Tone of Voice & POV: How to Use Both Correctly for Your Brand Presence

Tone of Voice & POV: How to Use Both Correctly for a Stronger, More Consistent Brand Presence

by | Feb 2, 2021 | Copywriting

How do customers perceive you online?

It begins and ends with your point of view and tone of voice. ? ✍️

Overwhelmingly, brands with their POV and tone of voice nailed outperform their “meh” competitors – you know, those forgettable brands with a bland presence.

So, if you have your brand voice on lock, you’ll more easily connect with your target audience, build trust, and convince them to buy.

Unfortunately, some of the most common mistakes I see in content writing have to do with botched tone of voice or point of view.

From clients we work with, to students in the classes I teach, to writers I talk to – a misunderstanding of these two fundamental writing concepts continually rears its head.

The problem is, misunderstanding can lead to major gaffes in communication. (Can you say disappointed, annoyed customers?)

These are tricky concepts if you don’t know the rules and logic behind them. Luckily, learning about tone of voice and point of view isn’t too hard. Plus, the massive results you’ll earn are worth it: a more consistent brand presence that will draw your customers to you, consistently, time and time again. ?

Let’s get into it.

tone of voice and pov blog

Your Guide to Point of View and Tone of Voice: Table of Contents

What Are Tone of Voice and Point of View?

1. Tone of Voice
2. Point of View

  • First-Person POV
  • Second-Person POV
  • Third-Person POV

How to Use Tone of Voice and POV Correctly for a Better Brand Presence

1. Choose Your Tone of Voice from the Four Dimensions, Then Refine
2. Don’t Go Too Far with Tone of Voice
3. Choose Your Words Wisely

Your Tone of Voice and Point of View Define Your Brand

How do you want to be perceived online? Funny, serious, formal, smart, helpful? Make yourself stand out by identifying the right tone of voice and POV. ? @JuliaEMcCoy explains how the two are different and how to use them correctly. Click To Tweet

What Are Tone of Voice and Point of View?

First up, let’s clearly define the meaning of point of view and tone of voice in writing.

1. Tone of Voice

In communication, tone of voice determines how the writer comes across to the reader. What emotion(s) come through? How do they feel about the audience they’re writing to?

Tone of voice directly affects communication no matter where or how you’re talking.

In speech, the literal tone and pitch of your voice convey how you feel about what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to.

Likewise, your writing tone of voice has a direct impact on how your audience interprets your meaning and intentions. In writing, however, the key is word choice. The words you use, and the way you phrase them, define your textual tone.

Look at these tone of voice examples for an imaginary editing service. They convey the same message, but each has a different tone:

  • Sympathetic tone: Writing is hard. If you need help refining your prose, we’re here for you.
  • Witty tone: Writer’s block is as much fun as sitting in gridlock traffic for an hour. We get it. We can help you get unstuck.
  • Direct, straightforward tone: We’ll refine your writing, correct your grammar, and make your work shine.
  • Angry/combative tone: How the *$&!! did you get into this line of work with so little talent?! You obviously can’t write, so what CAN you do?

(That last example isn’t copy so much as harsh commentary, but it’s a good taste of how your tone of voice can change drastically by adding in a few all-caps and extra punctuation. This is a prime negative tone of voice example.)

A good synonym for tone of voice is writing style.

Remember! Tone of voice shows how you, the writer, comes across to the reader. Using the right words and the right sentence construction can deliver the emotion you need to connect to your audience. ? Click To Tweet

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2. Point of View

Point of view (POV) is perhaps more confusing for some people than tone of voice. Let’s clear the air.

Point of view refers to the narrator of a piece of content and their particular perspective. This is the person who’s telling the story, relaying the information, or reporting the events. Everything is told from this person’s point of view.

However, sometimes the narrator is not the writer, and vice-versa. The writer may assume the POV of someone else, essentially stepping into their shoes and writing from their perspective. This can be a different person, character, or entity (such as a brand or organization).

Whether you’re writing as yourself or writing as someone else, you’ll use different types of POV:

Source: Grammarly

First-Person POV

This type of POV is the most personal. With first-person, you’re writing directly from your own experience (or directly from your chosen narrator’s experience) using words like “I,” “me,” and “mine.”

Example: I know writing is hard. For me, I had to read and write every day before I became any good.

First-person POV also can be plural, i.e., one person speaking on behalf of many. In this instance, you’ll use words like “we,” “us,” and “our.”

Example: We know writing is hard. For us, the key was to read and write every day to improve our skills.

The 1st-person point of view is one you’ll see most often in personal stories, where people are describing their experiences. You’ll also find it in modern fiction writing.
Ann Handley uses first-person writing to great effect in her blog posts:

first-person POV example

Second-Person POV

Writing in second-person means you’re talking directly to the reader, using words like “you,” “your,” and “yours.”

Example: You can learn to write well. It just takes a bit of practice. Soon the skill will be yours to command.

Sometimes, first and second-person POV can intermix – you can write both personally and directly.

Example: I know how difficult writing can be. You don’t need to be intimidated, though. You’ve got this!

This is the most common type of point of view you’ll find in online content writing. See this example from Brian Dean of Backlinko for inspiration:

second-person POV example

Third-Person POV

Finally, third-person POV means you’re writing from an outside perspective.

