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Why merchants need a tone of voice (TOV)

June 13, 2022

Competition for sales online is at an all-time high. Consequently, merchants need to get the look and feel of their website just right in order to appeal to shoppers. Having a distinct tone of voice (TOV) is one way to make your online store stand out from the crowd, but how do you create one?

What is a tone of voice (TOV)?

There’s plenty of marketing jargon about, but you should pay attention when people talk about a TOV. Your TOV represents the entire business; it’s the words used to describe the company and its messaging architecture. 

How your online store talks to customers has a significant role to play in guiding the opinion they form of your business. Get your tone of voice right, and it can be a key driver that convinces people to shop with you over competitors.

TOV before anything else

A robust marketing strategy is a good starting point for any business. Yet, there’s no point in creating content and marketing your online store if you don’t have a TOV. It quite literally sets the tone for how your company sounds when communicating, be it through the website, social media and even how you talk to customers on the phone and in email. 

Your TOV will help develop an identity and provide the building blocks to form a brand people recognise. It’s the foundation of your marketing efforts and represents your company on every level, from the CEO to marketing, product and customer service teams.

How to create a tone of voice

Know who you are and where you’re going

Without a core DNA for your brand, it’s hard for people to understand what you represent. Knowing the core ethos of your online store and what it stands for is the starting point of creating a TOV. 

Before other people can get behind your business and shop with you, there’s a need to set out your own mantra and decide on the type of business you want to be. Nike, for example, has an inspirational TOV because it sells fitness apparel. Coca-Cola is positive, friendly and down to earth. 

Of course, these brands have had many years and black-cheque budgets to find a TOV that works for them, but their examples should give you an idea of what your business might sound like. No one knows it better than you, and you probably have a TOV already, even if it hasn’t been defined yet.

Look to the past to see the future

If you’ve never heard the words ‘content audit’ before, now is the time to familiarise yourself with an action that holds great importance for determining a TOV. A content audit allows you to dig deeper into your business’s past communication methods and see where you stand in the here and now. 

A content audit helps decide if there is already consistency in your message or if it needs tweaking. Most companies overlook content audits because they’re time-consuming. Yet, they can be helpful exercises for looking at the bigger picture and starting to think about how to evolve and reshape your company’s tone of voice.

Style guides

A style guide plays an integral role in creating a succinct TOV that shoppers can resonate with. Using a style guide isn’t just helpful for customers; it provides more clarity while defining your business’s TOV for current and future employees. 

It sets out your brand’s TOV. Therefore, it needs to be straightforward to follow so that customers can identify and employees can easily understand it. Let them know how they should talk when representing your company and how written, and spoken communications should sound. 

The style guide needs to show clear examples of a good tone of voice and bad tone of voice, giving those reading it a chance to understand the context. It’s essentially your guidebook for how you and other employees represent the business.

Practice makes perfect

When it comes to putting your TOV into practice, it’s worth trying different variations to see what works best, even if the core parts never change. You might play around with being slightly more humorous in a social media post before taking a serious tone for a press release. 

Having a tone of voice doesn’t mean being rigid in your approach. The guidelines are there to lay down the essentials. From here, you can adapt it to the type of messaging customers, and other businesses see when they interact with your company. 

A winning tone of voice

Creating a tone of voice gives your online store a personality. It can be the difference-maker, helping you stand out from the crowd. Your TOV is unique to your business, and a good one will resonate with customers and make them feel more enthusiastic about buying from your store.