Why Tone Can Make or Break Your Copy
Tone is the bedrock of all brand strategies. Brands must communicate to their audience in a variety of ways, through copy, color schemes, videos, and more.
This is why it is crucial to keep things consistent and always capture the brand’s essence while communicating its message.
Deciding on the brand message is the easy part; what is more difficult is how to communicate it. This “how” of brand communication is where tone comes in the picture.
Though it may seem like a trivial matter, it can effectively make your copy successful or lousy!
Having a strong understanding of tone can not only help you write effective copy; it can also become the backbone of your overall marketing strategy. Having the right tone will help you connect to your target audience and draw in new customers as well.
How do you reach new audiences while keeping your present audience happy? How is one brand able to sell wider and further than another brand? How do you communicate your brand message in an interesting and compelling way?
All these questions fall under the aspect of tone. So, let’s discuss what tone is and why tone can make or break your copy.
What Is Tone?
You may have heard the terms “tone,” “voice,” or “style” in your English class. People also confuse between these terms and use them interchangeably. But it’s important to differentiate them.
In contrast to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, your tone and voice in writing have to do with how you express yourself, rather than any hard and fast rules.
So, while you can have an impeccable command over conventions of grammar and punctuation, you can still fall incredibly short in your copywriting if you use the wrong tone for the wrong setting.
Take the example of your most witty friend. That guy or gal who always has to say something clever and subtly humorous. Maybe they inflect some words in their sentences so you can tell when they’re being comical.
While it matters what a witty person says, the way they say it makes their statement witty. Their tone is what gives their statement that extra nuance of meaning that separates it from other statements.
Consider another example. Think of how differently you talk to a stranger versus your best friend. There’s no change in accent or vocal sounds. But the way you’re communicating changes radically.
This means that you use different vocabulary (terms, slang, etc.), different sentence structures, and different cadences. And you do this all subconsciously because you know that what works with one won’t work with the other.
So, how do these daily applications of tone translate to your copywriting? Well, just as you won’t talk in the same manner with a stranger as with your best friend, you also won’t communicate to a certain audience by using an unsuitable tone.
Tone colors your writing by transforming it into something characteristic. Does your copy require something whimsical and bright? Or is a more subdued and professional tone called for?
You have to align your tone with whatever project you’re working on.
To summarize, tone is the manner in which you interact with your audience.
Why Does Tone Matter?
When someone starts talking to you in their professional jargon, with abstruse words and complex phrasing, you are likely to zone out and not be able to pay attention.
Likewise, when someone your age starts talking to you as if you were a child, with a slow pace and a simple vocabulary, you are likely to feel insulted or at least turn off whatever they are saying.
With this, you get the idea of why tone can make or break whatever message you’re communicating. It can either compel your audience to listen to what you’re saying or repel them and make them never come back.
Tone is a crucial factor for any brand. It dictates how people will feel when they interact with anything the brand produces or communicates.
If you have a solid command over your tone, you can influence how people feel about your brand. If, on the other hand, you employ tone poorly, your effect is likely to fizzle out and not carry through.
Tone exists everywhere, whether you like it or not. So, if it is not harnessed to do your bidding, it can go the other route and actually cause damage to your brand.
Consistency also matters while applying tone. If you have a haphazard approach and apply different tones, your brand is likely to come off as unprofessional and low-quality.
Which Tone Should You Use?
The tone you choose depends only on your audience. As for music tastes, some people will listen to a certain genre while others will loathe it, but connect with another. The same goes for tone.
As the age-old marketing adage reads, “when you market to everyone, you market to no one.” And it couldn’t ring truer in the case of tone. You have to identify your target audience and use a certain tone in interacting with them.
You cannot draw in every single reader that visits your brand’s website. So, you have to choose carefully. This means at least doing a healthy dose of preliminary market research.
Your market research will not only help you realize the right tone for your copy, but it will also let you tap into your prospective customers’ minds. What are they most comfortable with? What tone do they prefer? What are they looking for?
Also, do some demographic research. What is the average age of your target audience? Are they sporty or nerdy? Do they like glamorous or understated?
Having researched and answered these questions, you can determine the best tone to use. Now, you have to align your own brand’s message with that tone. More often than not, brands will already be shaped around a certain tone since they’ve already done their market research.
But if your brand has yet to settle on the right tone, you can help develop it by testing out different tones with focus groups or other survey methods. This will all pay off once you settle in on a tone that resonates consistently with your average target audience.
Finding the right tone is a trial and error process, but before settling on a tone, make sure to do your market research and be conscious about the tone you use! If you send out copy that has an inappropriate tone, you will most likely alienate your readership and harm your brand before it has even made a splash.
How Can You Handle Your Tone?
Your tone should shift according to the message you’re sending. First, you should have a strong message and understand it like the back of your hand. Once you know what to say, you can tweak how you say it.
Now, think about what effect you want to create on your audience. Do you want to leave your audience feeling amused or excited? Do you want them to smirk at something witty that you’ve written? Or nod in a solemn, agreeing manner?
Once you have gauged the feeling you want to evoke, you can turn to the vocabulary. Vocabulary is crucial, and your tone will be dramatically affected by it. Establish a parameter for what kind of vocabulary you can use to evoke the same feeling.
This is followed by phrasing and rhythm. All your sentences can’t be two lines long. You need to break them up. Depending on what tone you’re going for, you can use longer and shorter sentences to help freshen up the flow of your prose.
Now that these basics have been covered, you can start writing. Write your copy, whether blog, article, headline, or anything else. Your tone will be discovered during this process. It doesn’t come immediately.
Even if you’ve done your research and have keyed-in on the right tone, you still have to polish and refine it so as to make it stronger. It’s a process and requires patience at work. Once you’ve found the sweet spot by writing and rewriting your sentences, you should stay consistent across the board with your tone.
After being seen consistently on your brand’s website, your tone will become characteristic and recognizable. This is what helps make brands memorable!
Examples of Different Tones
You might be writing for a fitness company. In that case, your tone ought to sound energetic. To deploy an energetic tone, keep your sentences short and fragmented. Make action-oriented bullet points and short horizontal lines. Choose punchy, powerful words over bland words.
If, on the other hand, you are writing for fashion brands or spas and salons, you might want luxury to come across. Here, you can use longer, flowing sentences and sprinkle them with lots of adjectives. Don’t offer a lot of functional detail; instead, make your prose flowery or elegant.
Tech and software companies and other modern brands would require you to use a tone of innovation. To make your prose sound more “state-of-the-art,” you should use brief, articulate sentences. Use a conversational and minimalist language without any swear words or colloquialisms.
Use testimonials for your advantage and lets users/customers speak for you.
If you’re writing copy for hospitality, insurance, schooling, or service providers, you may want to use a dependable tone. For this, you should use words that sound comfortable, warm, and wholesome.
Don’t use any exclamations or high-energy words. Instead, you should rely on more conventional rhetorical devices and use a more heartening voice.
These are just some of the examples of different tones being used in different contexts. As your copywriting journey progresses and you take on more clients or polish your existing brand message, you can become a master of tone.
If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of copywriting and how to solidify your use of tone, take a look at some of our in-depth copywriting courses at the San Francisco School of Copywriting.