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How to nail your client’s tone of voice

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Achieving the right tone of voice when translating or transcreating marketing materials for a brand is essential, yet tricky. Whether a social media post, newsletter or product description, the translator needs to constantly bear in mind the tone of voice of the brand, the purpose of the content in question and the audience that is going to read it.

What is the voice and the tone of voice (TOV) of a brand?

Set of microphones

Firstly, let’s start with some definitions. The brand’s “voice” relates to the brand’s personality. I always try to imagine the brand as a celebrity: who they would be and how they would speak. Normally, brands with a strong marketing presence have a very clear idea of their voice, and of their target audience. The adjectives they might use to define their voice might be witty, authentic, confident, fun, informative, elevated etc.

On the other hand, the “tone of voice” is the language we use to reflect the brand’s personality. The translator’s task is therefore to pick the right words and expressions to convey this cheeky, knowledgeable or lively voice to the target audience.

Why is the tone of voice so important?

The tone of voice is a subjective element, a sort of “spirit”, if you like, that is present in all of the content produced by a given brand. It plays a vital role when it comes to building a relationship between the brand and its clients, as it contributes to the brand’s consistency and trustworthiness towards their clients. Because the line between what is right and what is wrong can be extremely fine and subjective, it can be tricky to get the balance right. We might end up being excessively funny in a subject line for a newsletter or too dull in a social media post.

For example, if you are a client of a high-end fashion brand, you’ll be used to a certain degree of formality when receiving a newsletter or reading an IG post. So, if the subject line of an e-mail is too casual, too cheeky or too “young”, you might find you change your mind about the brand. You might feel like you don’t recognise it. Conversely, if you get a notification from your baby care app that is supposed to be fun and witty, but in this instance sounds like a very serious doctor speaking, it might not feel as appealing as it should be.

How can we understand what the client wants?

Realistic Frame for your Projects

In an ideal project, the brand or agency will provide the translator with a brand guide or translation brief, including all the information about the brand’s tone of voice, a style guide, dos and don’ts, forbidden words, a description of their target audience, approved examples etc. And if you haven’t been given some of this information (or none at all, as sometimes happens), it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get researching: Find out if their current website is reliable in terms of the TOV, study who their target audience is, follow the brand on their social media, check out the products they sell and ask as many questions as you need to. For Spanish, for example, the 101 rule here would be to ask whether you should use “tú” or “usted” (for “you”). This will give you an idea of how formal or informal you can go with your texts.

Adapt the TOV to each situation

As in real life, you might find that you need to speak in a different way depending on the relevant situation, even if you’re speaking to the same person. This applies to marketing communications, too, because newsletters, social media posts, press releases and product descriptions all have a different purpose, and, therefore, our language needs to reflect this, too.

Let’s say you’re translating a product description about a pair of jeans. In this case, you want to be clear and concise and to describe the cut, the fit and the details and avoid any jargon, fillers or complicated sentences. This is especially important in e-commerce, where you don’t have the chance to see, touch or try on the item.

On the other hand, if you’re translating a newsletter, a catchy subject line is the number one priority, as you need to make sure that the client will open it. In this case, the brand would therefore normally encourage the translator to be creative and original.

You’ll never get it wrong with these extra tips

Even though it is the job of each individual brand to come up with and develop their own distinctive voice, there are some general tips you should follow when writing or translating content for online audiences.

  • Keep it positive:

Good Vibes Only

You should always highlight the benefits and transform a negative into a positive. I once had a source text about a pregnancy and maternity app that said that “because of a technical problem, the client can only receive information about one topic”. But, instead, the translation team suggested that we transform the sentence and say, “The content is tailored to your stage”. This was much more appealing and clearer for the reader, and didn’t reflect badly on the brand, in fact quite the opposite.

  • Avoid being condescending:

When writing for a brand, whatever the type of content, it is essential you keep the targeted audience firmly in mind. You shouldn’t automatically assume that something is “obvious”, because that could make them feel ignorant. However, you should also be careful not to over-explain something that your audience most definitely knows.

  • Don’t judge:

I think the best metaphor here could be the shopping scene in the film Pretty Woman, when Julia Roberts gets all those judgmental looks at the luxury boutique. Even though you might be writing for a certain audience, the brand is not exclusive to them and should feel approachable and prejudice-free.

Have you struggled to find the soul and voice of a brand? Were you able to come up with a genius transcreation idea for a subject line or post? We’d love to hear your translation and tone of voice stories!

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