Tone of Voice 101: How to Write Copy

Tone of Voice 101: How to Write Copy That People Can Connect With

The tone of voice you apply to your website and other materials is one of the strongest ways to build your brand personality and personality is essential if you are to connect emotionally with customers and build a strong, loyal customer base.

This article provides some excellent tips on how to get your tone of voice right for you.


Tone of Voice 101: How to Write Copy That People Can Connect With

By Joanna Wiebe via

Your message is what you’re trying to communicate. Your tone of voice is how you communicate it.

Tone takes a statement and either breathes life into it… or sucks the life out of it.

It goes without saying, I think, that the tone you should be aiming for is the kind that will breathe life into your copy… bring your brand out of its shell… and help your visitors connect with your brand and offering.

But how do you create that tone?

Is it as simple as sitting down at your desk and putting your Mr. Creative hat on – then letting the proverbial muse take over?

Or do you head over to your competition’s site and mimic – or counter – what they’re doing?

Well, there is a bit of an art to getting a tone right, so the muse may come into play (unlike anywhere else in web copywriting).

And knowing how your competitors are communicating with their visitors can be useful, too; go do a content audit to get started there.

But, that said, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that…:

Your paying customers can help you find and refine your tone.

Poll your new customers. Send a follow-up “thanks for choosing us”
email within days of a purchase, and ask your customer to indicate –
quite simply – which adjective (of a short list of options) best describes
how they feel about your brand.*

Learning what adjective(s) your customers use most often to describe you can help you find your tone. How can that be? Because nearly every tone under the sun is simply an adjective brought to life. Your tone can be nerdy, romantic, condescending, patriotic, joyful, shocking, cool, happy, foolish, funny, formal or flirty. Those are all, of course, adjectives. They are brought to life on the page by combining diction and syntax to create tone.**

Your tone can be anything. Unfortunately, it is most often this one thing: BORING.

Related Article: 15 Tips for Livening Up Things When Your Brand Is Getting Stale

B2B copy is particularly guilty of being boring to read… because there’s this misconception that businesses, lawyers, accountants, etc only wish to be informed. As if they are robots. As if they have no emotion, don’t smile at puppies, don’t watch movies, wear uniforms and live in a plain white box. Just look at the copy that is supposed to make Finance and Operations folks want to attend this Oracle event:

Oracle event - Tone Of Voice 101

Now, I’m not a “finance and operations” pro, but I have a hard time believing that the tone of this copy would connect with anyone. It’s entirely factual and informative… which [incorrectly] assumes that people make buying decisions rationally, sans emotion.. I’d venture to say that this Oracle copywriter – who’s probably a perfectly nice person that’s been beaten into submission by one too many Fortune 500 HIPPOs – knows that people are going to sign up for this event because they have to, not because they want to.

So, great, if YOUR visitors HAVE to use your solution, you may not need to invest in a tone of voice that connects with people…

But if YOUR visitors get to make a choice – if they get to say ‘no’ to you – then optimizing your tone makes sense. Why?


A great tone can inspire desirable emotional responses in your visitors.

And emotional responses are huge in human decision-making.

As Human Factors International teaches, emotion is one of 3 key considerations when building successful online interactions. Failing to build emotion-inspiring moments into your site can negatively impact your user experience, conversion rate and customer retention. Tone creates emotional responses in your reader, and that’s a very good thing.

What’s extra-fantastic about that is that emotional responses are damn hard for the competition to mimic or steal from you. Once you’ve made your audience feel for you, good luck shaking ’em! That means tone can be great for attracting and retaining customers… to say nothing of increasing the likelihood that they’ll tell their friends about you. (People remember how they feel about a brand or experience. If they feel nothing, they remember nothing.)

