Tone of voice guidelines + examples for sports and outdoor brands
Martina Russo, CEO & founder
05 April 2023
If you’re reading this article, you probably need help knowing where to start. Well, have no fear. We’ve got you covered with how to create a brand tone of voice in a few simple steps. Read on to find out more.
What is tone of voice?
Tone of voice is how you communicate with your customers. Your voice is made up of a series of carefully chosen words, phrases and expressions that demonstrate who you are and the values you stand for. Think of it like this – how would your brand talk to a customer if they were standing right in front of you? That’s exactly what tone of voice is.
Tone of voice can be influenced by culture, dialect, gender, and the way sports fans talk to one another. For example, many outdoor brands adopt a different tone of voice for different regional markets. And you may find that brands adopt their tone of voice when speaking to men vs women. But the key for any brand is to connect with your audience on a deeper level, using language they understand and resonate with.
3 steps to create your tone of voice guidelines
Having tone of voice guidelines couldn’t be more important if you want to keep your communications consistent. Because that’s the aim, right?
Guidelines can help your copywriters and marketers write product descriptions and social media posts that sound like ‘you’. They allow clients and freelancers from outside the business to understand more about you. And they also act as a reference point for team members who need to communicate with people outside the business.
And trust us – we understand how difficult defining your tone of voice can be. Having worked with tons of outdoor brands over the years, we’ve faced the same pain points you’re dealing with right now. We’ve seen it all:
- Stakeholders that are misaligned on what their brand’s tone of voice should be
- Conflicts between detail-oriented product teams wanting technical language vs creative marketing teams championing inspirational copy
- No tone of voice for the many languages the brand translates into, leaving translators with nothing to work with
- An inconsistent brand voice across channels because there are no guidelines to work from
If any of this sounds familiar, you and your team will find life SO much easier with a set of brand guidelines at your disposal. Here’s how to create them.
1. Define your core values
First up is defining what your brand’s all about. What does it stand for? What drives it? Is there anything you don’t want to talk about? And how are you going to achieve your goals?
You could be big on sustainability, only selling recycled, responsibly-sourced gear. Or you could be a champion of home-grown athletes. Perhaps you want to be the driving force of change in your local community.
Whatever your values, make them super clear when building your tone of voice guidelines and use them to drive the communications you create. But don’t just list them – explain what they mean and why they’re important to your brand. You want them to have depth, meaning and relatability.
To help you nail these points, it’s a good idea to do these things:
Create a mission statement
A mission statement sets out in a few powerful words who you are, what you’re committed to, and what your brand hopes to achieve. It underpins everything you’ll do – from the products you make to the services you provide and all the things in between.
Need inspiration? This is The North Face’s mission statement. See how the brand uses its direct and inspirational tone of voice to highlight its purpose.
Create a set of communication goals
Alongside your mission statement, you also need a brand message architecture. Sounds complicated, right? But don’t worry – this step is simpler than it sounds.
While tone of voice is more about the words you use, message architecture is more about prioritizing communication goals to help your team know what to say instead of how to say it. Your tone of voice guidelines has the latter covered – or it will have, once you’ve got it nailed at the end of this article.
When building your communication goals, think about:
- The promise you’re going to make to your audience
- Who you are
- What you have to offer
- What makes you different
- What you want your audience to hear
- What don’t you want your audience to hear
Turn these into sub-headings and write down as many adjectives as you can underneath. Explain what they mean if you need to. Then, organize them in order of importance.
2. Define your brand’s tone of voice
Now you’ve established your ‘why’, you next need to define your ‘how’ – your brand’s tone of voice. Don’t be overwhelmed. This part is the fun bit.
The best way to start is by creating a list of all the adjectives you want your tone to be. This could be things like:
You’ll soon see patterns with the adjectives you choose, which will help you eliminate any that don’t feel quite right. Here are some things to think about that might help shape your thoughts:
Formal vs. casual
Formal language builds authority. But the problem is, people rarely connect with it. It can also come across as outdated and stuffy, like you’re telling your customers what to do instead of guiding them on a journey.
Most outdoor sports brands adopt a casual tone, as this adds an air of personality and relatability. But be careful. Striking the perfect balance between informal and casual is key. If you go too far, you might come across as unprofessional and – even worse – an unserious brand. O’Neill has nailed it on social media:
Funny vs. serious
Outdoor brands deal with some serious stuff. We want to protect the places we explore and have as little impact on the earth as possible. Adopting a serious tone to talk about the things that matter can really hammer home the message. But it’s important not to scare people or put them off connecting with your brand.
