A brand’s tone of voice is more important than you may think. Using a consistent tone throughout your brand videos and marketing material can help with brand recognition and connecting with your audience. For video content producers, writing a script is more than just an exercise in delivering information in a bullet-pointed fashion. Skilled writers will really get to grips with the brand’s tone of voice. This is how you build consistency and garner a deeper connection that leads to loyalty and brand love.
How Do You Establish (and Maintain) a Brand Tone of Voice
Brands build their tone of voice over time and it is usually derived naturally, stemming from the founder or creative lead. Brands may be funny, smart, cool, trustworthy, informative, reassuring – in early days it will be a natural extension of the founder’s personality. However, as a business grows and other people are tasked with writing on behalf of the brand, how do you ensure that the authentic tone of voice is maintained? This is an especially important question when writing video scripts, because videos are such a powerful communication tool and need to lead the rest of the communication assets in building brand love with the audience.
There are three core elements that make up effective communication.
These are the:
Audience – knowing who you’re writing for
Purpose – why you’re writing it
Message – what you want to convey.
Understanding these will enable you to make your video script writing relevant, engaging, and effective.
Audience – Knowing Who You’re Writing For
The starting place for any communications strategy is understanding who your audience are and what they want to hear from you. Who are they? Where do they spend their time online? What kind of videos do they engage with? What do they watch, like, and share on social media? Do they watch long videos or do they prefer shorter clips? Do they watch on phones or on desktops? When do they look for information? Is it on their morning commute or sat at home in the evening on a tablet? Which social channels do they use when looking for information?
We often start scripts by answering the question that the audience will have in their minds before they click play: ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘How can you help me?’
If you get straight to the point and answer their question, you will pique their interest, hook them in and they will listen further to get a full appreciation of the features and benefits you have to offer.
In order to determine what question the audience will have in their mind before they click play, you need to know who they are and at what stage of the buyer’s journey they are on. Think about whether your audience are:
- People who have never heard of you
- Potential customers
- New customers
- Loyal customers
- Your own staff
Each audience member needs to be addressed differently to recognise that they have different needs and require different information from you, but you need to address them with a consistent tone of voice.
Even when addressing loyal customers, don’t assume they’re familiar with the topic of the video or that they’re even interested. You’ll need to grab their interest and keep it. The attention span of all audience members is short and there are a multitude of different videos competing for their attention. Because of this your tone of voice needs to be succinct, direct, and to the point.
Why You’re Making the Video
The main objective of your video is important when determining your brand tone of voice. For example, you may have a subtile difference in to your brand tone if the video is an awareness piece vs. a brand-building piece vs selling something vs introducing a new product vs encouraging repeat business. By concentrating on one of these objectives in your video script, it will be easier to write the script in a clear, targeted way.
When preparing a video brief for your script writer, it is immensely helpful If you already have a video strategy in place. Questions to think about are “What are the key messages you want to get across?” and “What is the one thing you want the audience to remember after having watched the video?” These answers should be clearly laid out on a video briefing document that you give to your video production team,
Audience’s time is precious and needs to be respected. The tone of voice should reflect your understanding of this and your key messages should come across clearly, in an easy-to-understand language that will be memorable. The audience should quickly understand how they’ll benefit from what you’re telling them.
Even if you’re communicating a complex message and you’re communicating to an educated industry specific audience, keeping the video script simple is the best way to use the power of video. Let the visuals, the music and the sound effects do a lot of the communication for you. The dialogue should be plain, clear and have plenty of pauses to allow the audience to absorb the information.
When we write scripts, we thoroughly edit them and go back and forth with our client multiple times to ensure we’re getting across exactly what we want to say, in the simplest manner possible.
Often we’re lifting information from industry reports, whitepapers, or technically complex documents full of jargon. This needs to be distilled into a script that can be communicated quickly. Reducing the jargon will help to create dialogue that sounds natural when read aloud by a voice-over artist or an interviewee. It should be written how you would speak to an audience member or how you would speak to a colleague. Use truncated words such as “you’re” for “you are”, or “we’re” for “we are”, this helps the dialogue roll off the tongue. Spell out the full versions of any abbreviations or acronyms the first time you use them.
When writing the script, try to keep sentences short (15-20 words per sentence is ideal) and keep to one idea per paragraph.
Top Tip: When you’re timing the script, to get a sense of how long your video will last, remember to include a few seconds after each paragraph to give the audience time to absorb the previous statement and prepare themselves for new information. Bombarding the audience with too much information, just to keep the length of the video to under two minutes, is a common mistake. It’s better to reduce the amount that you’re trying to say in favour of pacing the video to allow for information to be absorbed.
If you grab people’s attention with a strong title & thumbnail, when they click on your video, they will watch a few seconds before deciding whether to keep watching. Cross-platform statistics are unreliable, but a general rule of thumb is that people on social media will give a video a maximum of seven seconds before scrolling away if the video does not interest them. In that seven-second period, can you grab their attention with the opening line of you script and still remain authentic to your tone of voice?
