Opposites attract. How to mix the perfect tone of voice cocktail


Sharon Tanton

Sharon is Content Director at Cohesive, and co-author of Valuable Content Marketing | Fascinated by the power of stories in making change | Loves gardening | Lives in Bristol

Andy Williams

Co-founder, the wordy 'other half' | Intrigued by good content, and what it achieves | Bit of a nerd, quite creative, loves to write | Father, cyclist, activist | [ he/him ]

A barman stands in front of a counter of ingredients and pours spirits and bitters into a cocktail shaker with theatrical flourish. It's our metaphor for creating the perfect brand tone of voice cocktail.

Marmite and honey or strawberries and balsamic vinegar – neither of them should work, but they just do. That doesn’t mean they’re universally loved. Like a perfectly mixed Negroni, bittersweet flavours can be as divisive as pineapples on pizza or socks worn with sandals, but everywhere there are examples of places where opposites attract and work beautifully together, and that includes blending the perfect brand tone of voice.

In fiction and in life we love a bit of bittersweet. The coming of age story when we know that hearts will be broken and that there’s no way back. We’re all there for that.

A memorable brand tone of voice

The juxtaposition of opposites can work beautifully in tone of voice. Simplifying the very complex, appealing to heart before head in technical content, or weaving human emotion and experience into business stories; all these can make your writing more engaging.

Getting your content to step out of its boundaries and dip its toes in more imaginative waters can shake readers into paying attention and get them to swim alongside you. Emotion drives decision making, and using contrasting emotions side-by-side can deepen the impact of your content.

As a strategy, playing with discordant elements needs careful handling.  For example, if your bank tries to talk to you like your best mate the effect can be jarring rather than melodic. (Think Theresa May dancing, and step away.)

Tone of voice can strengthen – or break – trust. And if trust goes, you’ll have to work extremely hard to recover it.
Creating a strong brand tone of voice is essential for building a memorable and engaging brand identity.

"The perfect cocktail involves a blend of several key, sometimes clashing, ingredients."

Sharon Tanton

5 ingredients for your perfect cocktail

Here’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek recipe for crafting a delicious brand tone of voice:

1 | Taste your audience to discover their base

Are they more whisky than rum? Leaning towards gin, rather than tequila? To connect with your audience, you need to know their likes and dislikes. 

In brand terms that means understanding what they care about, what their challenges are, and what they really want. Ask good questions and listen well, and you can be sure you’ll add a shot of familiarity – your base spirit – to break the ice.

2 | Distil your own personality – add your own flavour

You’ve given them a taste of home. Now introduce the exotic. Surprise them, intrigue them, challenge them. Your call.

This infusion will be uniquely you. Maybe it’s your mission that will fizz on the tongue, or your design, your style, your secret process, your ‘no one does it quite like we do’. Do it tastefully, so as not to overpower the mix. And always – always – be authentic. 

3 | Gauging the long or the short of it – choose your mixer 

A supple and companionable mixer will let you stretch your blend, or concentrate it, while remaining consistent with the original experience. 

A G&T is always and unmistakably a gin and tonic, served ‘long’ in a highball glass or in a regular tumbler. Your brand tone of voice needs to be just as consistent, wherever and whenever you show up. An ability to stretch or shrink your cocktail means you’ll be consistent no matter what channel you communicate on. 

4 | A shot of emotion – the bitters

Might you be shaken? Are you not stirred? You smack your lips, form a silent ‘wow’, flash your sparkling peepers at the person across the table. All because of that unexpected stab of bitterness – or salt, or sweetness – right at the finish.

Emotions can play a big role in your tone of voice, instantly connecting you with your audience while adding depth and complexity. Don’t shy away from emotion – use it sparingly and purposefully – surprise, excitement, laughter, curiosity – to evoke a memorable response. 

5 | Mood and style – the ice and the slice

Cocktails always offer a big slurp of consistency and authenticity, but there’s always room for a twist. A nod to the moment, a signature blend. 

Maybe now is a playful moment. Or you’ve a reason to show a little more edge. Or, there’s a nostalgic vibe in the air. Here’s where your tone of voice adapts to the mood, without losing its essence. Does this one call for a slice of citrus, or a sliver of cucumber? A sprig of lavender or a curl orange zest? More ice, or less? Could even the umbrella find a space?

A few more important points that don’t fit so neatly in the metaphor:

  • Clarity is priceless | use language that your reader understands and use jargon only when it’s a sensible linguistic shortcut for an expert audience
  • Simplicity is powerful | if you want to amplify a concept, simplify it
  • Authenticity – so good we said it twice | trust is hard won and easy to lose so whatever else your tone of voice, keep it authentic

By carefully balancing these different ingredients, you can create a tone of voice that not only defines your brand but also resonates deeply with your audience, fostering a strong and lasting connection. 

Cheers to mixing up a sparklingly impactful brand tone of voice!

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