There’s a copywriter out there whose website features a slider with which visitors can ‘tune’ a paragraph of copy through a spectrum of tones of voice. It’s a brilliant device and we’re extremely jealous of it. Mostly because it’s a great way to show off an important copywriting skill: being able to write in different tones of voice.
But what is tone of voice or TOV, as those of us who spend all day copywriting prefer to call it? One client uses a Maya Angelou quote to characterise it as the way writing makes you feel.
I think that’s about right. TOV works alongside visual identity and design to give you a sense of a brand’s personality, so you can decide whether it’s something you want to hang out with. And if you’re a brand, TOV is a good way of making sure you connect with specific types of customer.
As a writer, it’s not always easy to “get your eye in” to a new TOV. For example, it took a couple of attempts to nail the right way of talking to potential buyers of a high-end credit card in this brochure.
Good TOV guides can be extremely helpful: not just to guide external writers but also to ensure everyone is equipped to make customers feel the same way.
Some guides tend towards the bland, for example simply demanding that all writing be something like “professional, informative, trustworthy, passionate”. It’s hard to write killer differentiating copy off guidelines like that. But good TOV guidance goes into serious detail. It links tone of voice to the brand, explains and describes its characteristics and gives copious examples of the TOV in practice.
For DBS, Asia’s biggest bank, we write for its digital brand as well as its premium offer for wealthy customers. In both cases, thorough TOV guides – some of the best we’ve seen in 20 years of copywriting – help us to switch easily from one voice to another.
Until someone invents a slider to tune TOV automatically, on demand, the ability to write across a spectrum of tones of voice will continue to keep professional writers busy.