Tone of Voice
‘Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.’
It’s not what you say but how you say it. This means communicating clearly and in ways that customers would like to be spoken to. But organisations often fail to articulate their messages effectively.
In many companies, I find that there are great stories that aren’t being told because they’re buried in the morass of company information and company policies. You need to liberate those stories and rewrite them in a different tone of voice. Then they’ll fly.
So, how do you change the way that you write about your company externally and internally because what you say to your people is every bit as important as what you say to your customers?
A great way to get going is to start with your company values. Do they mean something or were they five clever phrases that were handed out at a team meeting and pinned on the wall of the office? Take those values and use them to inspire your writing and to create your business personality.
Here’s how a copywriter does it:
1. Write clearly
Ditch corporate-speak… no-one wants to read formal, smug or pious language. Lose buzzwords and technobabble. Some people are attached to these misguided notions so be nice to them and show how to do it properly. Reduce complexity to simple terms rather than long, technical jargon and language written to make you appear intelligent. Write in ways that you want to be spoken to and keep telling yourself that corporate-speak is not acceptable.
2. Be honest
Describe what you do that is great but admit to any failings and explain what you’re doing to fix those things. A famous example from the 1960s was when Avis was trying to compete with market leader Hertz. Its slogan was, “When you’re number 2, you try harder.” This turned out to be a hugely successful campaign for Avis because they were honest.
3. Offer proof
Prove your worth with examples from customers about what you do. Case studies are a great way of connecting with your audience through storytelling and are often more powerful than a brochure. The purpose of a case study is to attract attention and start a debate.
4. Trust is everything
If you’re honest and you offer proof, then you’re starting to build trust. Business is built on trust and without it you have no business. State what you are going to do and stick to that. This means that statements you make in writing need to be verifiable with facts or data but presented in a way that is palatable to your potential customers.
5. Be confident
If you write clearly, you’ll start to write confidently. And if you’re being true to your values and you communicate that through your writing, then confidence will continue to shine through. The definition of confidence is self-assured, calm and poised but it is also about being upbeat. That means no negative language. Frame everything in positive terms without appearing naïve or hedonistic.
6. Be optimistic
Your writing should convey your expertise alongside a future that is bright and optimistic. If you fail to convey this information successfully then your audience will detect self-doubt or negativity and switch off and the only thing that will go up will be your bounce rates. Customers want to be reassured and are looking for you to do exactly that.
7. Offer something new
By writing clearly and confidently you will be carrying your readers along with your story. A continuous stream of optimism can wear thin if you don’t occasionally offer a surprise or thrill your reader. So, offer something new and keep on keeping it fresh. Not only will this delight your customers but if Google sees that you’re refreshing your content regularly it’ll help your search rankings too.
8. Pronouns – you/your
Use second person personal pronouns where you can. This creates a feeling of engagement with your reader because it sounds like you’re talking directly to them. I’m not suggesting that contractual documents, for example, should adopt this technique. But where you’re engaging potential customers if you want to create an emotional connection talk to them as if they were sitting in a room with you.
9. Grammar is important but don’t get hung up on it
Remember learning to drive and that first time you sat in the driver’s seat? Your instructor talked you through the controls, mirrors, signals, and wipers. Starting the car, moving off, changing gears, slowing down and stopping. Now we do these things without thinking. When you start writing you need to think about grammar, sentences, paragraphs, spelling, and tone of voice. It takes lots of practice, skill and experience and writing isn’t something that you can ever do sub-consciously like driving. You must return continually to the principles in this blog post.
10. Read it out loud
I always read my writing out loud especially when it’s a presentation or a speech. You’ll be surprised how different something on the page sounds when you listen to it. You’ll hear where the speech patterns or rhythms don’t work, or sound stilted or just wrong. You’ll detect whether it sounds confident, honest or optimistic or just corny. So, read it out loud and let your ears and brain tell you what’s happening.
11. Tell a story
Whatever you write relate it to real-world experience. It’s great that your product does x, y, and z but what does that mean for a user? What practical problem are you solving and/or what need or desire are you fulfilling? I’m not a geek and so I don’t care how something works… it’s all about the problem it solves for me.
Your writing needs to address the most important desire that you’re going to resolve. Give this your energy and attention and you will engage your reader. Then move on to your next point and the next and so on.
If you adopt these principles, then you’ll create a personality for your product and business. When you do that, you’ll stimulate interest and increase the believability in what you do.
Gene Schwartz puts it better than anyone, ‘Weave together your promise, your logic, your emotion, your image. Pack your sentences full of every one of them. Make them blend into each other, till it’s almost impossible to pull out the individual threads of the rich pattern of conviction and desire you’re weaving.’
If you need help with your Tone of Voice or if you have any comments to make on this blog post, I’d love to hear from you.