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Is Your Website Using the Right Tone of Voice?

The style of writing you use on your website and other communications can make or break relationships with customers and prospects.

Lady shouting through a megaphone

When it comes to marketing communications, the phrase ‘tone of voice’ usually refers to written content. Ideally all your business’s communications, including your website and other online content as well as letters and other printed material, should all be written in a similar style. The style should reflect the essence of your business – your brand personality.

These days it’s common for larger companies to have tone of voice guidelines that help employees and external providers write for them in a consistent style. While every business would like people to believe it’s unique, I often find similar sorts of words cropping up in major corporations’ tone of voice guidelines. Words like human, sincere, approachable, warm, welcoming and engaging.

If you’re running a small business, it can be tempting to try to appear bigger than you are by depersonalising the way you write, talking about your business in the third person and using formal language. However, today even big name banks are leaning in the opposite direction.

The truth is that by writing in an authoritative and carefully ‘professional’ style can actually alienate readers.

Keep it conversational

I would always recommend writing in a natural and conversational style. This can be more difficult than you might imagine.

Here are a few tips to bear in mind:

  • Write as you would speak to another adult.
  • Address your reader as ‘you’ and write directly to them.
  • Don’t be afraid of using contractions, like ‘we’re’ and ‘isn’t’.
  • As much as possible, use ‘I’ or ‘we’ rather than your company name or ‘the company’.
  • Try to avoid well-used stock phrases, like ‘for your convenience’ and ‘with regard to’.
  • Don’t use complicated words and phrases unless you need to – this includes technical and business jargon.
  • If you do use tricky terminology, explain it.
  • Try reading what you’ve written out loud.

Following those tips will help you avoid your content sounding stuffy and formal.

DON’T SHOUT!

Block capitals can come across as aggressive. In 2007 New Zealand financial controller Vicki Walker was sacked for causing disharmony in the workplace by writing emails using different colours, bold and block capitals for emphasis. She later won a claim for unfair dismissal, but it’s worth taking note.

Be authentic

Could you summarise your brand’s personality? If your company was a person, what sort of words would you use to describe it?

Why not try that exercise then check whether the language you use on your website and elsewhere reflects that personality?

Know your audience

Do you have a clear idea of who your customers and prospects are? Top brands sometimes have a selection of ‘personas’ summarising their different audience segments. These will each have a name and be fleshed out with details like their age, job title and industry sector as well as their interests, motivations, goals, challenges and pains.

You don’t need to go that far, but it’s definitely a good idea to take the time to think about who you’re trying to appeal to when you write and trying to put yourself in their shoes. What will they want to know and what sort of language will resonate with them?

Whatever you do, demonstrate a customer-focused approach by making sure your copy is liberally sprinkled with the word ‘you’.

Be consistent

Some companies decide to use a more relaxed tone of voice for social media compared to their website and other communications. Personally, I would suggest developing one authentic tone and sticking with it. Companies like Innocent and Ovo do this really well.

Being consistent also means making sure everyone who writes communications on behalf of your business uses the same style and tone of voice. Some tone of voice training can help here, as well as drawing up some brief tone of voice guidelines.

Applying these principles can be an involved process, especially if you’ve already got a lot of content that’s not written in quite the right tone of voice. But you might be surprised by the difference it makes to customer engagement.