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We talk a lot about the “invisible details” of a brand on this show, but there are many characteristics of a brand that display themselves in an external way. People are attracted by what is external and they are moved by what is inside.

As you work to make your vision a reality, you’ll need to make a decision about how you want your brand to “speak” to your audience. The words you write, the replies to send via email, and even the imagery you use comes from this singular idea of tone.

How you communicate your message is just as important as the message itself.

In today’s show, we’ll talk about how to define the tone of your brand (and sub brands) and why having a clear concept of your brand’s character is important for the longevity of your message.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Adjust how your brand is perceived based on the tone you set.
  • The exact same message changes completely depending on the context in which you deliver it.
  • Your brand’s tone depends on who you’re trying to connect with and who you are as the people who make up the brand.
  • Take your values, filter them through your audience, inject your personality, and produce a tone through the lens of how you want people to feel.
  • Your values shape your tone, your tone shapes your content.
  • If your brand is centered around you as a personality, you still have to curate your tone.
  • You convey tone in your messaging through your vocabulary, imagery, color scheme, and tactics.
  • Everything that’s connected to your brand shapes perception.
  • Be intentional about your use of tone, especially suddenly changing tone.
  • People are attracted by what is external, and they are moved by what is inside.
Show Notes
  • 06:50 Cory: Tone is interesting. I’m a musician. I’ve been playing music, playing guitar, for almost 20 years now. I’m fascinated by the world of music, because music is based in physics. At it’s core, it’s all sound waves, how the ear perceives sound waves, how they mesh together, how they resonate, dissonance, and all of this stuff to make this sound. This word “tone” is used in the music production sphere of how you want the end product of that music to sound.
  • 07:33 Let’s say you want to have your instrument sound a little bit brighter. You would adjust the tone so it has higher frequencies. Let’s say you wanted it to sound a little darker. You would adjust the tone so more of those low frequencies come through. As we talk about tone, tone shapes what you’re trying to project before it gets to the person you want to reach. In regards to music, what you want your audience to hear, your screaming fans, is shaped by the tone.
  • 08:18 As you adjust the tone, they hear different things and they hear your music in a different way. As it relates to a brand, everything you have internally—the invisible details that make your brand what it is—is communicated in a certain way to your audience.
  • You can adjust how your brand is perceived based on the tone you set.

  • 08:43 Kyle: This is a holistic experience, too. Cory mentioned inward and outward, but to paint a picture here: You go to Disneyland, and you go to a certain attraction there. Let’s say it’s Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s this dark, scary world, and there are pirates. You’re supposed to be in this certain era of history, and everything is an experience—not only the way the actors speak or the things they say, but it could even be the look of the ships or the sounds you hear in the background.
  • 09:38 It could be how much mist there is. All these things play into an experience. You might go to another side of the park, and there’s some fun, exciting kid’s area that has really happy music playing. There are characters dancing there. It’s a different experience completely, and it’s wrapped in this tone, a different frequency. It’s about more than just what you’re saying, or what people in your brand are saying. Tone is about the experience you set up for someone.
  • 10:19 Cory: The experience, ultimately, becomes the context.

The Power of Tone

  • 10:29 Cory: I told you I was going to do this thing, Kyle, and what you just said leads perfectly into this. I have selected two music tracks that I’m going to play, and I’m going to read the exact same thing, but with two different music tracks. I practiced a little bit. I’m going to go ahead and play the first one while I read our show description. At InvisibleDetails.com, you can see the description of what the show is about.
  • 11:04 I’m going to play the music and read the description with the first music track. “Invisible Details is a weekly show about building a successful brand through story and authenticity. A brand is so much more than a logo or what is visible on the surface. It’s the heartbeat of a company. A brand is about values and the story you’re telling. Join Cory Miller and Kyle Adams every Saturday for clear and practical advice on how to define your brand from the inside out. Connect with your audience and stand out from the competition.” There you go.
  • 11:56 Kyle: Wow. I was expecting you to kick someone off a ledge at the end of that.
  • 12:02 Cory: There’s the first one.
  • 12:05 Kyle: That was like a Grant Cardone promo. All of his promos are intense like that.
  • 12:17 Cory: “Make a million dollars tomorrow with these tips and tricks!” Here’s the exact same content with a different music track. “Invisible Details is a weekly show about building a successful brand through story and authenticity. A brand is so much more than a logo or…” I can’t even finish it.
  • 12:53 Kyle: Welcome to the invisible tea party!
  • 12:58 Cory: I couldn’t even finish it.
  • 13:00 Kyle: Why didn’t you do a British accent? Someone in the chat said they were expecting a British accent.
  • 13:05 Cory: Because I have British friends, and they would get so angry.
  • The exact same message changes completely depending on the context in which you deliver it.

