The art of voice and tone analysis

I have been analyzing the voice and tone for quite a few customers over the last five years, and they are all quite different from each other. I don't just mean the actual voice and tone, but what's included in the guide and emphasized.

It took a while for this to sink in, and in the early days I created a template to assist me when putting my findings together. Oh, silly me! One size does not fit all. Another mistake I made was taking what they said as what they wanted. They weren't not telling the truth, but as we progressed, I eventually realized that they wanted something else. This led to frustration on both sides.

My basic thesis is that we look at the brand to identify the personality and look at the target market to understand the tone. But some companies use this as a full branding exercise. This is especially true of new companies still working out their vision and mission, resulting in much more emphasis placed on the brand section of the guide.

Most companies want to identify what the key messages are. This helps their writers focus on what's important. Some want you to craft the actual texts; others want just the guidelines.

There are companies interested in how to apply the findings to their website and product. This means that the second part of the document is a style guide. Most want this, but how detailed a section it is varies.

Others are more interested in what words to remove from their current lexicon and what to replace them by. This is true for companies that have used multiple writers, with no brand personality defined.

My last point is something I'm still working on. Try to understand what the company needs at this stage of their development. It might not be a standard definition of the brand's voice; the emphasis might be on the important messages, a critique of their current content, or the branding. And if, during the process, you see that you misunderstood, be flexible and open, and get it right.

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