Is Your Tone Helping or Hurting Your Brand?

Imagine you’re at your doctor’s office. Your doctor starts explaining the state of your health with colorful slang, maybe some expletives here and there, leaving you a little uncomfortable. Your doctor is supposed to use a professional tone, not a casual one.

This situation can happen to your subscribers as well. People have an idea about your brand, hopefully it’s an idea you helped shape, and when you go against the norm it can be off-putting for your audience.

Let’s take a look at what tones you can be taking, how other businesses use these tones and how you can establish the right tone for your business.

The Formal, Professional Tone

Who it works for: Doctors, lawyers, schools and non-profits, or if you have a high-end product that you want to be taken very seriously

Why use it: If your subject matter tends to be on the serious side, you’ll want to match the tone with your content.

Example: Kokua Hawai’i Foundation

How they accomplish a professional tone:

  • The design is colorful and eye-catching, but the text is formal
  • They refer to themselves in the third person
  • They use language you’d expect from a professional interaction

If you don’t want to go the professional route, you can try the opposite…

The Casual Tone

Who it works for: Restaurants, sports clubs, bands

Why use it: If you want to be a subscribers go-to hangout spot or work-out spot where they can feel like they’re going to a friend’s.

Example: Rosso Trattoria Italia

How they use the casual tone:

  • It reads like a note from a friend
  • They use first person – it’s from Kristian, the owner
  • There are slang and colloquial language

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to do professional or casual. You could do something in between…

The Professional-but-Friendly Tone

Who it works for: Professional services like photography, construction, real estate agents and salons

Why use it: You have important content to communicate, but you don’t want to come across as stiff and formal.

Example: Yoga Journal

How they pull this off:

  • They engage the reader in a conversation starting off with a question
  • They share information specifically geared towards helping their readers
  • They use a newsletter format

If you’re looking to sell something, you might want to take your tone in a completely different direction…

The Sales Pitch Tone

Who it works for: Retailers, attractions, travel agents

Why use it: If your company is based on product(s), you may want to adopt the sales pitch tone.

Example: GAP

Why it’s a sales pitch:

  • There is not a lot said
  • The email is highly visual
  • The goal is clearly the sale

Keep in mind you can blend the sales pitch with another tone though…

The Friendly Sales Pitch

Who it works for: Retailers looking to add warmth to their brand

Why use it: For big business retailers like GAP, they have no problem sending hard-sell emails out to their large customer base. For smaller businesses, you may want to look at developing a relationship with your subscribers while you’re trying to convert them.

Example: Daily Candy

What makes this work as a friendly sales pitch:

  • They use friendly, personal language
  • You get to know the company
  • The end includes a link to the product they talk about

Note that Daily Candy is a news site – they’re not the ones actually selling the product – but they way they present the product in the post is perfect as a friendly sales pitch.

So Should You Change Your Tone?

If one of these examples matched what you’re trying to do, you might be eager to try it out. For those just starting out, this is the perfect time to set the right tone for your emails. For those that have been emailing awhile, one study found that it might be good to try out a different tone.

If you’re in the latter boat, keep in mind that it will be very confusing for subscribers if you talk to them one way and the next week you talk to them in a different way. Try to figure out what your brand means to people. Are you active on social media? If so, the jump to casual emails may not be that high.

Regardless, any change you make in tone should start as a subtle shirt here and there until you see how your subscribers respond.

What Tone Do You Respond To?

Do you like businesses that talk to you like a friend, or do you prefer more formal interactions? Does it matter what the business does?


  1. Anne Bourne

    4/18/2013 8:26 am

    Crystal – Thanks for summarizing the different tones. We have a real estate staging services business and really strive for the “Professional But Friendly” tone on our blog. We try to add value for our readers by providing tips and guidance on different aspects of selling your home. Reviewing your summary, it seems to me that we could probably do a better job of asking a question at the opening more often. We also have a newsletter, where we try to be a bit more casual in tone.


  2. Randall Magwood

    4/18/2013 2:38 pm

    For the most part I keep a happy and positive tone for my subscribers. The last thing I want to have happen is for me to be portrayed as an angry, unprofessional business owners who cares less about my reputation.

  3. Joe Sandy

    4/18/2013 6:36 pm

    This is excellent info. I find myself changing my delivery depending on who I believe my audience is. Because of this, I have become much more aware of how I am receiving communication as well. I can basically, read between the lines and infer by tone.

  4. Cyn

    4/18/2013 11:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips.

    I think I know which direction I want to go in. Communication is an art form and so I’m kind of nervous about my first real autoresponder / newsletter. I’ve got to get started on the road with this! I’ve got people signing up for my newsletter and no letter! I’ve been researching about this for a while and so no more procrastinating, I better just jump in and start swimming!

  5. Andy Iskandar

    4/19/2013 3:26 am

    I think the best tone to use always is a personal tone. Write the email as if you are talking to the recipient one-on-one. With one caveat: always keep it relevant and interesting.

    I’ve seen the personal tone work in a b2b email newsletter sent to IT network engineers. ;D

  6. Zahra Saleh

    4/20/2013 6:46 am

    It depends to the situation but again if you are writing for a business, it is important to be polite and diplomatic at the sometime. By putting your message to the other party in a professional manner even if he /she is wrong is a credit for you because somehow your clever message may embarrass them.

  7. Evan Fisher

    4/22/2013 4:55 am

    Professional tone does not equal complicated. I think that many vocations, in an attempt to sound professional or authoritative, fail to convey their message in a succinct and simple way. Fewer words, edited content and thorough proof-reading makes for excellent marketing content.

  8. Matt

    4/26/2013 2:49 am

    Excellent read. As you stated, the tone should be completely dependent on the target audience. My different ventures require me to swap between professional to completely casual tones. One way to figure out what your audience is looking for is to pay attention to comments and feedback. Speak like your customer speaks.

  9. Tekinsol

    4/26/2013 3:39 am

    The message in your email campaigning is equally important how it is delivered and that’s where the success or failure of the same lies.visible things impact more than non visible to viewers and directly linked with inbound traffic to your website.

  10. trevor

    4/27/2013 10:35 pm

    Make sure you write your email using simple language so an eleven year old can understand it.

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