Tone of voice

Business Writing That Sells. Part 8

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at why it’s crucial to think about the tone of voice for all your written communications.


Above all other considerations, it is with a view to the manner in which one implements a consumer outreach paradigm, or subset thereof, that the communications professional must concern themselves.

– What?

Playa, words are weapons. Speak in salvos designed to detonate in the brain. Full auto. Aim high, shoot from the hip. Ghetto blaster!

– I beg your pardon?

Think about how you talk to your audience. Make it easy to understand, compelling and tailored to them. Pack it with facts, be entertaining or informative, but above all make sure that you remove any barriers to entry.

– Ah, I see!


Was it a relief when you read that last paragraph and something finally made sense? That’s how the public feels about a lot of communications that are broadcast to them, regardless of media. In most situations, they didn’t invite you to communicate with them – you just popped up in their newsfeed or online ads. So don’t make it difficult for them to understand what you’re saying.


Who are you talking to – and why?

First understand who your typical customer is, then how they prefer to be addressed. That’s why copywriters spend so much time researching online, joining forums and meeting your customers in person. The end product is often deceptively simple, but it will be based on hours of research.

But if you don’t want – or can’t afford – to engage a professional copywriter (are you sure? Talk to me), then how should you approach your corporate communications? Just remember who you are talking to – and why. Talk to them in their own language – in an idealised, composed and authoritative version of their own language – but in terms they will recognise and identify with.


Whose voice do you want your audience hear?

Do you want to invoke the authority of a trusted advisor, or welcome readers like they’re having a friendly chat down the local? Think about the way that every word you choose can affect the way your reader feels about what you are saying. This paragraph opens with words like ‘invoke’ and ‘authority’, before moving onto ‘welcome, ‘friendly’, ‘chat’ and ‘local’. The words themselves are a tonal shift from stark and businesslike to informal and friendly. That didn’t happen by accident.

I always feel that if a reader can hear a human voice in my words, then I’ve massively increased my clients’ chances of being listened to. Words are powerful tools. They spark valuable reactions in the minds and hearts of your prospects and customers. Professional copywriters understand how to harness this to guide your audience’s response. They could inspire aspiration, establish authority – or even use fear as a tool. And the best copywriters know how to deploy these techniques without the average reader even realising it’s happening. That’s where we earn our keep.


Plain English

At least make sure that everything you publish is written in Plain English. I could have said, ‘As a bare minimum’, or ‘Your threshold requirement should be’, but save that kind of one-upmanship for the meeting room. It might impress your boss that you’re a sharp cookie, but Joe Public will think you’re a ****er. ‘At least’ says the same thing in a way that can be understood by anyone. So why not use it?

That’s not to take anything away from playful use of words, or the beauty of le bon mot. Don’t lose what made the writing interesting in the first place. I’m just encouraging you to think about how you talk to your reader. If you decide to use a formal tone or colloquialism – and why not? Both can be hugely effective when used well – do it for a reason.


Write the writing like you talk the talk

Without a clear idea of what you want to say to who and why (all details I would find out before even putting a single letter in place), the best advice is usually to write as if you’re having an informal but informative conversation with your reader. Great copywriters tend to write like they speak – or how they’d like to speak. The best ones write how you would like your brand to speak if it was a person.


Every block builds the wall

Choose your words carefully. Choose every word carefully. If any word fails to strengthen the message, then lose it. 20 words of tight, punchy copy that aims for the bullseye and hits it dead centre will outperform 800 words that take too long getting to the point. People are busy; don’t waste their time.

And finally, an aspect of tone of voice that too many marketing departments forget; content selection. Every piece of content – every blog entry, every press release or article – helps to establish the tone of voice for your brand. Will you choose to share heart-warming accounts of your latest charity fundraiser, or a clinical dissection of today’s market? The decision to share content is exactly that; a decision. Every piece that you choose to broadcast will influence your audience’s perception of your brand, so make sure you know why you are sharing it, how it fits into your overall marketing strategy and what you hope to achieve from it.

Every decision about ‘what’ to share affects your tone of voice; before you even think about ‘how’. Ask yourself what you want to share with whom, and why. Only then can you think about the how.


If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

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