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Web Content Voice, Tone, & Style

What does your organization sound like to your website audience?

If you’ve never thought about it, you should. How you “speak” is just as important as how you look visually.

Voice, tone, and style may sound like the same thing, but they’re not. They work together to define what your brand sounds like and how it’s perceived. So what’s the difference?

  • Voice – Consistent brand personality your organization uses in its communications, includes word choices, pronouns, punctuation, and more
  • Tone – How you communicate and the attitude you convey depending on the topic or situation—similar to your speaking tone—and the impression it leaves on your visitors
  • Style – Guidelines to ensure you present a uniform brand experience using defined language choices and writing mechanics

If you already have a voice, tone, and style guide, make sure you use it consistently because these elements make a difference in a user’s engagement on your website. They help your organization’s content connect with your website audiences by:

  • Making you stand out from your competitors
  • Building trust through shared values
  • Delivering relevant messages that convey your understanding of their needs

Discover & Use Your Brand Voice

Voice is your health care organization’s brand personality. Your voice helps you establish a relationship with your website visitor and should be consistent. If you don’t have a documented organizational voice, you can start discovering it by examining your brand standards. Don’t have brand standards? Then consider your organization’s mission, values, and key messages. These provide the foundation to guide you and your stakeholders as you create a well-defined voice that connects with your audience.

Hospitals and health care systems often use variations on authoritative, conversational, or supportive brand voices.

  • Authoritative – Formal language that carries a sense of professionalism, experience and persuasive thought leadership.
  • Benefit Health leads the Midwest in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. You can trust our cardiac and vascular teams—composed of highly trained heart, vascular and thoracic specialists, nurses, and technicians—to provide comprehensive care.

  • Conversational – Informal language with a more natural, familiar approach that seems caring, informative and respectful.
  • Stay close to home while benefiting from exceptional heart and vascular care. At Benefit Health, you gain access to highly trained specialists and the same advanced treatments available at the nation’s most elite medical centers—all in a caring, comfortable community hospital setting.

  • Supportive – Casual language filled with personality, enthusiasm, willingness to help, and sometimes slang that seems relaxed, like talking to a trusted friend.
    Put your heart in our hands. If you need a heart care doctor, call on Benefit Health’s heart and vascular specialists. You’ll have access to the latest technology and experienced staff who will be with you every step of the way.

Review these three organizations to see the impact of voice on content about the same condition – depression.

  • Mayo Clinic – Uses an authoritative, somewhat formal, matter-of-fact voice in its health information to describe depression. Content functions similarly to an encyclopedia entry. Even though the content is written in second person (“you”), it’s serious and projects little personality. The advantage of this type of voice and defined structure is that it’s easy to create and update. The disadvantage is that the voice may seem too clinical and detached for the readers looking for a more personal, compassionate touch to patient care and health information.
  • WebMD – Reflects a casual magazine-like feel. Depression content is straightforward and respectful, but written in second person for a more conversational and personable voice. The advantage of this type of voice and content is that it’s credible, but with a more casual approach that invites the audience to develop a relationship with the organization. The disadvantage is that to achieve the brand voice, the writing style must maintain a careful balance between communicating information that’s medically accurate and understandable to a patient audience. This consistent balance can be hard to achieve.
  • Health.com – Adopts a supportive voice with sympathetic and friendly content. The depression information is informal, yet courteous, avoids jargon, and answers consumers’ questions about the condition. The advantage of this type of voice and content is that it’s enthusiastic, warm, and encourages interaction. The disadvantage is that this voice may sound too casual or unprofessional for some readers looking for a more formal voice.

For many health care brands, a conversational voice written in second person is appropriate because it can convey empathy and respect, and it’s able to be more or less enthusiastic or emotional as needed for the subject. Decide which voice best conveys your organization’s personality and then commit to using that voice consistently across all communications.

Your Tone Matters

Tone is a part of your brand voice. Voice, however, stays the same in speech, while tone changes naturally depending on the person or situation. It’s the same principle for written communication—your tone may differ depending on the type of message you want to convey. Tone is more than just words. It’s the way your organization communicates about what it does and who it is. If your tone is right, it can influence patients and prospects to feel the same way you do about your health care brand.

Just how important is tone to creating valuable content? Consider an experiment by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), a leading user experience research group. NNG found that “different tones of voice on a website have measurable impacts on users’ perceptions of a brand’s friendliness, trustworthiness, and desirability. Casual, conversational, and moderately enthusiastic tones performed best.”

The experiment’s findings also suggest that those perceptions “significantly influence users’ willingness to recommend a brand.” That means the tone is important.

Put together a brand identity with a well-defined voice and tone, and you have a powerful message. Here’s an example of these elements working together:

Benefit Health Brand Messaging:

  1. Together, we’re taking good care of you.
  2. The right care, in the right place, at the right time.
  3. Access to high-quality care close to home.

Voice

  • Approachable clinical expert

Tone

  • Straightforward, warm, welcoming, easy to understand

Sample Copy
As the largest employer in the region and its leading healthcare provider, we interact every day with people we know and care deeply about—neighbors, friends, and family. The thread of Benefit Health is woven through the fabric of eastern Iowa. Our patients feel the personal connection and extra compassion from being cared for by a neighbor or friend.

Now that you’ve seen what voice and tone can add to your copy let’s look at style.

Why Do We Need a Writing Style?

Content represents your health care organization best when written with a consistent style. Your writing style guide helps your team use your brand voice, tone, and editorial style uniformly across all communication channels. This consistency can aid your organization in becoming an identifiable, credible leader in your health care market.

Your organization’s writing style guide should include:

  • Reference to a preferred common style manual, such as The Associated Press Stylebook or another resource, and dictionary along with notes about your organization’s exceptions
  • Industry-specific terms, for example, do you prefer robot-assisted surgery, robotic-assisted surgery, or robotic surgery?
  • Organization-specific terms, such as department or location names
  • Voice and tone, with examples of sentences that do and don’t match it
  • Formatting guidelines, such as when and how to use bold text and bulleted lists
  • Guidance on meeting accessibility and readability standards
  • Web writing practices to help maintain user focus and engagement

Document Your Brand Voice, Tone & Style

If your healthcare organization does not have a voice, tone, and style guide, it’s worth your time to develop one. You’ll benefit from creating and using brand voice, tone, and writing style because it makes it easy for anyone working for your organization—internally and externally—to communicate consistently with your website visitors. These standardized elements will help your team:

  • Align messaging in all content
  • Increase productivity as they find answers to their questions quickly
  • Produce quality communications with fewer drafts
  • Strengthen your brand through content that engages your audience

Make sure you’re helping your patients and prospects get to know your organization’s personality, so they feel comfortable getting services from you. Use your voice, tone, and style guide consistently across all communication channels.

Need Help?
If you need help shaping your organization’s voice, tone or setting up style guidelines, contact the writing experts at Geonetric. We’re here to work with you!

Shelly Hicks

Senior Web Content Strategist & Writer

Web Content Voice, Tone, & Style

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