Voice, tone, & messaging tips

Ready to tackle voice, tone, and messaging? Let's do it.

What's the difference between voice and tone, anyway?

A good way to remember it is that voice is the personality of a brand; it stays relatively consistent over time and has a few distinguishing characteristics. Tone, on the other hand, changes based on what's appropriate for the situation and uses empathy to guide the way.

We describe the associate brand voice as human, helpful, vibrant, and inclusive. All of your people and culture messages should strive for this vibe—and then depending on your audience and the subject matter, there will be nuances in your tone. 

[Pro Tip: Read your message aloud! This really helps to keep your voice, tone, and overall rhythm in check.]

Got it? Let's dig in.

STEP 1: Get to know our brand personality
Get to know our personality & voice

Think of your favorite mentor who always has your back, gives you honest guidance, and wants to see you succeed. They’re professional yet relatable, helpful yet not micro-manage-y, and transparent but always constructive. This is the personality your messages should capture when creating internal People comms.

Let’s break it down a bit more. Here’s how we define our associate brand voice:

Human

We strive to make authentic, meaningful connections with and among associates. Our language sounds like it comes from real people, not a robot or corporate boardroom. It considers what our audience is feeling, what matters to them in that moment, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going. Whenever possible, it’s personalized to where they are in their journey.
Human doesn’t mean sounding exactly like you speak. (Everyone speaks differently, so this could be interpreted a million ways!) It’s important to strike a balance of professionalism and credibility with warmth and humility.

KEEP PUSHING:

  • Jargon-y
  • Robotic
  • Indifferent
  • Plain

“Elect benefits, fill out form, and submit.”

JUST RIGHT:

  • Real
  • Empathetic
  • Personal
  • Dynamic
  • Relatable

“[First name], choose the benefits that benefit you most.”

TOO FAR:

  • Colloquial
  • Overly casual
  • Chummy
  • Unprofessional

“Yo, talk about some sweet perks!

Vibrant

One of the reasons we created the associate brand is to inspire associates to do their best. Therefore, our messages should bring energy and color to the everyday. Wherever we can, showcase what’s positive, fun, and unique about the experience without trivializing or overselling.

KEEP PUSHING:

  • Transactional
  • Passive
  • Uninspiring

“One goal is being tracked this quarter.”

JUST RIGHT:

  • Engaging
  • Enthusiastic
  • Clever
  • Fresh
  • Confident

“Goal get ‘em, [First name]! You’re on track to meet your Q3 goal.”

TOO FAR:

  • Silly
  • Unrealistic
  • Provocative
  • Distracting

“Yowza! Keep this up and you’ll be CEO by the time we hit Q3!

Helpful

Think of all the messages we receive on a daily basis. Why will your audience care about yours, and how will they know where it falls in their list of priorities? There’s a fine line between being helpful and overcomplicating things. Present all the necessary info but not more than needed—and if we don’t know something, it’s okay to say that. Our messages should convey the benefit to associates (aka, the “What’s in it for me?”), illustrate their future potential, and, where possible, show where they’re making progress. 

KEEP PUSHING:

  • Vague
  • Juvenile
  • Imprecise

“These are available to some associates.”

JUST RIGHT:

  • Smart
  • Contextual
  • Simple
  • Reassuring
  • Guiding
  • Straightforward

“[First name], preview your personalized suite of benefits.”

TOO FAR:

  • Overcomplicated
  • Hand-holding
  • Patronizing

“[First name] [Last name], did you know you are eligible for a plethora of benefits depending on your role and location?

Inclusive

We strive to make every associate feel like they belong. The language we use helps to reinforce a sense of “we’re all in this together,” and our stories provide enough context that no one will wonder whether they’re the intended audience. Avoid pop-culture references that may not be universal, and if you’re sprinkling in a dose of humor, make sure to steer clear of inside jokes that may not be understood by all. Also steer away from language that sounds like “us” vs. “them.”

KEEP PUSHING:

  • Assuming
  • Self-important
  • Guarded
  • Rigid
  • Hierarchical

“These meetings are very important because we share key info that can help you succeed in your career. Please tell HR how you feel your experience went, and we’ll see if there’s anything we can improve next time.”

JUST RIGHT:

  • Approachable
  • Transparent
  • Optimistic
  • Considerate

“Help make All Hands better! Take two minutes and share what you’d like to see next time.”

TOO FAR:

  • Stereotyped
  • Generic
  • Saccharine
  • Insincere

“You’re a hard-working associate and we care about your experience. That’s why we want your super valuable feedback on this meeting.”

STEP 2: Tackle empathy & tone
Tackle empathy & tone

As we mentioned earlier, you can think of voice as the personality of a brand; it stays relatively consistent over time and has a few distinguishing characteristics. Tone, on the other hand, changes based on what's appropriate for the situation and uses empathy to guide the way.

Consider where your audience is in their journey and what pain points they might be feeling. Try to strike a tone that relieves their negative feelings or enhances their positive ones. 

Remember, your tone might vary from message to message or touchpoint to touchpoint. And that’s ok! Generally though, your tone should fall within the ranges below. If your tone is falling more toward either extreme (e.g. a very serious announcement, or a local team ugly sweater party), this may not be the right moment to use the associate brand. 

STEP 3: Weave in brand messaging where it makes sense
Weave in brand messaging where it makes sense

Explore the tabs below to see whether any of our associate brand messaging makes sense for your communication. Weave it in where feels natural—no need to force it. 

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STEP 4: Don’t forget about grammar
Don’t forget about grammar

While grammar may not be the most fun part about crafting communications, it can make or break the success of your message. (Think of the difference between “Never stop learning, stretching, and climbing.” and “Never stop learning stretching and climbing.”) But don’t sweat it. Our brand follows pretty straightforward rules that won’t take long to master.

Casing
Use sentence casing for:

  • Headlines
  • Subheads
  • Calls to action (CTAs)

Punctuation

  • Use the serial comma (the comma before the “&” in a list” red, white, & blue).
  • Headlines and CTAs do not get end punctuation. Occasionally, a headline may end in a question mark or exclamation point.
  • Subheads get end punctuation.

Numbers

  • In headlines, use numerals, even at the beginning of a sentence.
  • In subheads & running text, spell out numbers under 10. Use numerals for 10 & above.

Dashes & hyphens

  • Do not include spaces before or after any dash or hyphen.
  • Em dash (—): use to indicate spans or ranges in numbers, dates, or time.
  • Hyphen (-): Hyphenate compound adjectives before a noun (but not after a verb).
    • “This applies to full-time employee” vs. “This applies if you work full time.”
    • Hyphenate terms that end with “ready” (game-ready, holiday-ready).

Media

  • Titles of media (books, movies, TV series, games, blogs, etc.) do not get any special treatment like italics, quotes, or bold.
STEP 5: Double check this handy list
Double check this handy list

Almost done! Give this list a look and you’re on your way to acing the voice, tone, & messaging of our associate brand.