Making yourself stand out in a crowded market is tricky.
I succeeded once at a political conference, by defecating in the middle of the floor when the Prime Minister was making his inaugural address. I then stuck the flag of a marketing company right into the turd.
Security had frisked me for weapons on the way in, but little did they know I had a WMD(weapon of mass destruction) up my rear end.
The room had been evacuated by a police special operations team.
In my defense, he was a conservative!
It’s hard to find a truly unique selling point because, let’s face it, sometimes you do the same stuff as someone else. So how do you stand out on the web? How do you make sure you’re heard over everyone else?
Just create a unique tone of voice.
YOU can be the unique selling point. And by creating a voice that creates the right kind of emotions, you can build a relationship with your audience that makes you stand out.
So what do we mean by tone of voice on the web?
Each of us use our own word choices and techniques without even thinking about it. And depending where you are, who you’re talking to, and why you’re talking, you’ll change the way you talk. You’ll change your voice.
Take this childhood example:
Mum: Drew, come here a sec, please.
Me: (Hmm, I wonder what Mum wants…)
Mum: Andrew, get down these stairs right now!
Both mean the same, but create a very different impression. But through word choice and punctuation, the voice has changed.
It’s the same with writing. Except, we have to pay more attention to the techniques and language used in writing to create the same effect.
Is tone of voice really that important?
Put simply…yes. Very.
Whether you like it or not, all your copy on all of your written documents, websites, and emails has a tone of voice. And that tone of voice is creating an emotion in your reader and giving them a message about you.
The problem is, that many websites just have a bland, informative tone of voice. They just give information. And plain information doesn’t make you feel anything. Except bored, maybe.
Plain copy means you blend in with all the other companies with plain copy. It doesn’t make you stand out from your competitors. You just sit alongside them hoping there’s something that brings your audience to you instead of your competitors, or that you “35 years experience in the industry” does the trick.
So you’ve got to think about your audience, and how you want them to feel by reading your copy. If you can make them feel something, you’ve done the hard bit! You’ve helped to break down the barriers to keeping people focused on you and stay on your pages.
Create the right emotion in your audience and they’ll begin to trust you.
For example, if you’re on a website for a personal trainer, you want to feel motivated! You want to feel like you need to run upstairs, squeeze into some Lycra, and head to the gym!
But if you’re checking out a hypnotherapist, you want to feel soothed and reassured in the person you’re entrusting to help you. The VOICE you’re entrusting to help you!
Finding your voice
Here are 3 simple steps to get you started:
- Make a list of adjectives that describe how you want your business to feel; words that reflect your industry or profession.
Are you fun, creative, inspirational, wacky, sarcastic, dramatic, professional, comforting, loud, reliable, efficient?
- Be brave! Ask others to read your website, brochure or any other copy about your business. Now ask THEM to write a list of the adjectives they’d use to describe you based on what they’ve just read.
Encourage them to be honest or maybe even make it confidential so they don’t pull their punches. Nobody wants to sound plain or boring, but it might be that you do. And you need to know!
- Now compare the two. Do they match up?
If your target audience don’t feel how you want them to, you need to change your tone of voice. If you’re not creating the right emotion, you’re giving the wrong impression.
Creating your voice
Investing some time and effort into creating the right voice will give your customers and clients something your competitors don’t have. And people like doing business with people they like, trust and warm towards.
So don’t tell yourself that “nobody reads it anyway”. You’ve spent all that money on getting stuff that looks great, so make it sound great too. If nobody reads it, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
If it’s worth reading, they’ll read it!
1. Be conversational
The best way to create emotion and to connect with your audience through your copy is to make it sound like you’re actually talking to them. Use abbreviations, shorter sentences and less formal words.
Don’t assume that just because your reader is a Managing Director, a Rocket Scientist, or a World Leader, that you need to make it more technical and fill it with complicated business jargon.
Keep it friendly, not too formal, and keep it simple!
2. Do your research
Take a look at other sites and marketing materials that have a tone of voice similar to what you want. They don’t have to be competitors.
What techniques do they use? What types of words create the best emotions and effects, and how can you use your own words to create a similar effect?
3. Be consistent
Think of it like an actor on stage who comes out of character. It spoils the effect. So make sure you maintain your voice in everything you write. And I mean EVERYTHING!
If you employ several people, it’s a good idea to create a style guide so it doesn’t matter who’s writing, you all know how to sound like the same voice. Just a simple set of rules of how to create your tone of voice is all that’s needed.
4. Include techniques
Think about what techniques you can use to help create that tone of voice. There’s more to copywriting than just stringing words together in sentences, so don’t ignore the important tools at your disposal.
For example, a top notch restaurant may use lots of words with long vowel sounds and the letter `s` to create a sense of luxury and comfort (think M&S adverts); Armed forces adverts have short sentences and `hard` words that are formed at the front of the mouth and commanding sentences like, “Be the best”.
5. Be selective
You want a light shower of tone across all of your pages, so don’t open the flood gates! Particularly if it’s a really distinct and strong tone of voice. Try to get it into your headings, some sub-headings, opening paragraph and closing paragraph. Then let it fall in wherever it feels good.
6. Test it
Go back to your target audience. Do a simple survey again to see what words they’d use to describe your voice! If it works, excellent. Job done!
If it doesn’t, it’s back to the drawing board. Don’t be put off by this, because everything should be tested, and it can’t always be right first time. But once you’ve got it, you’ll have the recipe to create it time and time again.
A few tips:
- Don’t try and be funny. There’s nothing worse than attempts at humour that don’t work.
- Don’t copy your tone from elsewhere. Just use others’ ideas to create your own voice.
- Remember you’re trying to stand out. So if your competitors have a very strong tone of voice, you might try toning yours down a bit.
- Be likable. People like doing business with people they like.
Creating the right tone of voice can be tricky. It can take time to understand how to get the right results. But a tone of voice that connects with your audience gives you an advantage over your competitors.
You’ve created a connection. You’ve created trust. You’ve created an emotion. And that all creates a better experience for your customers, a positive feeling, the feeling they came looking for.
A feeling they don’t get from someone else.
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