I was passing some time recently by looking at my phone and noticed that my App Store icon had the little red circle with a number, the universal symbol that some of my apps had been updated. Always excited to have the most recent versions of my software, I began the process. Most people probably just tap “Update All” and let their phone do its thing, but I like to tap the “What’s New” link to see what awesome new features I’ll be getting. Imagine my surprise when I checked out my favorite weather app and the update read, “Added a delete button to location search items, since seemingly no one knows about swipe-to-delete”. I did a double-take. I just couldn’t believe the tone of this particular message. It’s as if the developers were insulting their users by saying they aren’t smart enough to know that you can delete an item by swiping, like in some other apps. Granted, it’s one sentence hidden away in a settings panel most people probably don’t even notice, but it still stuck with me. I even took a screen capture of the message to show my friends.
When writing brand messaging for the web, or anywhere for that matter, tone is extremely important. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. If you’re writing for your personal blog, the tone is easy to determine – yours! You write from your point of view and use language you’re comfortable with. But it gets a bit trickier when writing copy that will represent a company or organization. Tricky but important. While researching this article, I came across this post from Smashing Magazine where they outlined the benefits of a consistent tone. Tone of voice can:
- Distinguish you from your competitors
- Show your personality
- Help you gain and retain customers
But how do you determine the voice of a company? Start with doing some research. What are at least three key attributes that you feel accurately represent your company? But don’t just do this on your own. Ask your fellow employees. Ask your customers. They can provide great insight to what your company actually represents to them, not just what you think or hope it represents. For example, if you are Ben & Jerry’s, makers of delicious, but expensive ice creams, your key attributes might be fun, friendly and relaxed. Keep those characteristics in mind when you write your copy. Take a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean.
Now that we have those attributes, let’s take it another step and ask some specific questions. In that same Smashing Magazine article mentioned above, they suggest answering these questions to help fine tune your tone:
- Should we use jargon?
- Can we use humor?
- How informal can we be?
- What punctuation should we use?!?!
- What do our competitors sound like?
Now comes the fun part. Take the characteristics and answers to the questions above and personify them – give them an identity and then write from their voice. Real or fictional, it doesn’t matter. Get the whole team together to help decide, it’s important that everyone is united in determining the voice of your company. It could be a character you invent – “Bob” – who has a well-defined personality that everyone can understand. “Bob” is that guy you knew in college who was a bit sarcastic, but truly cared when it came down to it and you always knew he had your back. Or maybe it’s a fictional character from a television show or movie. Perhaps even a celebrity. The key is to getting inside this person’s head and using their voice. How would Tina Fey describe your product’s features? How would Sheldon Cooper give the history of your organization?
Of course, all of this is conditional and, although consistency is key, you may want to make some exceptions. For example, even if your content usually has fun and friendly tone, you may want to dial it back a bit when giving error messages or unfortunate status updates. “Hey everyone! The servers are down and no orders are going through! Isn’t that awesome!” Use common sense in these cases. A company that does a great job with this is MailChimp. They’ve set up a website, Voice & Tone, which guides their writers on how and with which tone to respond to a variety of topics and situations.
As I mentioned above, consistency is key, so it might be necessary to perform occasional audits to make sure your communication is uniform across all platforms.
Now that you’ve read a little about writing content with a particular tone in mind, perhaps you’ve picked up on the fact that this post was written in the voice of a particular celebrity… that’s right; Liam Neeson. OK, maybe that’s not exactly true, but it would make for a very interesting post!