Do you ever feel shouted at by advertisers? Some TV adverts take this to extremes with over excited chaps and girls bellowing into the camera promising you super clean kitchen surfaces, increased sex appeal and more. Annoying isn’t it?
Why would advertisers do this? Mainly to get attention but secondly to adopt a commanding tone that will compel you to listen and act. They use volume to be more insistent.
Without the benefit of sound, the words we write on the page, have to find another way to grab attention and compel the reader to act.
One of the techniques copywriters use is to adopt a specific TONE OF VOICE.
What is the tone of voice in copywriting?
It is the feel and sound of your copy. Below is a list of words that can describe the tone of voice. Usually we need several of these words to capture exactly the tone we want to use.
|intense||laid back||in your face|
|authoritative||down with the kids||precise|
How does it leave people feeling?
The tone you choose should reflect a mix of your business image, your personality (if you run a micro business) and crucially how you want your customers to feel. Let’s look at a few examples to see how this works in practice.
1. Innocent Drinks
The tone of this copy is FUN, IRREVERENT, FUNKY and FRIENDLY. By making a point of not taking themselves too seriously they encourage you to relax and enjoy the product.
IRREVERENCE is brought in by phrases like, “helping people live well and die old“. The story of how the brand was set up, plays on that DEVIL MAY CARE attitude that is appealing to people who feel stuck in a rut,working 9-5.
They use irreverence to avoid making their “quest to make natural, delicious, healthy foods...” from sounding too heavy.
This deliberate swing away from formal, serious copy also makes them seem like a “nice” brand run by regular guys who probably like to go surfing on the weekends.
It is designed to make us feel comfortable, encouraging us to let go of our suspicions and tap into our playful side. The image that the tone conveys is attractive. We want to be those free and easy guys for a day.
In an age where trust in corporate brands is thin on the ground, this tone says, “hey we’ve nothing to hide, why not come over and join us!”
The call to sign up to their email list, continues the light hearted, playful tone.
“sign up for love, friendship, a weekly newsletter but no pocket money”
Let’s take another example from an ethical clothing brand here in Wales.
The tone here is MORE ERNEST, LESS FRIVOLOUS than Innocent Drinks. There is a strong ethos behind this company and they want you to know that it drives what they do. So although the tone is FRIENDLY, they aren’t trying too hard to be cool and funky.
The copy uses SIMPLE language, keeping the tone DIRECT and STRAIGHTFORWARD. This too gives you confidence that this is an authentic brand with people behind it, who genuinely care about the wider world.
It is quite serious and will appeal to people who have a serious commitment to the environment as well as active adventures. There is clearly no room here for being overly chummy, gimmicky or using very Americanised language.
This company has recently been bought back by its founders and the tone of voice represents a return to its roots. The tone reflects a company that wants to stay focused on its core aims and core customers and not get distracted by shiny objects along the way.
And our last example, comes from the office of our leader.
2. Number 10 Downing Street
The tone here is deliberately impersonal but uses very simple language. Its purpose is to provide information and educate readers on the role of The Prime Minister. The tone is educational. What reading age do you think this copy is aimed at?
Why does it matter?
Tone plays an important role in delivering your message. Tone is used to provoke a response in the reader.
Larger companies have brand guidelines which will include tone of voice guidelines. Typically they’ll say something like this,
“How we sound,
Confident and commanding,
but not arrogant.
Lively and refreshing,
but not contrived.
but not overcomplicated or know-all.
Consistently grammatical, accurate and precise.
Energetic and witty,
but not ‘yoof’ or pretentious.
Conversational and personal,
never stuffy or corporate”
Looking at these guidelines you can see that the company want to inspire confidence in their products and associate their brand with a fun and lively experience.
Wouldn’t every business like to sound like that?
For a small rural business we can take some clues from this but perhaps make it simpler.
If you’re a one woman band, the first thing you need to check is that there is a good match between the tone of your copy and your manner in person. If you write like a 1950s school teacher but in person you sound like a children’s TV presenter (or vice versa), you’ll make people uneasy. They’re left confused. That erodes trust.
If you are very enthusiastic in person then add urgency and excitement to your copy by mixing in short sentences, exclamation marks (but don’t go mad) and using phrases to sweep you reader up in the excitement, such as, “Don’t you just love a Sunday roast?”
How do you express tone of voice?
Once you’ve chosen the words that describe your business personality, your own personality and how you’d like people to feel, then it helps if you can wrap that up in a role. You might choose:
- role model
- father figure
- busy mum
- safe pair of hands
- rabble rouser
- style icon
- best friend
Some of the roles are closely related but they have a slightly different tone. For instance a teacher tends to tell people how to do things whereas a coach will help people find their own solutions. Once you find out about tone of voice, you start to recognise when it has been deliberately applied.
Look out for different uses of tone of voice
Now you know what you’re looking for, you’ll notice the tone of voice on all sorts of platforms. Not just on websites, in emails, blog articles and on Facebook but also on your favourite radio and TV shows.
In the UK, BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans’ Breakfast show has a distinct tone. It is upbeat, positive and energetic. This is reflected in the language and delivery. Chris takes the lead but all the presenters speak a little more quickly and with a little extra energy and enthusiasm. There’s a relentless emphasis on the positive which works for the 9.8 million weekly listeners.
So how do you balance friendly with professional?
Balancing a friendly tone with a professional image
Many brands want to engage their customers and so copywriters and marketing experts encourage them to avoid using language that makes them distant or corporate.
So instead of saying,
“We deliver first class management consultancy services to clients across the UK”
A copywriter might suggest,
“Our clients from Scotland to Southampton, London to Llandeilo, find our services improve profits and staff morale.”
The second version is more personal but still professional. By starting with “our clients“, it is putting the customers first, literally and implying that their needs are paramount.
Corporate language has had a bad press and for good reason. Government departments that deal with the public for instance have no excuse for being distant or corporate. That sort of language is a barrier.
However for some businesses, being distant and corporate is reassuring for their customers. If someone is going to spend £100K with your firm of architects then they probably aren’t looking for a matey tone in your communications.
There are many ways to strike the wrong note. Take this example, which is not only matey but rather boastful and could be a turn off for your clients.
“You don’t want to waste your time trying out other management consultants. Save yourself the bother. Call us. Our clients think we’re simply the best. Bet you will too!”
Can you feel how the tone jars with the job title? Do we want our management consultants to be this matey? It suggests a laid back attitude, perhaps a little careless with the details. Not what we want from our highly paid consultants.
If you find yourself being persuaded to use a matey tone that feels uncomfortable then follow your instincts and stick with a friendly but professional tone.
Do you need help with your business writing?
You can book me for 1:2:1 coaching (in person or by Skype) or contact me to register your interest for a copywriting workshop.
Here’s what delegates said on a recent copywriting workshop.
“Would I recommend Juliet’s copywriting workshop, How to create engaging content? Yes! It offers a lot of good advice for different communication platforms. Informative and good examples used.”
Esther Apoussidis, Coffee Continental (Blackwood and Cardiff).
“I find writing content challenging because I felt I was rusty and I need to be confident that I am doing things the best way. The best thing about Juliet’s copywriting workshop, How to create engaging content, was the personalised help and tips on helpful tools.
I also liked the structured pointers and drawing out of ideas. Would I recommend this workshop? Yes, Juliet is a very good tutor and made the workshop relevant to our needs. Many thanks!”
Sally Edwards Hart, Operational Manager, Cardiff Venues and Tourism Services