  • 13:23 Kyle: That was amazing.
  • 13:25 Cory: That’s the thing. Everything you package your message in, including your tone, determines how it is received. With those two examples, there was a totally different reception of that message.
  • 13:42 Kyle: This is why Apple got Jony Ive to do all their promos.
  • 13:46 Cory: It’s true.
  • 13:47 Kyle: It really is true. It’s a different experience. People make fun of it, but it works.

Tone & Audience

  • 13:56 Cory: Let’s go through some examples of kinds of tones you can have for your message. We’ll get into different levels of message tons later, but when Kyle and I were talking yesterday, we came up with some examples of tones. Let’s say your tone is “wild and free.” You could make it elegant and sophisticated, professional and educated, professional and huggy, personal and friendly, edgy and rebellious, snazzy and McJeans-y. These are just some examples of the kinds of tones that you can have.
  • 15:02 This isn’t the total scope of all the different tones your message can have, but these are some examples, a way you can shape how you think about the kind of tone you want to set. Part of this is dependent upon the kind of audience you’re trying to reach. Part of it is dependent upon who you are. As you build whatever it is that you’re building, as we’ve talked about before, brands are made up of people. Our brand, as Invisible Details, is set and created by you and me, Kyle.
  • 15:46 As we talk, joke, laugh, and we’re serious, our tone is shaped by us, and we have a very personal and friendly—but, I think, also very professional—show. I wouldn’t say that we’re edgy, obnoxious, or various other adjectives you might use to describe your tone.
  • Your brand’s tone depends on who you’re trying to connect with and who you are as the people who make up the brand.

  • 16:24 Kyle: These shows are, for the most part, much different than Cory and I just having a conversation. This is the thing that I see a lot of people wrestling with. They feel like they’re being fake if they curate how they’re conducting themselves. It’s just part of your brand experience, part of this tone setting that you need to do. We’re still very much ourselves during this show, and we have conversations like we would, but we’ll be much more silly and goofy in our own conversations. There’s a different tone to this, and it’s not a fake thing. It’s just a different way of projecting yourself in the best interest of the brand.
  • 17:24 Cory: Absolutely.

Creating Tone Through Your Values & Personality

  • 17:26 Cory: Robin asked earlier, “If the tone of voice you use in your message is exactly how your audience likes it, does that still differentiate enough from the competitors’ tone of voice? Won’t we all start sounding the same?” That’s a fantastic question.
  • Your tone of voice can be similar to your competitors, but you can still have your own personality that fits within that tone.

  • 17:57 We were talking about different accents earlier. I might sound like someone else from California. I have my own way of talking, for sure, but if you listen to people from different parts of the world, their tone might sound very similar. That’s where personality comes in. You fill the aspects of what your message is going to be by the content, by what you’re trying to say. The tone shapes the content and your values shape your tone. Start from a place of your values. You say, “What do I stand for? What do we believe?”
  • 18:35 “What will we do and what will we not do?” Then it filters through your audience. How are they communicated to? What language do they use? What words do they use? How are they interacting with each other and the world?
  • Take your values, filter them through your audience, inject your personality, and produce a tone through the lens of what you want people to feel.

  • 19:02 If the personality of your business comes from the CEO or if it’s manufactured, you figure out what personality you’re putting into that, and then you’re at the place of what you want people to feel. Your values shape your tone, your tone shapes your content.

Train Yourself as Your Own Brand’s Ambassador

  • 19:31 Kyle: A really important exercise in doing this is to step back. Let’s say that you’re the solo owner of your business and you’re building this brand. It’s very easy to feel close to it, to feel like it’s your brand—that it’s you alone. Maybe it is that way forever. I doubt it, if it keeps going. You’ll probably have someone working with you or representing you at some point.
  • Step back and see yourself not as the representation of the brand, but as the ambassador of the brand.

