You’ll hear a lot about tone of voice or TOV in copywriting circles. It’s a broad term encompassing many things, but it usually means how your message comes across – usually that of a brand or character that represents your company. TOV is like a spokesperson for what your organisation stands for and how it relates to people.

I don’t want to tread a well-beaten path by exploring all the different elements that make up tone of voice. There are countless guides explaining that already. What I want to write about is an overlooked aspect of TOV that’s arguably more important than the role style plays.

In my days as a programmer and website analyst, we used to talk about separation of style from content. This is the idea that how something looks should be distinct from what it actually is. Presentation and appearance versus the underlying raw information.

Let’s put separation aside for a moment, because I think this concept has traction in the world of copywriting and tone of voice. What? Because what is said is actually as telling as how it is delivered.

Let me explain

People define themselves by their values – what’s important to them. And you generally pick this up in what they talk about – the subjects they dwell on.

Meet someone at a party, ask them what their story is and they’ll probably focus on their job or their kids. In the absence of any other passions, being hardworking and family-oriented are a big deal in the UK.

I’m writing this because in our haste to create TOV and style guides, people get hung up on stylistic choices like grammar, vocabulary and phrasing, when the topics the ‘brand voice’ actually talks about can convey a heck of a lot more about what it stands for.

When I’m devising TOV for a client, what works well for me is focusing more on content than style. After all, that’s what gets read.

What tends to happen anyway is the copywriter’s personality bleeds into the resultant tone of voice. It becomes an extension or exaggerated version of them.

So my advice to any company looking for a new TOV? Pick a decent copywriter who already has a style that’s a good fit for your aspirations. It’ll save you time and effort.

As long as the underlying values of the company are clear, and you give your copywriter a good impression of the culture you have, the tone of voice should end up effective and natural sounding.