One way to create a ‘hook line’ is to raise a question, or you could make a powerful statement. We have found success using a statement which builds interest in a person. People are interested in people. If you can hook them with a line where the presenter or interviewee exclaims their passion, their drive or their reason for getting out of bed, then you will build an immediate rapport with the audience and they’re more likely to listen further.
Top Tip: Don’t be tempted to change the tone of voice to grab people. For example, if you’re appealing to an educated audience, don’t just slap on a tabloid-style opening line and then follow it up with intricate information. If you know your audience well, a good hook line could come from technical, intricate or niche information, delivered as a short powerful statement.
Once you’ve grabbed their attention with an opening hook line… keep it!
One way to keep viewer’s interest high is to switch back and forth between a male voice and a female voice. Each of these may bring their own unique way of speaking, but they should still come from a consistent brand tone of voice. Switching between the two jars the audience into renewing their focus. And it’s a great way to segment the information delivery into chapters.
Another technique to keep the viewer’s interest up is to use a mixture of:
- statements (eg ‘we do this’),
- commands (eg ‘tell us what you think’) and
- questions (eg ‘are you ready for…?’).
In general, using shorter words rather than long ones in video dialogue helps to convey information clearly. But you don’t want to sound blunt. So sometimes it‘s a case of trying a longer word and seeing which sounds friendlier.
Top Tip: Using subtitles is a great way to make the video accessible to audiences from social channels who may be watching with the sound off. Ensure that the words you use communicate clearly and effectively and get straight to the point. This will grab social media viewers who will read the first few lines of the subtitles before deciding whether to turn the sound on.
Who Should Be Speaking?
Do you have a brand persona? If so, it may come in useful when deciding on your tone of voice. If all writers in the organisation are familiar with the brand persona, and adopt that persona when writing scripts, it can be helpful to align tone of voice across a series of films with multiple writers.
Some brands even have ‘spirit animals’ that they use to think of themselves. For example, our brand animal is the owl, because we like to think of ourselves as having a calm, laid back approach to advising our clients on video strategy.
Brand archetypes can be useful, you can adopt your own unique archetype (ours is the Muse because we like to inspire our clients to be as creative as possible when creating videos) or you can use one of the twelve classical archetypes we are all familiar with from storytelling.
The Twelve Classical Archetypes
The Magician: Clever, wise, can make your dreams come true.
The Outlaw: Freedom, leadership, making a change.
The Jester: Humour, irreverence, amusement, distraction.
Ben & Jerry’s:
The Lover: Passion, sensual experiences, guilt free pleasure.
The Regular Guy: Unpretentious, down-to-earth, relatable.
The Caregiver: Trustworthy, family oriented, compassion, empathy.
Johnson & Johnson:
The Ruler: Confidence, high status, control, success.
The Creator: Imagination, innovation, non-conformity, talent, fun
The Innocent: Traditional, nostalgic, sense of wonder, honesty, safety
The Sage: Advisory, knowledgeable, helpful
The Explorer: Adventurous, curious, a leader, pushing boundaries, inspirational.
The Hero: Self sacrifice, courage, strength, resilience, inspirational
The best brands know their archetype and consistently communicate through that tone of voice. Their communications are informed and inspired by the archetype and as we can see from the last Nike example, their videos are all the more powerful for it.
Knowing your audience will help you define which archetype is appropriate to adopt as a tone of voice. For example, if you know that your audience are concerned with wanting to become the market leader in their sector, you could adopt the Sage persona or the Ruler persona. This will help you align your communications with their goals. If you know they’re worried, anxious or concerned (say a Mother who has just had her first baby) then it would be natural to adopt the caregiver persona. If your audience are young, free living, rebellious and cool then you may want to think of your brand as an outlaw. You get the picture.
Each of the persona’s will have a distinct tone of voice which should be adopted across all videos. Think of how different a promotional video will be from Subaru (The Explorer) Vs a Skittles ad (The Jester). Each video will elicit an emotion from the viewer (Subaru: awe & Skittles: humour) which are powerful storytelling and sales tools but it would feel unauthentic to swap them around. It’s not to say that Subaru can’t use humour, but when they’re writing video briefs they will be doing so from the perspective of an explorer wanting to inspire their audience, rather than a jester wanting to amuse them.
Think about how you refer to your organisation and to your customers. In scripts do you use ‘you’ when referring to the audience, or do you use ‘the customer’ ‘the user’ etc. Oftentimes it can be helpful to address the audience directly with ‘you’ to indicate that the video has been tailor made for them. Do you refer to yourself by referencing your company’s name or a product brand name, or would you prefer to use ‘we’ or ‘us’? If using ‘we’ just be aware of who you’re speaking on behalf of. Do you need to clarify your statement by mentioning a particular sub-brand or department?
Active or Passive Tone of Voice
Use active, rather than passive sentences to sound upbeat and energetic.
