your social media copy is bursting with life, then all of your other communications should reflect this, even your fine print.
The best brands are the ones choosing to put their personality at the forefront of all their messaging. For example, Disney make traditionally mundane messaging, like 404 error alerts, bubble with personality.
Localising your tone of voice
A global campaign’s tone of voice should be reviewed and localised for each target market. After all, the way people communicate depends upon the region. Humour, cultural references, sentence structures and word choice all vary from place to place.
Take, for example, the rules around informal and formal communication. In France, to address someone formally as ‘you’, you’d say ‘vous’, and to address them casually, you’d say ‘tu’. A brand can choose a formal or informal tone. Meanwhile, in Japan, you’d never address a person as ‘you’ at all, at the risk of sounding incredibly impolite.
And while your chosen channels and audience in your target markets might be more casual, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can just adopt a cool, laidback tone across all languages. In Germany, even when talking to young millennials on social media, you’d adopt a formal tone of voice. The casualness would just have to be conveyed in other ways.
While these may seem like small details, cultural and linguistic variations can make or break a campaign in local markets. So, make sure you work with in-market linguists and localisation experts who really understand your brand and market reality. They’ll ensure that your message thrives across the globe.
Quick top tips on localising tone of voice:
- Work with linguists and cultural experts from the relevant local markets.
- Build brand guidelines for each and every market, making note of the language nuances for each market. This includes how grammar is used for each region. If you need some inspiration, check out MailChimp’s Writing For Translation Guide and Duolingo’s Localization Style Guide.
- If you’re creating ad copy or a tagline for a global campaign, consider how the copy will translate visually. Character width, character line height and general word length differs depending on the market. For instance, Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters are wider and longer than Latin characters.
- When translating marketing or campaign copy, provide the translators with a detailed brief so they can fully understand the brand positioning in the target market and the source text you’ve provided.
- Make sure you clearly explain the intention behind the original copy, noting any tonal elements that must be retained in the translated copy.
- Ensure the translators understand the scope of work and the delivery deadlines.
Slack is a messaging platform that makes people’s work life easier. Unlike many tech companies, the brand doesn’t use complicated words or jargons. Slack aims to be as helpful as possible, but does this with added personality and humour, including lines like:
Slack’s conversations are up to date, referencing global situations. From social posts referencing topical events, like Marie Kondo’s Konmari trend, or blog posts referencing working from home during the coronavirus pandemic (example above). Slack uses their voice to experience the world with their customers. As a result, their tone feels relevant and useful.
With a supportive and motivating global tone of voice, Fitbit uses their words to help inspire customers to lead healthier lives across the globe, 1 step at a time.
Fitbit understands that fitness can be hard, and that a lot of people would rather be chilling out on the sofa instead of getting their 10,000 steps! So, they speak in a funny and relatable tone, sharing meme-style truths about fitness that audiences can relate to.
Jokes that land locally
Fitbit ensures that their tone resonates in all markets. In France, fitness is not about smashing targets, it’s about staying healthy so that people can enjoy a great lifestyle and take pleasure in food. Fitbit clearly understands this cultural fact. In this example (see above) the black copy translates to: ‘People thinking about Fitbit.’ And the white reads: ‘People thinking about a delicious runny cheese’. The word ‘camembert’ is a pun, it can be translated to ‘pie-chart’ but it’s also the name of the famed French cheese. So, the tone of the creative and copy uses humour to play up to France’s preference for pleasurable experiences.
So, what have we learnt?
Well, whether Tweeting, writing out T&Cs or thinking up copy for their latest ad campaigns, it’s vital that brands really consider their tone of voice, on both a global and local scale. Thorough tone of voice guidelines, a great localisation partner and in-market experts should ensure that all comms hit the spot, no matter the market. We hope you found our tone of voice guidelines for global brands useful. If you’re ready to start great conversations around the globe but want some help localising your content, get in touch.