Your Brand Voice: Content Marketing Isn’t Strictly Business Anymore
It’s not only what you say but how you say it. We’re talking about tone of voice (ToV), and in content marketing, voice can have a big influence on users’ perception of your brand. It may not seem like it, but there’s quite a difference between “Hello.” and “Howdy!”. It’s the difference between formal and informal voice, and it could be the difference between losing and making a sale.
While a formal voice may have been the sign of intelligence and reliability in previous decades, relatability and even humor are what users interpret as trustworthy and genuine today. We’re here to guide you through the ins and outs of ToV, and to provide some helpful tips for building a brand voice that will make your customers say “Heck yeah!” (or something to that informal effect).
A quick identification of “tone of voice”
Before we move forward, we want to clarify exactly what we mean by “tone of voice”. Tone of voice, in the marketing context, refers to the written word. So, we’re not talking about how you communicate face-to-face or over the phone with your customers. We’re talking about the personality that you convey when publishing written content that markets your company, i.e. pages on your website, blogs, social media content, etc.
Formal, more “strictly business” tones of voice have done well for businesses for ages. This demonstrates the more serious, matter-of-fact personality. For example, a bank using a formal ToV might say something like:
“Some of the benefits of opening an account with Imaginary Bank include x, y, z, and many more.”
The formal brand voice gets the point across in a concise, albeit a bit bland, manner. It has been a trusted tone, the formal voice, and we applaud any business who does well with it. To some, this is all they are looking for: the facts. But plenty of businesses, in the effort to satisfy and motivate those who are hungry for more, have adapted an informal voice. This casual approach is friendlier and less serious, but equally informative as the formal tone (more on this important distinction later). A different bank adopting an informal ToV would say something like:
“We’re everything you could want from your bank and more! You get benefits like x, y, and z, and that’s just a few of the perks of opening an account with us.”
The informal voice includes the same amount of information, just in a more conversational, and in this example, more enthusiastic, way. Both are completely acceptable, but we have some numbers to share about the success of casual voice up ahead.
Why you should consider a casual brand voice?
While the formal voice may have been the old stand-by, the informal voice is turning a lot more heads these days. Once it was clear a formal voice was successful, every business started using it. As a result, a serious ToV comes off as inauthentic and even robotic to many people.
Neilson Norman Group performed this study to test the effects of a variety of tones of voice on users’ perceptions of brands. The study measured friendliness, trustworthiness, and desirability. Users were asked to view a series of landing pages, service pages, and home pages for fake companies over a spectrum of industries, and provide their feelings about the different brands. Take a look at this graph from the survey:
The brands dubbed Alpha, Zeta, Theta, and Delta all conveyed more conversational and enthusiastic tones. Zeta, Theta, and Delta scored higher in all categories than the brands that displayed serious and matter-of-fact tones. Readers remarked that the high-scoring, informal businesses were more “approachable” and “interesting”, while the low-scoring, formal ones were “dull” and “intimidating”. It’s also worth noting that trustworthiness and authenticity were directly correlated to desirability throughout the study, so staying original and creative with your casual voice is crucial to keep in mind.
While it may not be beneficial for every brand across the board, the numbers don’t lie – casual, informal tones of voice, as a whole, perform better than serious ones. Your individual brand, customers, and desired audience will determine exactly which ToV is best for your business, but the stats are more than enough reason to put informal voice on your radar.
Some things to look out for…
If not executed properly, friendliness can be perceived by consumers as untrustworthiness and informal writing as stupidity. We have a couple suggestions about how to ensure you maintain a conversational brand voice without venturing into unintelligence and incredibility:
Pronouns are the words you use to replace proper nouns. When addressing your audience, first-person pronouns are more informal (“you”, “your”) while third-person comes off formal (“customers”, “clients”). The same applies when talking about your own business – “we”, “us” versus “Halstead Media Group”. In order to maintain a consistent tone of voice, select your pronouns and stick to them. If you are constantly flip-flopping from first- to third-person, it will come off sloppy.
Jargon is the vocabulary associated with your particular industry or field. This would be terms like “litigation” for law practices or “B2B” for marketing. Jargon is a great tool to make it clear you are experienced and trained in your trade, bolstering potential customers’ trust in you. But only use field-specific jargon if you’re sure your readers will be able to understand. Potential clients will be overwhelmed if your content contains too much jargon they don’t get. Strike a balance of helpful jargon and universal vocabulary.
Colloquialisms are common turns of phrase that you might use in a casual conversation with a friend. These often include slang, contractions, or even profanity (every case is different, as the term “casual” varies from culture to culture and person to person). Some examples include saying things like “going nuts”, “through thick and thin”, and “taking a selfie”.
These can be really helpful in establishing an informal brand voice that’s inviting and friendly. But, as with jargon, use colloquialisms in moderation; your readers can get bogged down (another colloquialism) with all the slang and lose the message or selling point behind your content. Also, if you’re going to use a colloquialism, make sure you’re using the right one in the right way. People often mix up ones like “pique one’s interest”, saying the incorrect “peek one’s interest”. If someone catches a mistake like this after it’s been published, you’ll lose credibility in the eyes of your audience.
Purposeful Mistakes and Misspellings (*gasp*)
Never a good idea. Regardless of the level of informality you are trying to represent with your ToV, having punctuation or spelling mistakes in your content is not a desirable quality. It can only harm your chances of communicating properly. The rules of grammar are little more blurred – writing to the tone your audience uses does not always mean abiding by the standardized rules of grammar. Either way, informal can be great, but categorically incorrect is not.
Brands we like
We understand that it can take some time and a lot of content to achieve a well-established casual brand voice, especially if you are trying to make the shift from an already established formal one. While you practice, and build up your library, we found some brands that got it right. Take some pointers from these companies:
Dollar Shave Club
For those of you who haven’t heard of them, Dollar Shave Club is a subscription box company that distributes shaving razors and replacement razor blades over chosen intervals of time. They’re brand voice is conversational, but they never lose the audience by sounding uneducated or chaotic. They use concise but casual sentences like “Cartridges arrive every month for a few bucks, so you can pop on a fresh blade anytime you want”. The message is clear, and the colloquialisms don’t confuse the reader. They’re welcome video is also a big favorite, incorporating humor and emotion while being informative about the company.
Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. You’ll often see it in the form of a smart phone app being used to break down some of the communication silos of larger companies. As an SaaS (software as a service) company, Slack’s strategy revolves around the idea that, in order to keep people using it, it has to be a little bit addictive for smart phone users. That’s why their internal copy, like website content and social media presence, is friendly, chatty, and offbeat. CEO of MetaLab Andrew Wilkinson describes Slack as, “your wise-cracking robotic sidekick,” and we couldn’t agree more. By incorporating software tips and announcements with a lively voice and a zealous employment of emojis, Slack nails the casual brand voice.
The way your brand speaks can, in many circumstances, communicate more than what your brand says. Your website pages, blogs, social media posts – these are all tools you use to sell your business. But if your audience doesn’t appreciate the personality of your brand, it doesn’t matter what the words are. Developing and honing your brand voice takes time, practice, and plenty of trials and errors. If you allow your audience’s reception of your business to constitute a casual but trustworthy, conversational but intelligent brand voice, you'll be well on your way to established seat at the top of your industry.