Raising the tone


What your business says is vitally important, but so, too, is how it says it. Not just the words that are chosen, but the tone of voice that is used to address your audience, whether that be the general public, clients, staff, or other stakeholders. And the tone that you use should help differentiate your brand and show that it is unique.

When developing a voice for your brand, you need to look for something more than correct use of language – something deeper and more personal that communicates your business values and attitudes. If used consistently, over time, the tone of voice can help to define your business and make your messaging readily identifiable.

The aim of establishing a tone of voice for your brand is to differentiate your business from others – to make it clear who is speaking and who you’re addressing. Word choice, grammar, sentence length and complexity and punctuation are all elements that affect the tone of your writing.



Speaker and audience

It’s important to understand the persona and personality of your brand and how this relates to the stakeholders you are addressing. Think about how your mother speaks and how your colleagues or your mates down the pub speak; even if the message content is essentially the same – an invitation to Sunday lunch, for example – if the words were written down, or spoken tunelessly by a robot, you’d almost certainly know who it was who was speaking.

Consider the difference between a teacher explaining the homework to a student and that same student then explaining the same homework to her friend. Or compare a secondary school teacher setting homework for a class with a university lecturer setting a similar assignment. The words used will be different – essay, story, composition…, as well as the way the homework requirements are defined – number of pages, word count, time to be spent on the task…

Word choice

In the slogan “Naughty. But nice", written by Salman Rushdie to advertise the UK Milk Board’s fresh cream cakes in the 1970s, there are a number of words – bad, wicked, sinful… – that could have been used instead of “naughty.” But not only does “naughty” have the advantage of alliterating with “nice”, it also conjures associations with mischievous, cheerful, childish and trivial: the slogan is teasing in tone and suggests that, although giving in to the temptation of the cakes may be self-indulgent, it’s not irredeemably evil.

Latin or Anglo-Saxon?

English is a wonderful language with a vast vocabulary. Many words occur as pairs, having essentially the same meaning, but coming from different roots: the Anglo-Saxon language of Germanic settlers or the Latinate languages of the Roman Empire and the Normans. The former tend to be short and direct; the latter more sophisticated, as can be seen if we compare the Anglo-Saxon “dog” with the Latinate “canine.”

Taken to an extreme, we can have parallel sentences such as “She caught a cold” and “she contracted acute viral nasopharyngitis” which carry the same factual message, but where the word choice provides clues about the speaker’s status and situation and their intended audience.

If your business is aiming to create a luxury brand, it’s quite possible that you’ll be using more Latinate words than a similar business targeting a less sophisticated audience. Compare the more down-to-earth and homely language of family-oriented hospitality brands with the more exclusive tone of high-end destinations who want to appeal to higher-income or business travellers.

Depending on the sector, a choice of Latinate words may convey authority, class and prestige. But not all authority resides in posh speech, and there are fields in which a no-nonsense approach will win more appreciation: here it’s vital to understand your audience and use appropriate language that will appeal and speak to them most directly and effectively.




In speech, we usually use contractions: “you’d” rather than “you would”, “he’s” rather than “he is”, “shouldn’t” rather than “should not”. But many of us were taught at school that this style of writing is informal and that written contractions are unacceptable. The problem is that if we are trying to write in a friendly and approachable tone, our readers may well feel alienated if we discard the colloquial contractions in favour of the complete verb forms. So, unless you are deliberately trying to distance yourself from your reader, perhaps to consolidate your brand’s authority and exclusivity, you’ll probably want to use contractions at least some of the time.


Another marketing creation from Rushdie – the word “irresistibubble” used in advertising the bubble-filled Aero chocolate bar – shows how a brand can become so closely associated with a word or phrase that they essentially own it. The “-bubble” ending was used in a number of instantly recognisable variations – “delectabubble”, “adorabubble”, availabubble here”…

One downside of a brand becoming closely linked with a particular word or phrase is when it loses the initial positive impact that it had. This is what happened with Theresa May’s “strong and stable,” which devolved from its original meaning into an internet meme.


Often one of the most important things to consider when writing business texts is to decide how you are going to refer to your own brand and organisation. Should we use a plural form and say, for example, “At Tantamount we use this style” or “Tantamount use this style”, or a singular form, “Tantamount uses this style”?

Do we refer to “our staff”, “our personnel”, “our team”, the team” or “the Tantamount team”? And, having decided which group noun we’ll use, does it take a singular or plural verb? “The team wants to know” or “The team want to know.” Both options are grammatically acceptable in British English, but consistency will help consolidate your brand voice.


In many industries, if you compare direct competitors, their messages and verbal communications are almost identical: often if it weren’t for the brand colours on an IT services website, for example, you’d be hard pushed to know which company it belonged to. This is where tone of voice can help you differentiate your brand and target the specific audience you want to work with.

If you step away from the Gigabyte counts, cloud storage and download speeds to the way that the services are spoken about, the company can show its personality and values and the audience will know whether to expect them to talk to you like a geek or in everyday language that non-techies will understand.

If you look at two food products in the supermarket, the ingredients list may be very similar, but, where one company focuses on the homely, local and traditional nature of their product, the other is all about the quality, exclusivity and purity of the individual ingredients. The actual products may taste almost identical, but the brand voice will appeal to different clients.




Why does it matter?

Using a consistent tone of voice in all your business communications will help to strengthen your brand, demonstrate your values, and consolidate the relationship you have with your clients.

By making the right language choices to suit this relationship, you will find your communications engage with and appeal to the sort of customers you want to work with:

  • Are you a mother speaking to her children? You’ll want to use simple and clear phrasing, while sounding protective and nurturing.
  • Are you and the client two adult professionals of equal standing? Your tone can be confident, no nonsense and professional.
  • Are you the friend and confidant of your client? The words may be more intimate, direct and personal.

Whatever the situation and relationship, your language choices should reflect your brand personality, your values and attitudes, and the way your clients can expect to relate to you. Over time, the tone of voice will become clearer and more established and each touch point with your client will become a brand experience.

You can use the power of words to bury meaning or to excavate it.
― Rebecca Solnit

At Tantamount, we specialise in words and design and in making sure they work together to communicate brand messages effectively and appropriately. If you need help finding the right words and getting the tone right, why not mail us on hello@tantamount.com or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 and let’s have a chat?