  • 20:10 I was thinking through this this morning. We start at a company, like if you’re hired on to a company, especially a large company that’s been going a long time, and that’s a lot of training that goes into how you treat people and the interactions you have with them. This is especially true if you’re somewhere like a call center. “Here’s how we conduct ourselves towards people. Here’s how we treat them, here’s what we say. Here’s our goal as a brand, what we want to do in the world.”
  • 20:46 That’s drilled into you as an employee. They want you to understand that and carry yourself in a certain way. As a brand owner, especially in the beginning when it’s just you, it’s very hard to step back and put yourself through that training of, “Here’s how I need to be represented. Here’s what I need to say and how I need to act.” You feel like it’s only you. I would encourage anyone who owns their own brand to take a step back and write down who you want to attract, first, and what you want that person to feel when they interact with your brand.
  • 21:24 Take a step back and look at that as if it was training material for you. Here’s how you’re going to conduct yourself within your brand.

Setting a Tone vs. “Being Yourself”

  • 21:32 Cory: I like that. That leads into Garrett’s question, which was, “My brand is me, so instead of ‘choosing a tone,’ I’ve just been myself. I figure I’ll attract the people who identify with the tone, and anyone who doesn’t isn’t my target audience. Am I doin’ it right?” You are doing it in the way you want to do it. That was so unhelpful. There are two ways of attracting an audience.
  • 22:06 Go to AudienceBuildingCourse.com, and there are fantastic resources there. It’s a free course that we made for you. It’s a $200 course, but we’re giving it to you for free, because that’s what we do here. You can attract an audience one of two ways:
  • You can build something based around what your audience wants and needs or you can build your brand as an outpouring of yourself to bring people in.

  • 22:42 There’s one that’s saying, “I can create something that will help this target audience, and then I inject my personality into that,” and the other side of it is, “This is me. I’m going to create my brand, and whoever comes this direction and sees me and resonates with my message, what I’m saying, and how I say it, then I fold those people into the target audience.” Those are two ways to look at it. It’s not like there’s an absolute right way and an absolute wrong way.
  • 23:14 Different things work for different people. Some people have accidental brands. They start putting stuff out there, and the same kinds of people or different kinds of people start showing up and saying, “I really like this.” All they did was show up and make something. They weren’t sitting there going, “I’ve got to have this target audience. I’m going to craft this thing around that.” There are different ways of doing it.
  • 23:38 I think what you said, Kyle, is really important, where you say, “I want to make sure, in all my interactions, that I’m very clear about what that’s going to be and whether that has longevity.” If my message is a certain thing or I want to help people in a certain way, I want to make sure that how I’m saying the things that I’m saying, how I’m producing my content, how I’m responding to emails and talking with people, how I am on social media and my presence there—all of that fits and determines the kind of tone and perception you receive as a brand, even if it’s just you.

Be Intentional With Your Personal Brand

  • 24:21 Kyle: There’s something really important to add about the “personal brand.” Essentially, Garrett is asking about a brand that is him. In any brand, you should be authentic, be yourself, be genuine.
  • If your brand is centered around you as a personality, you still have to curate your tone.

  • 24:52 For most of the successful people I’ve seen who have brands that revolve around them as a public figure, there’s a normal tone that they have when they talk to people or produce content. It’s very consistent. It’s not like, “Today I’m feeling miserable, so I’m going to act like the saddest person in the world. Tomorrow, I’ll be really happy.” There is generally a consistency to it. That’s important to highlight.
  • 25:23 For example, I follow this random internet channel called Red Means Recording. It’s an awesome little channel. He just makes music, but most of his videos are funny, sarcastic, and he has a very specific format to things. He’s producing videos very regularly. Behind the scenes, he’s got real life going on. Something bad happens one day and something great happens the next. Through all of that, his content is consistent with the voice he wants to project.
  • 26:07 It’s his brand, and it is focused on him as musician. He’s producing albums and all those things, but he has this very specific tone, not only in his music, but also in his presence and how he speaks to people and conducts himself within his content. I think that’s really important.
  • If you’re intentionally building a brand around you and your personality, find the area of your personality you want to highlight for people.

