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How to develop your company’s tone of voice

Comms: It might well always get relegated to the bottom of your list, but getting your tone of voice right is not that complicated, and you probably have most of it in your head already. Get it down in a form that others can use it, and precious time will be saved.

A man with a beard and mohican hair style wearing a yellow T-shirt is looking directly into the camera whilst holding a yellow and white megaphone to his mouth. He's pictured on a plain turquoise background. The image  is being used to suggest a casual tone of voice in corporate communications.

Every company needs a personality, something that makes it memorable. Your organisation might be a challenger brand, acting like the cheeky upstart, or it might be the authoritative leader in its industry, acting like the grown-up.

Wherever your company falls on that spectrum, the way you approach your communications forms a significant part of your brand guidelines. For your ‘tone of voice’, you are creating a set of expected behaviours which describe how your organisation communicates with stakeholders and customers. Are you friendly and energetic? Or more formal and reserved? Whatever it is, every part of the organisation should buy into that and communicate and behave in that same way. Think of it as a communications equivalent of a dress code - t-shirts or collars?

In practical terms, that means the kind of language, terminology, and manner of the communication which makes the organisation recognisable.

Many companies don’t really have have a ‘corporate’ or consistent tone of voice, and resort to a form of cheerful enthusiasm in communications, especially on social media, but to do it properly, there are a number of things to think about:

Who are you?

The tone of voice emerges from what you actually are - it’s not something inauthentic that you add on afterwards, not least since it has to be deliverable by all of you, and the best versions of you (passionate, articulate, authoritative) rather than the worst (shambolic, disorganised, etc). To get to the point where everyone in the company understands what you are trying to achieve (a shared understanding which is often assumed but not always overtly stated), you should get everyone involved - everyone can buy-in and everyone will be better equipped to publicly represent the company. As part of that process, it would be good to re-assess two things:

Company values and ambitions -

What are you trying to achieve? If you are in the language teaching industry, what status are you trying to achieve? What level of pre-eminence do you want to be? The biggest in your sector? The best? The best value? Work out your ambition and how you quantify it.

And what are you? How do you define yourselves? If you are in the tourist industry, are you teaching skills (if you do sailing holidays for example), providing luxury (hotels), comfort (B+B) and so on. If you can work out what your schtick is, then it helps identify the sorts of things you talk about and the language and vocabulary you use to do so.

The audience

The other side of developing a tone of voice is working out what kind of language would be suitable for your audience - what are the topics and tone which will interest and endear customers and stakeholders to you? And who, indeed, are your primary audiences? Again, if you’re in language education, are you talking to agents? Parents? Students? You can segment your communications to some degree, but you can’t decide who reads what, so have a sense of clarity as to the core parts of your audience.

The topics

What do you talk about? Some will be about your products and services, some will be about your people, but what else? On this blog, much of what we talk about is related to the services we deliver, but that’s not always appropriate. What would your current and prospective customer expect to hear from you? Search term referrals and the questions you are asked by customers can help with that. They can provide conversational threads you can unpick.

The platforms

Where does this manifest itself? Obviously on your own platform (especially if you have a blog), but also on social media and on third party platforms (and you might want to think about expanding your PR to broaden the reach of your voice). The choice of platform also affects the tone of voice. For example, some Twitter accounts might still be hugely formal, but for most, the character limit changes how organisations communicate. And if that doesn’t suit the kind of company you think you are, then don’t go there. Especially if your audience don’t frequent that platform either. So that might mean the informal and video-based communications of Tik Tok, for example, might not be for you.


If you’re running a blog or on social media then some notion of engagement is key. Should you respond to polite comments and questions (yes) and what about the trolls (ignore them). But the tone and manner of the responses should be in keeping with the rest of your communications, and the topics you communicate about should define what’s in and out of bounds too.

The language

Some of this simply all comes down to the nitty gritty of language:

  • Degree of formality, e.g. in emails, do you address people with “dear,” “hello,” “hey”…?
  • Use of colloquialisms and, even, swearing. Do you need to be grammatically correct?
  • Humour - do you think you’re funny?
  • The simple practice of consistency on dates (UK, not US style); on contractions (‘you are’ or you’re); the use of hyphens, capital letters, abbreviations, acronyms and so on. It’s easiest to find one used by someone else - the Associated Press and the Guardian have good ones to model yourself on.


All this needs writing down for all your staff - a shared document that all can refer to would be useful (and shareable with those who work with you, rather than for you - freelancers and contributors). In that document you can:

  • Set down the specifics of the tone of voice in black and white terms
  • Provide something that those responsible for communications can refer back to
  • Act as a training resource for new employees
  • Turn theory into practice by being written in the tone of voice itself

There’s a lot to do here, and you may think much of it is a lot of work for a company with better things to do. But you only need to do this once, and when you have, you’ll find your communications are much more coherent and clear and are delivering a version of your company that’s authentically you.