Everyone knows that tone of voice brands use to speak to their consumers is crucial in forming connections and positive perceptions. But it’s becoming even more vital in a time when strains on the pocket demand more empathetic interactions to gain competitive advantage.

Higher order institutions, like governments or banks traditionally speak with ominous control to create distance and demand deference. They often reference rules and regulations, adopting an imperative mood and a sense of urgency (‘pay now’; ‘you must wear a mask’; ‘what you need to do’) to ensure these are followed. 

This language use creates an authoritative tone of voice, conventionally used by many brands to convey a sense of knowledge and expertise:-

Linguistic Cues: command verbs (‘live’, ‘get’); anonymous speaker

However, brand voices in this tone communicate top-down dominance and control – notions that are increasingly scrutinised, challenged and even resisted in emergent culture. Power structures that suggest institutions, professionals and service providers are the superior experts, and frame consumers as inferior subjects, have become dated as we shift away from these limiting binaries.

These changing social hierarchies must be reflected in what we expect from relationships between consumers and brands. Increasingly, brands are bridging the traditional gap between authority and accessibility by referencing human emotion and a shared vision to create a peer-to-peer, warm tone of voice:-

Linguistic Cues: emotive language (love, better); collective pronouns (‘we’; ‘everyone’)

Language analysis is key for brands to unlock the most culturally relevant ways to speak to consumers. Understanding the power of linguistic choices can unlock the emergent ways of retaining authority, expertise and confidence whilst forming meaningful, levelled and inclusive connections with real people.

Lailah Choudhry, Semiotician

Pitch Perfect: How brands can use tone of voice to create better relationships with consumers