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  • Writer's pictureDan White

Understanding Headspace's tone of voice

Headspace – the meditation and mindfulness app has been filling the ears of over 62 million people worldwide since launching back in 2010.


It’s well worth zeroing in on Headspace as they’re a brand whose tone of voice is intimately wrapped up with their core product. Unlike Innocent who realistically could apply any tone of voice to sell their smoothies, Headspace has been anchored – for better and for worse – around the voice, style and tone of their meditation teachers.


Let’s explore.


If you haven’t listened to a Headspace session before then you really should. Go and listen to one - now. If you’re already familiar with how Headspace sounds then read on.


THE TLDR LESSONS FROM UNDERSTANDING HEADSPACE’S TONE OF VOICE:

  • Your tone of voice can be overly reliant on a single person

  • Your comms should consistently align to a universal tone of voice

  • Your tone of voice needs to adapt as your business grows

Introducing Andy


Up until recently all the meditation sessions which number in their hundreds are voiced by what an American friend called ‘that British man’. That man is Andy Puddicombe, the cofounder of Headspace and an official meditation teacher.


It’s from him where Headspace’s tone of voice was born.


Headspace’s Tone of Voice can best be described as:

  • Calm

  • Clear

  • Measured

  • Authentic

  • Slightly quirky

As expected with a meditation lesson the tone of voice used, combined with Andy’s fairly neutral British accent, are the perfect way to quieten the mind. There’s no jargon, no idioms and very occasionally the odd piece of light humour (which is where the quirkiness comes in).


Both me and millions of others have been listening to Andy’s voice for years – more often than not on a daily basis. (Each day you meditate builds a ‘streak’. Miss a day and you go back to zero so the gamification of Headspace is firmly on point).


Naturally, the brand affiliation means when you say Headspace I think of Andy’s voice – and all of the connotations that brings. Built up over 250 hours and 5 years of using the app.


So, for everyone, the relationship we have with Headspace is inextricably a relationship with Andy and his tone of voice.


Has Headspace lost its voice?

Headspace as a business has done remarkably well. Millions of users has translated to millions of dollars and getting there has involved a huge team over marketers, developers - and everyone else needed to build and grow a successful tech start up. LinkedIn shows a team of 293 employees. But to create communications on this scale to so many people? At this stage it feels like Headspace has lost its way.


The problem as we’ve mentioned before is that Headspace = Andy, and therefore Andy’s of voice is Headspace’s tone of voice. His tone of voice is the anchor around which the brand revolves. Remember - calm, measured – meditative.


If you take a look at the core website copy it aligns with this perfectly. What you hear during a meditation you can read on the site. It’s reassuring, simple and positive.


A screenshot showing the tone of voice of the Headspace. The website reads 'Meditation made simple. Take the first step on your journey towards a healthier, happier life. Learn to meditate with Headspace'

However, when you delve a little deeper into the day to day communications of the brand, they jar, occasionally badly with what Headspace is all about.


Here’s an email sent in the run up to the Christmas period.


An email from Headspace with a more random tone of voice. The subect line reads - Hey Buddy, winking face emoji. The copy reads - Unwrap Togetherness. Give each other the gift of support. Start Gifting'

Buddy? Gifting? Bestie, amigo, someone in your crew? Frankly, if you took away the branding I wouldn’t never have guessed this is from Headspace.


The tone is saccharine. The copy Americanised (I and many other British people hate the verb ‘gifting’). And bestie, amigo, crew – it’s over complicated, repetitive and uses language that well, Andy wouldn’t be using.


Here’s another easier one from Facebook. Snooze-flash of all things.


A screenshot of an Instagram post from Headspace showing a cartoon sleepy face on a purple background. The caption reads "Snooze flash; it's easier to be your best when you're well rested. Click here for tups to help you sleep soundly"

Or another from Instagram. Dog dozes are the new cat naps.


A picture of a dog asleep on a bed is posted by Headspace on Instagram with the caption "Dog dozes are the new cat naps"

There’s always going to be posts which align more closely than others. There’s plenty of examples where the copy on social posts or in emails is perfectly fine. But, honestly? You would expect an app as big as Headspace at this point in their business to be so much better aligned. Let’s look at the that tone of voice again. Are these posts?

  • ❌ Calm

  • ❌ Clear

  • ❌ Measured

  • ❌ Authentic

  • ✔️ Slightly quirky

Changing times

In the meantime, as Headspace grows new lessons are being added which could risk diluting Headspaces’ tone of voice even further. New female voices have been added. Plus there’s translated meditations in German, French and Spanish. For the business this is awesome. However, the anchor of using Andy as the central tone of voice is weakened.


So who has control of the tone of voice?


Normally, we’d be recommending a long hard look at refining the copy going out over email and social to bring it back in line with their central values. But dragging this back to Andy’s original tone of voice isn’t what’s needed.


What’s needed is an updated Headspace tone of voice.


Achieving a universal tone of voice comes from having a seriously solid understanding of your audience. With new markets to expand into Headspace’s audience is even broader covering that needs to accommodate different languages (as well as the differing cultural associations of meditation and mental wellbeing). That’s not an easy job. Yet, there will be some universal qualities out there of why someone would want to meditate and why they would choose to do it through an app. Data and research will answer these questions.


If they can work that out you end up with a huge melting pot of different factors which need to be acknowledged – messaging which is influenced by Andy but not reliant on him. After all, as the business grows the tone of voice needs to grow with it.


That way, from that you can grow yourself a single universal tone of voice from which everyone else takes their cue so that your comms can can remain clear, calm and measured.

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