“Oi!” “Hiya.” “Good morning.” Why and how to vary your tone of voice.

Do you call the people who buy your stuff clients? Or customers? Or punters? Service providers usually call them ‘clients’ while product providers usually call them ‘customers’. Both are fine. But if you think of the people who pay you as ‘punters’, how much respect does that show them? When you buy something, do you want to be thought of as a punter? I don’t! That’s just one example of the way language impacts everything about your business. The words you use are a sign of the attitude behind everything you do.

Tone of voice is one of the main aspects of your brand. It goes along with the look of your logo and the feel of your customer experience. Innocent Drinks is often held up as a benchmark in marketing. Read anything they do, and you’ll notice their friendly, fun, slightly irreverent tone of voice. Although it’s the company talking, it feels as though you’re dealing with a likeable individual.

For example, here’s some of the copy on the label of their mango & passion fruit smoothie: “I’m new.” “Please keep me cold…Gently pasteurised, just like milk. Shake it up baby.” “Call the banana phone on xxx xxxx xxxx.”

Their Thai coconut curry veg pot sleeve reads: “Keep me cold….Heat me to eat me.” “So what’s an innocent veg pot? It’s a delicious meal…with no colourings flavourings or nasty things you wouldn’t add yourself.” “Once opened consume straight away or we’ll come round and get you.” “No vegetables were harmed in the making of this product (apart from a bit of light chopping.)”

What do you notice about the tone of that copy? One technique is the anthropomorphism of the products (that is, making them ‘talk’ in the first person, as if they were human). Another is the Q&A style that hooks the reader in. And what comes through most of all is humour. It’s consistent with the rest of their branding — the head office address is Fruit Towers, and their vans look like cows or are covered in fake grass.

One of the skills of a copywriter is to write in a different tone of voice according to the company they’re writing for. For example, I’ve written websites for various photographers. One wanted to come across as fun and approachable, while another wanted to be seen as serious and corporate. Do you think their websites look at all similar? No, their web designs vary accordingly. And do you think I wrote in the same style for each of them? Of course not.

In order to come up with a suitable tone of voice, you need to be able to describe your brand personality e.g. Is your company traditional or modern? Do you want to appeal more to men or women? What age group? What car do they drive? What newspaper do they read? Where do they live? What do they already know about your sector, and what do they need to know? What’s important to them about you?

The more your copywriter knows about your business, your clients and your competitors, the better job they can do.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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