An example of an active sentence is: ‘We are serving people.’ The subject is us (‘we’ are the ones doing something) the verb is ‘serving’, The object is ‘people’ they are being served. The three parts appear in a particular order: subject – verb – object.
An example of a passive sentence is: ‘People are being served by us.’ The order is reversed: object – verb – subject. Passive sentences sound flat, so avoid them.
A positive tone of voice will come across well in a script so if you find any negative sentences, try to turn them into positives. For example, ‘If you don’t apply in time, the offer will expire,’ can be turned into ‘Remember, this is a limited offer so apply soon!’
Avoid extraneous words like: because, that, being, etc. Give your video script a thorough edit to remove clumsy unnecessary words and keep it as tight as possible.
Showing empathy in your script writing can be a great way to build trust with your audience. A cold phrase like ‘X Brand offer the best advice possible, as quickly as possible, but in order to do this we require customer’s financial documents in a timely manner.
Can be turned into a warm phrase with the addition of a little empathic understanding to align yourselves with your audience’s goals: ‘We understand that you sometimes need our advice in a hurry so we aim to offer the best quality advice as rapidly as possible. In order to help us to help you, we appreciate having your financial documents when you contact us.
In the second version of the statement we have changed ‘X Brand’ to ‘we’ ‘customers’ to ‘you’ and included some empathy (we understand…).
We outlined that our goals are all around helping them (to help us to help you). The phrases are a bit warmer (we appreciate).
So although example two is slightly longer, it’s much nicer for the audience to hear, and because it’s written in conversational English, it will roll off the tongue better.
In the second example we demonstrated that we understand what the audience may be feeling (you sometimes need our advice in a hurry) and showed that we have the solutions for their issues (we aim to offer the best quality advice as rapidly as possible). This can be a positive driver of sales, however, caution must be applied, because you don’t want to come across as presumptuous, over-familiar, tactless or arrogant.
In depth audience insight can help you understand your customer’s mindset but that insight should be tactfully communicated back to them. There’s nothing worse than hearing a brand say they understand what you’re feeling, when clearly they are just playing to the majority of their audience and disregarding the feelings of niche customers.
Top Tip: A top tool to use is the Hemingway App, which helps to make your writing bold and clear.
Inspiration for Scripts
When creating a brand video or an explainer video it can be helpful to have a set of values that you explain to the customer or pepper those words throughout the video. For example, if one of your brand values is to be transparent, you could write a list of phrases that might appear in the brand video. ‘Simple as that, we hope that’s clear, ask if you have any questions, if you’re not sure just ask.’
You might also want to write a list of things to avoid. If you’re trying to be transparent you will want to avoid jargon, complicated words or phrases, acronyms, any phrases that could be considered to be condescending.
Once you have a list of phrases and negative phrases that define your brand it will be much easier to start piecing them together to create a script that really sums up the brand.
Using the brand archetype can also be a great place to start ideating phrases to use in your video. For example, when you think of a hero what words spring to mind? Think of heroes from your favourite movies, what actions did they take, what qualities did they possess? Is there anything in their character that can be translated to your brand? If so, it might be the starting place for a great brand video. The Apple Think Different ad is a great example of how they personified their brand archetype by celebrating the rebels.
As we keep coming back to time and again on this topic, it all starts with knowing your audience. Have those buyer personas in place and keep them in mind when you’re writing any script, outlines or concepts for videos or animations.
What’s you’re purpose? This should be written on a video brief and made clear to all working on the project.
What’s your message, what are you saying? What’s the one thing you want the audience to remember long after watching the video?
- Proofread and give scripts to colleagues to look over to make sure it sounds authentic to your brand. Edit the script down to make it as clear as possible. Cut out the jargon and acronyms.
- Double-check lower thirds and other graphics within the video. Have you been consistent with the use of capital letters and full stops. This often trips people up as different editors may be used to different styles and referring to brand guidelines takes time. A final quality control check of the videos should spot any errors and ensure they’re consistent with the brand guidelines.
- Include a call to action. Make it clear what you want people to do once they’ve watched the video, what action should they take?
- Avoid hard sells and cheesy slogans. Video has become a normal part of the buying cycle for most products and services so audiences are used to watching business related videos. They can spot inauthentic dialogue a mile away. If you know your audience well you should be able to communicate at their level without resorting to cheesy sales techniques or lazy clichés. Phrases like, unbeatable service or fantastic opportunity should be banished from your video scripts.
- Ensure you remain consistent when referring to yourself and addressing your audience. Whether you use ‘we’ and ‘you’ or ‘X brand’ and ‘our clients’ remain consistent across all videos.
- Always try to turn negatives into positives. If you’re describing something and you find it’s coming out in a negative manner, come back to it in a second pass and turn the negative phrases into positive ones.
- Use active, rather than passive sentences to keep your scripts feeling lively and upbeat.
Edited by Dana Lockwood