Why your audience should have nothing to do with your tone of voice.

Communication’s a two-way thing, right? There’s always people at both ends – someone doing the talking, someone doing the listening. And the point of good communication is that it connects the two, sparking something.

Now conventional marketing wisdom tells us that the ones doing the listening are the most important. That, as brands, we need to be thinking less about what we want to say and more about what our customers need to hear. They’re the ones that hold the power, after all.

But conventional marketing wisdom is wrong.

Not all the time, obviously. But when it comes to your brand’s voice, definitely.

Because this is one of those rare times when you need to make sure that it’s more about you than it is about your audience.

Let me be clear: when it comes to what your company communicates (the information you share, the particular aspects of your offering you choose to highlight – i.e. your messaging) then yes, absolutely, focus on what your audience wants and needs to hear.

But when it comes to how your company communicates (the style in which you write and speak, the exact language you choose to convey your key information – i.e. your tone of voice) the roles reverse. Then it’s all about you.

Because even though we’re talking about a business and not a human, the definition of a voice is the same. It’s the thing that speaks for you. The thing that helps people see who you are and what you’re like. It’s your organisational mouthpiece. So first and foremost it exists to express your organisational personality.

Now obviously I’m not saying you have to completely ignore your audience when it comes to your tone. Knowing them well, understanding what kind of language they might use in relation to your product or service, being aware of the level of their knowledge when it comes to sector-specific jargon, etc, is definitely valuable. Often a key way of being both accessible and appealing to people involves mirroring pieces of their own language back to them.

But the aim of the game isn’t to parrot your would-be customers; to try and sound exactly like they do. Partly for the obvious reason: that there’s a hell of a lot of them and they all talk differently. Any attempts to mimic them all at once will end in madness. Not to mention a tone that’s either unbearably chaotic or lifeless and bland.

The main reason, however, is that there’s simply no need for mimicry.

As humans we’re not only ever looking to make connections with those who are the same as us. We’re drawn to those who intrigue us, inform us, amuse us, challenge us, inspire us - whatever they sound like. We’re drawn to those who are confidently and unapologetically themselves, even when those selves are very different from ours. And the same holds true for brands.

So yes, of course knowing your company's audience is important. But when you’re shaping the organisational voice and making decisions about how you want to speak to people, don’t let them overshadow you. Don’t be so focused on understanding and reflecting their personalities that you lose your own.

Your brand's voice is exactly that – yours.

So that’s who it should sound like.

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