HOW TO: Use Tone Of Voice To Bring A Brand To Life

woman with megaphoneRennie, anyone?

When it comes to your stomach and a meal that’s too rich, you take steps to damp down the juices. Too much of a good thing often makes for cramped and uncomfortable conditions. And so it is with words on websites.

Tight, strong copy is the bedrock of effective communication and great brand. So why is it that we often clutter pages with repetition, confusing our customers? Is it because we lack the confidence or information we need to convey a clear message? Is it because we’re influenced by social media’s stream of consciousness, and so we neglect to hone words sufficiently? Or do we try to fill space instinctively, repeating words instead of letting our web pages breathe?

Remember, when it comes to words online, less is more. Aim to show customers the message, not tell the message to them. To be effective, words must work in tandem with pictures and graphic images, each complementing the other without duplication.

Let’s take a recent example from an online supermarket. This well-known brand has guidelines for a clear and simple tone of voice – with natural phrasing being at the heart of its brand practice. However, in its product offer pods, we often see the same message repeated in the title and in the standfirst. This results in sales messages like this:

Title: Great offers. Standfirst: Find great offers here.

Ouch. Not only is this duplication a tragic waste of space, not only is this content as compelling as a soggy plastic bag, but it completely fails to engage or explain – naturally. Each time this online supermarket does this, it undermines its brand. Why? Because people engage with other people, not things – so brands must live, breathe, explain, excite, educate, dream and involve, just like people do.
Online brands must be eloquent and well-versed in the art of being human. Senseless repetition is an engagement-killer and, when a world of other possibilities awaits online customers, it is as foolhardy as it is lazy. So how to avoid repetition if you’ve become stuck in an inspiration desert? Well there are some tried and tested tips to get you through. Here are three of the best:

1. Think of normal conversation when creating text

Let’s re-imagine the text for the product offer pod as a conversation over a garden fence:

Ben: ‘There are great offers on this website.’
Belinda: ‘Really? What kind of offers?’
Ben: ‘Find the offers here.’
Hmm. Not very interesting, really. And Belinda doesn’t discover anything new. In fact, she probably feels that Ben is as interesting as a sock puppet.

Now, try this:

Ben: ‘There are great bank holiday offers on this website.’
Belinda: ‘Oooh. I’ve been looking for something for the bank holiday. What kind of offers?’
Ben: ‘There’s a feel-good special on home and garden furniture.’
Belinda: ‘Sound’s interesting, I’ll check it out.’
Ben has finally gone up in Belinda’s estimation, and here’s why. Conversation two is more successful because it tells the customer why they should click. In the example, there’s a topical motivator (relating to the forthcoming bank holiday), an emotional motivator (the ‘feel-good special’) and an area of interest (garden furniture) indicated.

Translate this back to copy-format, and you get:

Title: Great bank holiday offers. Standfirst: Feel-good home and garden furniture.

You can see the difference. So, side-step copy repetition in banners, pods or any kind of CTA by asking yourself: ‘how would this play out if it were in a conversation?’ You’re guaranteed to get more natural, engaging, accessible results. And remember, making your customer feel at ease is a great way to develop a stronger sense of relationship – a key component in retention today.

2. Think like a martial arts warrior

When you execute a karate punch, you make sure of two things: that your fist is locked tight, and that you keep your wrist flat so you don’t break it on impact.
Now apply this to copy writing:

A locked, tight fist means using ¬only the information that is completely to purpose. Just as you wouldn’t punch with a loose fist, so you don’t have any copy that’s flapping around getting in the way.
There should be no extraneous words – just as you shouldn’t have more than five fingers. Visualise your hand, and this should help you remember. Each word is directly linked to the message, just as each finger is curled and locked for the punch. And just as each of your fingers is different, so are the words you use. Imagine a hand of thumbs; well, it just wouldn’t be a hand, would it?

A flat wrist supports the punch; it’s the conduit for all the force of the blow, so it’s got to be strong. In copy terms, a flat wrist is tone of voice, it’s how you speak to the customers, which actually translates as how you make them feel. It’s what either conveys your information effectively, or it’s what gets in the way.

Form the fist correctly, and you’ll make impact correctly. Make your banner text, pod text, calls to action and long copy to the point, and you’ll create engagement – making impact.

3. Where appropriate, make ‘em laugh

Humour works because it engages people at a deep, emotional level, creating an instant connection that can act as a compelling persuader. If you think heavy-weight brands can’t afford a giggle, think again. Have a look at those companies getting it right on social media to see how they ‘play’ with their customers, and apply the same principles to your website copy. Charmin is a great example:

Charmin Twitter

There are many more worth looking up and following. If you’re still tempted to repeat phrases, think ‘how can I help people enjoy themselves instead?’ Work at creating a product-appropriate laugh, and you’ll have made a customer smile, endearing them to your brand.

Title: It’s a sofa blow-out! Standfirst: And not a whoopee cushion in sight…

You get the idea.

Don’t be afraid to play with words and explore puns, double entendre, consonance and alliteration. The more you enjoy yourself with language, the more you’ll communicate this to customers. Read widely and bravely, exploring new territory. Inform your writing with the words and ideas of others treading the same path. Look at how other cultures express ideas, lure customers and clinch sales; you’ll see humour is high on the agenda.

So, next time you feel like repeating yourself, do something memorable, or creative or funny. Hone and chisel or experiment and find a more human voice for your brand.

And leave repetition where it belongs; with those who can’t think of anything better to say.

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  • http://www.marksampson.com/ Mark Sampson

    Brilliant article Ruth. Its never been more important to use the power of tone and language to showcase your brand’s true personality. We need to encourage people to be brave – to rip up the rule book of dry, feature-laden copy, and instead inject authentic character, stories, and passion – especially those in the B2B world!