Setting the Tone Online

Defining the tone of voice for your organisation or brand online can be difficult. This is especially so when guidelines aren't clear or shared within the organisation, and it’s even more difficult if there aren't any guidelines to begin with! In those cases, working through a website can be like a never-ending tour through writing styles and personal idiosyncrasies.

There are many brands who are practically defined by their tone of voice, making the task of defining it even more important. Think Innocent Juice (cheeky, fun, caring), Lynx (wink, wink), or Ryanair before the facelift (brash, rude). Without their distinctive and engaging tone of voice they are simply another bottle of overpriced juice, teenage-fuelled deodorant, or budget airline with less-than-perfect customer service. It’s the difference between ‘Welcome’ or ‘Hi there', ’Thanks for your purchase’ or ‘Purchase completed’, ’Sign up now’ or ‘Don’t miss out again’. They all mean the same things but come from very different places tone wise.

Thankfully some digital brands do a great job when it comes to the tone of their content. Those that spring to mind are Oscar (health care), Mailchimp (email marketing), and on the Irish market Designist, and HairyBaby. Best friend, tongue-in-cheek, frank; these brands make dealing with their website memorable. They certainly avoided plumping for ‘neutral’, ‘welcoming’ and other bland descriptives when pinpointing and developing their tone of voice online.

We tend to remember interesting people who express themselves well, whether they are particularly warm, cold, rude, or confident. It's the same for brands online. You may not remember what they said, but you’ll probably remember how they made you feel, to paraphrase Maya Angelou.

While corporate bodies can struggle to define their personality and brand, it's still important they do, otherwise that ensuing lack of consistency can act to define the relationship between the supplier and customer. It doesn’t have to be overly complex, and recent articles on NNG about the Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice have been particularly interesting for simplifying some similar tools I have been using over the years.

How to get your guidelines into practice? Key to understanding how those guidelines translate into real words are examples of real copy and how we want - and don’t want - it written. In other words, taking it from theory into practice.

Ensure your team knows whether to use ‘Hi’ or ‘Welcome’, ‘Sign up’, or ‘Don’t miss out!’. To improve your online tone of voice and messaging in 2017, talk to our team. Drop us a line at


Sinead Clandillon

Head of Content

The author

Sinead is Webfactory’s content strategist and she also manages the online visibility team, comprising search, analytics and social.

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