Finding Your B2B Company's Voice and Tone
How many times have you landed on a B2B website (maybe even yours) to be greeted by copy that goes something like this: “cloud-based proprietary software platform for optimizing team communication.”
That’s a lot of fancy words and jargon, and it could be used to describe a hugely popular business messaging tool, one that you likely use every day. Guessed it yet? We’re talking about Slack.
Sentences like the one above are why business-to-business (B2B) companies have a reputation for being boring or impersonal. These have a much better ring:
- Slack replaces email inside your company.
- Keep conversations organized in Slack.
The difference between the two is why defining your company’s voice and tone is so important. It gives your business a go-to guide for how you want to write, speak, and sound — and ultimately how you want people to feel.
You don’t need to be the company with the best jokes (think, Wendy’s) and you can keep your professional feel while being clear, concise, and engaging. Your voice reveals your brand’s distinct personality (yes, you do have one!), by defining who you are and how you will differentiate yourself in a crowded market.
What’s the Difference Between Voice and Tone?
Voice is a set of consistent characteristics that define who you are as a brand. Are you authoritative and reserved? Outspoken and friendly? Your company’s voice is your personality, and should reflect your core values. Tone, on the other hand, is how you express your voice. It can and will change, based on how you would speak in certain situations. For example, you may use different phrasing or words in a Twitter post versus a sales email, but the underlying characteristics of your voice always apply.
Creating Your Brand Guidelines
When you’re ready to dive in, the first step is to take stock of your brand’s existing voice and tone. Review what you are currently doing, and what works and what doesn’t. What are you doing well that is resonating with your audience. Where can you improve? Do a bit of research. Talk to coworkers and find out what customers are saying. From there, you can decide what needs a refresh and begin to build out your full guidelines.
What to Include in Your Guide
Once you’ve done the upfront work, it’s time to document your findings in a clear way that anyone who writes for your brand can easily find and access. That could be a designed PowerPoint presentation or a clearly laid out Word document — whatever works best for you and your team. A strong guide will include:
- “Who We Are” Statement: This is the embodiment of your brand’s personality and should explain what your brand stands for in a few short paragraphs. It sets the tone for how an audience will feel when interacting with your brand, and should leave anyone reading it feeling that way too.
- Company Values: Company values should be at the core of everything you do as a company, including informing how you speak to the world.
- Definition of Your Voice: Define 3-4 characteristics that get to the heart of who you are as a company. You could choose a word and write a short paragraph to explain it, or use contrasting examples to narrow in. For example: We are professional, but not stuffy.
- Word Choice Examples: Providing concrete examples of relevant words or phrases gives writers a picture of how to apply voice principles. You can include a dos and don’ts list for your particular brand to steer people on the right course.
- Content Examples: Within your guide, include content examples, like a sample email or social post, to bring life to the voice and tone principles you are establishing. It can be helpful to also include examples of how not to write, to give a contrast to your unique voice.
- Style Guide: Oxford comma or no? If your company has a house style guide, be sure to include it so writers can keep grammar and punctuation consistent.
B2B Brand Voice Examples
Here are a few B2B companies that have built a strong brand voice that resonates with their audience.
Mailchimp: Mailchimp is the poster child for brand Voice and Tone. Their detailed Content Style Guide is a great place to get the juices flowing for establishing your own. Here’s a tidbit: “We are translators. Only experts can make what’s difficult look easy, and it’s our job to demystify B2B-speak and actually educate.”
Dell: Dell has incorporated an engaging blend of video, employee spotlights, and company news into their LinkedIn newsfeed. They have a light tone, are to the point, and have a human feel, despite being a technology company.
Slack: Slack uses descriptions that are clear and to the point. They’re efficient, just like Slack says they can help your team to be. Slack is also a place of gif wars and carefully curated emoji usage, so they’re not above a bit of fun in showcasing the human side of their brand.
.@Stuart_Delivery delivers everything: takeout, groceries, clothes — you name it. And the company does it across 75 cities in three countries. So what’s its secret?— Slack (@SlackHQ) January 10, 2020
🤫 Shared channels. 🤫https://t.co/eGoN2cFzBJ
Sophos: Is it possible to humanize cybersecurity? Sophos has proved that you can balance providing crucial information on cyber threats without resorting to fear and scare tactics.
Me seeing all the new support tickets that have come in since last night... pic.twitter.com/uAqwFjE4AQ— Sophos (@Sophos) January 31, 2020
Buffer: Buffer is a social media management platform, but they’re known for being open, honest, and helpful gurus on all things social as well as branding, content marketing, and more. You immediately feel this when reading their Voice and Tone Guide, and see their personality reflected in their content. Their blog posts are informative and comprehensive, and they freely share inside tips and advice in their podcast series. Something else they’re known for? Transparency in how they share about salaries and financials.
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We're debuting a new revenue dashboard!⠀ ⠀ With transparency as one of our defining values at Buffer, we’re always seeking opportunities to share more information with the world.⠀ ⠀ We’ve also tried to remain open about our financial progress by sharing our revenue metrics with the world. We’ve done this through monthly blog posts, Tweetstorms, and more.⠀ ⠀ Most recently, we have switched to ChartMogul as our new source of truth for revenue numbers.⠀ ⠀ This dashboard contains Buffer’s actual revenue numbers, completely open to all to see how we’ve been doing as a company over time. It will always show the full metrics from the last complete month, and we’ll update it every month.⠀ ⠀ Head to the link in our post to find out the key metrics you’ll see on the dashboard.
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Talking about yourself can be difficult. Need a hand? Get in touch with our team to learn about our approach to building a brand voice.