Tone of voice: how to become one of the faces

Tom Davies

Coastal Copy

“I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya, or you might as well jump in the [digital] sea and drown.” – Jimmy Cooper, fictional mod

For some reason, these (slightly adapted) words taken from Franc Roddam’s cult classic film, Quadrophenia, have never really left me – and now I know why.

It’s because I need to tell you how this quote conveniently doubles up as some pretty sound advice when it comes to finding a tone of voice for your business.

You see, if we don’t give a little thought to how we sound through our words, it becomes all too easy to get washed away in a digital sea of sameness, silenced by its churning waves of waffle. (Where did that sentence come from?)

Anyway, you’ve ‘gotta be somebody’ if you really want to get noticed, and a revved-up tone of voice is just the ticket.

What is tone of voice anyway?

Otherwise known as ‘verbal identity’, tone of voice is the personality of a brand. It’s what we look like in words, inviting readers to connect by communicating in a way that’s consistent, trustworthy and seemingly effortless.

Just as we instantly recognise Roger Daltrey’s gravelly pipes at the start of the ultimate mod anthem, My Generation, our tone of voice needs to be able to cut through the crowd and land in the ears of our target audience.

It needs to make readers think: “I know that voice, I better stop scrolling through this corporate drizzle and read what these guys have to say”.

Okay, so they might not think those exact words, but you get the point: your tone of voice needs to be instantly recognisable (or you might as well jump in the [digital] sea and drown).

Ain’t that right, Jimmy?

Can you see the real me?

If you’ve seen Quadrophenia, you’ll know that things really start to unravel for Jimmy once he realises his idol, Ace Face, is actually a Brighton bellhop.

In that pivotal moment – where identity starts to fray – Jimmy pushes a trendsetting Vespa GS off a Beachy Head clifftop.

“But Tom, what’s this got to do with tone of voice?” I hear you ask.

Well, just as Ace Face loses his audience through an inconsistent identity, we, too, can lose our audience if we don’t stay true to a consistent tone of voice.

Whether it’s website copy, an email marketing campaign, a business blog…you name it, the key is consistency. It’s the only way people will remember you.

“Cor, look at him; don’t he look smart?”

If you really want to see scores of followers in all 28 of your Vespa’s mirrors, you need a tone of voice that doesn’t just honk its air horn up and down Madeira Drive.

These careless antics won’t fool anyone – it’ll only piss them off!

Instead, a trusted tone of voice is one that appears effortless on the page. Just as Ace Face wins the dancefloor with his nifty shuffling (who knew Sting had those moves?), our tone of voice should win the crowd without creating a single sweat patch on our paisley Ben Sherman.

So, if you are thinking about writing your own copy, don’t be tempted by the fruits of a thesaurus. Stick to being authentic, whatever that looks like for you and your business.

“So, you’re going to be one of the faces?”

Fashioning a dark brown, three-buttoned suit with side vents and 16″ bottoms might not be everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s fine – mods don’t dress to impress everyone. They dress to the style of their clique. To be somebody. To be one of the faces.

And when we’re finding our tone of voice, it’s a similar story. Instead of trying to be universally appealing, we should focus on our target audience and tailor our voice to their desires.

To do this, it might be easier to think of our business as a person. Do they:

  • wear Chelsea boots or leather boots (or neither)?
  • listen to The Yardbirds or Gene Vincent (or neither)?
  • ride a Lambretta or a Triton (or neither)?

Coupling these trivial details with your business values will go a long way to find a tone of voice that fits the bill and clicks with your target audience.

If you’re really not sure where to start with it all, give me a shout.

To conclude

Looking the part takes time. For mods, this time might be spent sitting in the bath wearing a pair of Levi’s, shrinking them down to a skintight fit. But for your business, time is probably better spent finding a voice that works.

The way I see it, a business without a distinctive tone of voice is like Pete Townshend without his signature windmill move, a rocker without her leathers, or perhaps a mod without a horseshoe flat-top.

If there’s nothing to set us apart, we become more of that low-throttle background noise that never takes centre stage.

And we really don’t want that.

So, if you really want to ‘be somebody’, ditch the drab and invest in a throttle-twisting tone of voice that firmly places you at the front of the pack. (Whether that’s as a mod or as a rocker is up to you!)

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