  • 26:44 Cory: Also, keep in mind that highlighting doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being fake. I know a lot of people who say, “You have to be 100% yourself in all instances. Otherwise, you’re being fake.” That’s just not the case. Who I am to my daughters is different than who I am to a friend of mine. Who I am to a friend of mine is different from a professional person I’m trying to get an investment from, like a CEO. That’s not being fake, it’s just illuminating different parts of myself and allowing different aspects of who I am and my personality to shine through in different aspects of my life.
  • 27:27 Kyle: That also helps with the gravity of showing another side of yourself at some point within the communication of your brand. For example, on this show, if we get really serious, and we’ve had a few moments like that—really heavy, serious topics—it weighs a little bit more, because we’re not typically that heavy about topics. Highlighting an aspect of your personality helps you create contrast when you need to express something different. It makes sure that that thing stands out.

How Do You Convey Tone in Your Messaging?

  • 28:10 Cory: I have a few ideas. This is not an exhaustive list, but you convey tone in your messaging through your vocabulary—words you use, the kind of slang you use, and perhaps even the language you use. We know a lot of people who are just starting out, they’re creating a blog, YouTube channel, or a website, and they’re like, “My native language is Slovak, but I know that a lot of my audience speaks English. How do I figure out if I should do a website in Slovak or I should do it in English?”
  • 29:01 You have to determine which aspect of yourself you want to put out there for your audience, and that helps convey that particular tone. There’s vocabulary, there’s imagery, which is the kind of images and visuals you use. This can be anything from pictures to illustrations to video to in-store displays to a billboard that you made. Maybe you’re a person who makes billboards, I don’t know. It could be your color scheme. It could be in your tactics, how you market and email people.
  • 29:36 If every time you talk with someone, you’re trying to push something. That’s all part of it. I don’t know if you have anything you want to add to that or anything within those, but those are four primary ways you can convey tone in your messaging:
    • Vocabulary
    • Imagery
    • Color scheme
    • Tactics
  • 30:00 Kyle: All of those are really great. This kind of fits in with what you’re saying. I’m trying to figure it out. We had an episode a few episodes back about whether you should be funny or serious within your brand (Related: e052 When Should Your Brand Be Serious or Funny?). That fits into those, but it’s also really important.

Everything You Do Influences Brand Perception

  • 30:34 Kyle: I was shifted out of my thinking by this email I got the other day. I received an email from someone from whom I haven’t seen emails in a long time, and it was a newsletter. It was a newsletter, and it was a very professionally written blogpost about a topic that I was interested in. I got to the bottom, I scrolled all the way down, and I saw their signature and stuff. At the bottom, it had the Unsubscribe link. The text said something about, “Tired of receiving these emails? Bye Felicia!” and a link to Unsubscribe.
  • 31:19 This whole email has been so professional. This was humorous, but it was a tone shift. I felt this very professional tone, where it was, “Man, this is premium content,” and then I got to that. I was like, “That’s different.” That’s something important to remember—how much humor are you injecting? How serious are you, for the most part?
  • 31:53 Cory: That being said, within that, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s a “wrong” thing to do. Based on your experience Kyle, your whole interaction with that person, with their brand, shifted very abruptly in that moment.
  • Everything you do and everything that’s connected to your brand shapes perception.

  • 32:27 This is the meat of our podcast. Everything that’s connected to your brand, even if it’s just you on the side, influences brand perception. How many times have you thought about a big company and you heard about what their CEO did or how they acted, and it shaped your perception of what they’re associated with? So often. As you’re determining what kind of brand perception you want people to have as they think about you and interact with your brand, that comes into things like whether you say, “Bye, Felicia.” Maybe you do.
  • 33:08 You just need to know that you have to help people categorize you. If you’re confusing because you have all these different ways of approaching people, they won’t know how to categorize you. It feels very bipolar, in a way.
  • 33:28 Kyle: You’re right, Cory. It’s about the experience of the moment and your brand. It could be anything, besides being serious or funny, but that’s a concise way to look at it. That’s just jarring. I imagine someone giving this presentation on a stage, and maybe it’s to these professionals who do a certain job who want to know how to do it better. It’s this really in-depth, professional presentation, and then the person is like, “Aright, we’re done here. Bye Felicia!” You’re like, “What?” It’s totally different. It throws you off completely.
  • 34:16 Cory: I’ve even got a soundbite for the people sitting there at the end of that presentation. “Woah, what happened? My brain just died.” That’s right. I mentioned that I was a musician earlier. Back when I was 13, I think, my brother and I went into this tiny little recording studio. We wanted to record a song or something. The guy was kind of weird in a quirky, musician kind of way. We were recording one of our songs, and we felt like we were in this really cool, professional studio.
  • 35:04 He pulls out a jester’s hat, you know a court jester from the medieval days? He pulls it out, and he’s like, “This song makes me think of being a court jester!” It totally changed the whole tone of our recording session. I’m sure as kids we were like, “This is weird, but it’s funny that he’s wearing this hat.” If you think about it from that perspective, all of a sudden, there’s this intense change of tone. Sometimes, that can be good.
  • Be intentional about your use of tone, especially suddenly changing tone.