You’re not talking directly or personally, but rather describing what others see, do, or think, like you’re watching them from afar and reporting all you see. You’ll use words like “he,” “she,” “them,” “it,” and “they.”

Example: The team didn’t know how to write well, so they enlisted a good editor for her guidance and feedback.

This POV is most often used in formal or professional articles and reports. This article from Reuters is a great example of a 3rd person POV:

third-person POV example

POV tips: ?‍♀️ 1st-person - I, We, Us, Our. ?? 2nd-person - You, Your, Yours. ??‍??‍?? 3rd-person - They, He, She, It, Them. How is POV different from tone of voice? @JuliaEMcCoy clears up the confusion. Click To Tweet

How to Use Tone of Voice and POV Correctly for a Better Brand Presence

Tone of voice and point of view are essential to understand for better content. More importantly, choosing ONE tone of voice and ONE point of view to use consistently across your content will equal a more defined, recognizable brand presence online.

So, how can you do it? Here are some tips:

1. Choose Your Tone of Voice from the Four Dimensions, Then Refine

If you haven’t decided how you want to relate to your audience in your content, now is the time.

How do you want to sound in your communications? What feels right for your brand, product, service, image, etc.?

A helpful tool you might use to refine your tone of voice is the Nielsen Norman Group’s Four Dimensions of Tone of Voice. This is what they say about it:

“We decided to design a manageable web-specific tool that content strategists could use to create simple tone profiles for a company’s online presence. Our goal was to identify several tone-of-voice dimensions that could be used to describe the tone of voice of any website.”

These are the four dimensions:

  • Formal vs. casual
  • Funny vs. serious
  • Respectful vs. irreverent
  • Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact

Each dimension is represented by two extremes (e.g. formal at one end, casual at the other). You could choose a tone that’s one of the extremes, or decide to fall somewhere between the two.

Additionally, using a mix of dimensions is a good way to further refine your tone. For example, your brand tone of voice could be funny, casual, squarely in-between respectful and irreverent, and matter-of-fact.

Once you define each of your dimensions, you can then choose more specific words that further describe your brand voice. For instance:

  • Funny: Playful, punny
  • Casual: Chatty and friendly
  • Respectful/irreverent: Witty, kind
  • Matter-of-fact: Direct, outspoken

Once you’ve refined your tone of voice this far, it’s easy to choose a corresponding point of view to use in your content.

  • First-person: The least formal; relatable, subjective; storytelling emphasis
  • Second-person: The most direct; helpful, guiding
  • Third-person: The most formal; professional, knowledgeable, objective
Pro tip ❗ You can refine your tone of voice by following @NNgroup's 4 Dimensions of Tone of Voice: formal vs. casual, funny vs. serious, respectful vs. irreverent, and enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact. Click To Tweet

2. Don’t Go Too Far with Tone of Voice

What happens when tone goes wrong?

You’ll make your readers feel the exact opposite of what you want.

This is easy to do when you go too far with tone of voice.

  • For example, maybe you decide you don’t want to be merely funny – you want to be HILARIOUS. So, you use exclamation points like they’re the only option, you constantly make ham-handed jokes, and you attempt to be light-hearted no matter what.
  • Or, maybe you want to sound professional and intelligent. You take care to always be serious, only use 3rd-person POV, pull from a rigorous vocabulary, and create a rule where your sentences must always be at least five words long.

Do you see how, in both scenarios, you’re going too far with each tone of voice?

In the first case, you won’t come off as a comedic genius or even funny – instead, you’ll sound unhinged, wacky, and uncaring.

In the second case, you won’t impress anyone. You’ll drive people away from your brand with your cold aloofness and condescending style.

When implementing your tone of voice, balance is a necessity.

  • Don’t rigidly stick to your chosen tone of voice when it doesn’t make sense. There are times to be serious and times to be more formal, even if your overarching voice is casual and funny.
  • Be human in your communication with your audience. Use common sense.
  • Don’t get set in your ways. Formal doesn’t necessarily equate with wordy. Informal doesn’t mean you must only be brief.

Source: Mike Atherton via SlideShare

3. Choose Your Words Wisely

As we said, tone of voice and point of view in your written content is all about word choice and punctuation.

Keep your point of view consistent. Don’t insert “I” and “me” into a blog where you’re using third-person POV. Similarly, don’t refer to people as “they” when you’re writing in second-person, and so on.

Use the vocabulary that matches up with your chosen tone of voice. The tone of voice you’ve defined comes with its own vocabulary. For example, if you’re a brand like MailChimp, your voice is simple, straightforward, and warm. See how their word choices reflect this?

If “love” and “heart” don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, I don’t know what will.

Remember the definition of tone of voice. Your tone of voice determines how you come across to customers. Always, always think about how you might sound to them when putting together your content and copy.

Need help honing your online writing skills and correctly using tone of voice to snare your audience? Check out the Unlearn Essay Writing course.

With the correct POV (first-, second-, or third-person) to use with your defined tone of voice, you can easily make you or your brand's presence recognizable online. ?? Click To Tweet

Your Tone of Voice and Point of View Define Your Brand

Who you are online (or who you want to be) is demonstrated through your point of view and tone of voice. The perspective you speak from and the emotions you stir up in others will define your personality and presence.

Understand what each of these writing concepts will mean to your brand, then define them. Finally, keep them consistent across channels to build better relationships with customers.

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