Skull Candy uses the perfect amount of seriousness to make its point about the environment:
On the other hand, humor can make difficult conversations easier to have. Some brands do humor really well – it’s part of their DNA. However, it’s super tough to come across as funny without looking desperate or cheesy. If you’re going to use humor in your communications, try not to overdo it. You also need to pick your moments. Remember – subtlety goes a long way.
Respectful vs. irreverent
All brands want to show their audience respect. Using a respectful tone shows warmth and politeness. However, if you play it too safe, you might not come across as genuine as you’d like.
Irreverence is harder to get right – but it can be done. Outdoor brands that use an irreverent tone are fun, confident and push the boundaries of what’s expected. They’re careful not to intimidate or offend, which is what makes audiences interact with them.
Salomon shows us exactly how to push these boundaries. The copy is confident, but it’s not arrogant. It plays on its strengths as a brand and has just the right amount of fun with its copy. The result? The audience knows how much love, care and passion has gone into its collection in only 6 words. This is a brand you can rely on.
3. Write best-practice tone of voice examples
A set of well-crafted tone of voice guidelines wouldn’t be complete without a few examples to guide your team. The best way to approach this is by writing a few content examples – like a product description or social post – that show what good looks like. Then, explain in simple terms what makes it so great and why.
To really hammer the message home, write a few worst-practice examples to show your team what not to do. Write in a way that feels completely unnatural to your brand – your team will soon get the point.
Tone of voice examples for sports and outdoor brands
Before pulling together your tone of voice guidelines, check out how some of the world’s best outdoor sports brands speak to their customers.
Patagonia, one of the largest outdoor clothing brands, harnesses a mission-driven tone of voice in all its communications. The brand uses authentic, passionate and straightforward language to get its message across. You can see an example here:
Patagonia’s messaging focuses on environmental and social issues. The brand also uses its voice to educate and inspire its customers to take action in their local communities.
Patagonia’s tone can be serious and urgent when talking about important issues, but it’s also relatable and approachable and, sometimes, playful. This helps to build a connection with its audience without patronizing them about the problems the world is facing. The brand frequently uses storytelling to illustrate its values and mission, adding a human touch to its communications.
Patagonia’s tone of voice is matches its values and reflects the brand’s commitment to making a positive impact in the world.
Garmin’s brand voice is smart, confident, relatable and a little bit playful. While the copy focuses on the technical features of its products, it doesn’t overcomplicate the language. Even though Garmin is a company of engineers, it relates to the people who use its products in an approachable way.
Garmin’s tone is geared toward outdoor enthusiasts and athletes. The brand regularly uses active and energetic language to appeal to this audience, with its guidelines explaining how the brand has “a personable, next-door neighbor vibe that makes consumers feel like we are talking “with” them, not “at” them.”
Komoot’s tone of voice is friendly, inspiring and informative. The brand wants you to get outside and explore new places, which it does by motivating and empowering people to take on new challenges and experience the beauty of nature.
Komoot uses simple language to explain all the outdoor activities you can do, welcoming people from all skill levels – from beginners to seasoned adventurers. But above all else, Komoot wants you to have fun, be safe and experience everything nature has to offer.
Why tone of voice is important for sports and outdoor brands
Tone of voice is at the heart of everything you do. If you’re an outdoor brand looking to build trust with your audience, it all starts with how you speak. Nailing your tone of voice helps to:
Build your brand
Establishing tone of voice guidelines ensures your messaging aligns with your brand values and mission. This helps to reinforce your brand’s identity and make it more memorable and meaningful to your audience. People will recognize you purely from the words and tone you use. Impressive, huh?
Cut through your competition
You’re unique, so why would you want to sound like anyone else? It’s easy to fall into the trap of copying someone else’s tone of voice because it works well for them. But what works for them may not be right for you.
Creating a unique brand voice can help you climb ahead of the competition. It can make you feel different, fresh and different from everyone else.
Speak to your audience
Your audience plays a big part in shaping your tone of voice. After all, they’re the people you need to speak to. Get it right and they’ll stick around. Fail to impress and they’ll leave for warmer shores. If you’re clever, you can use words and phrases that replicate face-to-face communication, allowing you to build genuine connections. Next step – conversion!
Now it’s time to create your outdoor brand tone of voice guidelines – or let us do it for you! Whatever stage your business is at, we can help. Need multilingual copywriting, content quality audits or sports translations while you’re at it? Let’s chat.
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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.
Co-founder and localization manager at Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.
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