First Interactions

  • 35:48 Kyle: Something was just highlighted in the chat for me, too. Lisa asked, “How did that compare to your overall perception of their brand? Are all of their emails serious and then say, ‘Bye, Felicia’?” I hadn’t received an email in so long from this person that I honestly don’t remember any of their other content. It was kind of like my first impression, and that’s important to remember, too.
  • Every piece of content your brand produces could be someone’s first interaction with you.

  • 36:28 If you suddenly change your tone to inject comedic something or suddenly be serious about something, know that that can still be someone’s first interaction with you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t shift every now and then, but remember that every thing you do could be a first interaction.
  • 36:53 Cory: Humor is good. Let’s be clear. We have clearly demonstrated on this episode that we love humor.
  • 37:03 Kyle: We love humor. That’s the tone I’ve seen that seems to get the most prominence placed on it for people who are just starting with a brand, who are starting something new. Maybe they’re feeling like, “I have this thing I want people to be interested in, and people like humor.” It just becomes this thing that’s constantly done, and everything seems like a joke at some point. I see that a lot on Twitter, even. It’s great to be funny, don’t get me wrong. There is also a time and a place to do that. Maybe it’s nervousness. Maybe it’s because people don’t know what else to share, but it still affects your brand.

Meshing Personality & Brand

  • 38:00 Cory: There is someone that immediately comes to mind when I think of a really great meshing of personality and work and brand. It’s James White. He’s a visual artist, a designer. I saw him speak at Circles a couple of years ago. His website is Signalnoise.com. He’s an amazing artist. He’s got some really great stuff out there, and he’s got a lot of great stuff to say. I really enjoy that guy.
  • 38:30 You look at him, and you feel like he’s the embodiment of the brand he has created in Signalnoise. He does this kind of 80’s style, the neon, really contrasted, purples-oranges-blues Tron-esque kind of thing, the metal hair band type of stuff. You look at him and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s who he is.” Then, when he speaks, he has all this amazing stuff to say. It’s full of his personality and this vibe, and it’s so interesting to watch him speak and to watch videos of him.
  • 39:14 You get this sense that it’s holistic. You don’t get this sense that he has made this side brand, and it’s not really himself, that he’s this totally different person. He just says, “This is me, this is my brand, and it’s all connected.” I love how he does that. He’s a great guy to follow.
  • 39:37 Kyle: That’s funny. I’m more of an introvert. I like to be alone, to be to myself, and I don’t really like the idea of getting up and speaking in front of people. I like it once I do it, but the concept is nerve-wracking. I’m not a person who walks into a room and starts speaking, and everyone is paying attention right away. When I do speak, there’s this time of prepping myself and getting myself ready to be a little bit more entertaining and animated. I could tell that with James White, too.
  • 40:30 He was great, a great speaker at Circles. It wasn’t that he was a different person, but afterwards, I was talking with him a little bit, and he’s a little bit more laid back. It wasn’t a major shift at all, but you could tell that he was putting on his best stage face during his speech.
  • To a certain degree, everyone puts on their best face when they’re in front of people.

  • 41:05 Cory: I totally agree. I like this topic.
  • 41:22 Kyle: This is kind of the heart of branding, really. How do you communicate? That’s what branding is all about—having a certain personality and a certain way that you conduct yourself as a business that attracts the right people to you.
  • People are attracted by what is external, and they are moved by what is inside.

  • 41:47 Cory: That’s the truth. We’re attracted by what we see or hear, that external stuff, but we’re moved when we get an understanding of what that thing is, whether it’s a person, a company, a product, or a place. We are attracted to that thing by how we experience it externally, but something changes within us depending on what we encounter. We get pulled in, but we stay or leave depending on what’s behind the external.
  • 42:24 Kyle: Yeah, that’s true.