Now, you may be sold on the idea of cultivating a better tone. And, from there, you may come to believe that your tone should reflect your personality – but, IMHO, creating a personality shouldn’t be your primary objective in developing your tone. Rather, you should develop a tone in order to:

  • Enact the value your visitors desire, such as dependability or entertainment
  • Engage your visitors by making your site copy more enjoyable to read (i.e., less like work)
  • Stimulate positive feelings that then become associated with your brand

With those points in mind – rather than simply “creating a personality” – you can see that real business goals can be directly tied to the development of an excellent tone.

“Emotion is the adhesive that, when mixed with trust, equals loyalty.”
The Marketing Power of Emotion – John O’Shaughnessy

People want to feel something. They do not want to be bored. They don’t want to forget about the new brands they encounter. They want to like things – they want to like you.

As a copy hacker, it’s your job to help your visitors feel, to avoid boring them, to help them remember you, and to make them like you. That’s all part of your ongoing goals of 1) increasing their happiness and 2) selling them a better version of themselves. Yes?

So, let’s say you decide that it’s time to work on your tone.

Great. If you do the poll I recommended above, you could come up with any adjective (I can’t possibly anticipate what yours will be). But, whatever tone you decide to experiment with or fully adopt, it may help you to see a few examples of companies that do tone well for their audiences – and to understand the types of tones that can work well for various offerings and brands. Voila:

Tone: Innovative

Who It May Be Right For:

  • Software companies
  • App firms
  • Agencies

How to Do It:

  • Be brief, succinct and simply articulate
  • Use conversational language, minus curse-words and colloquialisms
  • Let customers/users speak for you (i.e., testimonials instead of marketing messages)
Zuora - Tone of Voice 101

Expensively Elegant

Who It May Be Right For:

  • Spas and salons
  • Boutiques (even boutique Etsy stores)
  • High-end items targeted at affluent women

How to Do It:

  • Use lengthier, flowing sentences
  • Use lots of adjectives… but not many action-oriented adverbs (which give the sense that one must rush, when the wealthy should not be rushed)
  • Offer minimal details, especially when it comes to functional stuff

Related Article: Ten ways to build a brand for your small business


Tone: Energetic

Who It May Be Right For:

  • Exercise programs & gyms
  • Brands for teen & uni girls
  • Fun-focused social networks / apps

How to Do It:

  • Use fragmented sentences, action-oriented bullets and short horizontal lines (i.e., linesdon’t run the width of the page)
  • Opt for short, power-packed words – like what you might read in a Batman comic – over overused, bland words

Tone: Irreverent

Who It May Be Right For:

  • Apps & games targeted at teen boys

How to Do It:

  • Um, watch a lot of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, paying particular attention to how Spicoli talks but steering clear of sounding exactly like a surfer. 😉

Tone: Dependable

Who It May Be Right For:

  • Insurance providers
  • Schools & courses
  • Hosting companies
  • Merchant service providers

How to Do It:

  • Use words that feel warm, comfortable and wholesome
  • Avoid colloquialisms, curse-words, exclamation points or other high-emotion devices
  • Rely heavily on traditional rhetorical devices, like parallel statements
American-Family - tone of voice 101

Other Tone Tips:

  • Your tone needs to feel authentic, not forced.
  • Beware of attempts to be funny! They rarely come off as funny… and they tend to be embarrassing for everyone when they fall flat.
  • Not every line needs to be tonal. Keep the prominent stuff – like headlines and subheads – tonal, let your inline help messaging be a tad tonal… and let the rest of the copy just be.
  • If your competition is very tonal, you could set yourself apart not by competing with their tone but by pulling back and keeping things simple & straightforward. That can help differentiate you.
  • Don’t forget context and busy-ness! Your tone shouldn’t be so thick that people who are in a rush or on their mobile devices feel burdened by it. Put usability before tone.
  • Avoid inconsistencies. Don’t interject sudden moments of cutesiness in copy that otherwise feels casual.
  • One of Cialdini’s six persuasion principles is Likability – so lean toward a likable-for-your-audience tone rather than one that’s potentially less likable.

Have any questions regarding your brands tone? Feel free to send me an email at