When it comes down to it, business success relies on being able to stand out from the crowd. You’ve got to grab your customers’ attention and convert interest into action as efficiently as possible.

More and more businesses are getting switched on to the power of content marketing, but few are taking the right steps before embarking on their content quest. If you don’t take a moment to think about what you’re saying and, most importantly, how you’re saying it, you could end up just shouting into the void.

Tone of voice – or verbal identity – is as important to building your brand as visual identity. Here’s how to find the right words for your business.

  1. Decide why you’re communicating

Words are powerful tools. They can spark ideas, challenge attitudes and trigger action. But if you’re not careful, they can also bore people silly and send them clicking off in another direction. So, it’s important to choose your words to achieve a specific aim.

Not every piece of content you put out will be a blatant sales pitch – that would be exhausting for everyone – but there’s nearly always an element of persuasion. It could be persuading someone to think well of your work, to find out more about a product or simply to finish reading to the end of the paragraph. Make sure your words are working towards that goal.

  1. Eavesdrop on others

Content that’s already out there is ripe for research, so take a closer look. What works for other businesses? What language do the use to connect with their audience and persuade them into action? What kind of words do they use? What do their sentence structure and grammar choices look like? How would you describe the way they communicate – energetic, formal, amusing, informative, friendly? This is the essence of tone of voice. If you find a verbal identity you like, analyse it, find out why and use the best bits with a twist for yourself. It’s not copying, it’s creativity.

  1. Focus on who you’re talking to

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many businesses focus on themselves and what they do without sparing a thought for their audience – ever noticed how many websites talk about ‘we’ without a single mention of ‘you’? Warren E. Buffett – one of the most successful investors in history – says he imagines writing to his two sisters to humanise his business writing. Rather than thinking of your customers as a mass of unknowns, map out a profile of an individual representative customer (based on data if you have it) to help you understand who you’re talking to and tweak your tone of voice accordingly. Ask yourself questions about their age, economic circumstances, likes and dislikes. Give them a name if it helps. Then every time you communicate, you can keep them in mind.

  1. Build up a word bank

Once you have a clear picture of the reader, or at least the type of reader, it makes it much easier to construct your story. You can express points of view and persuade in a way that you know will appeal to them. Try keeping a list of ways of wording common communications that fit with your tone of voice – sign offs for direct marketing, opening lines for news items. What kind of vocabulary choices suit your brand and would work for your audience? For example, “We would like to inform you that…” or “Here’s something good to know…”?

  1. Create a guide and stick to it

Don’t keep your discoveries between yourself and your marketing manager. Share tone of voice guidelines with everyone in the business and encourage them to think about how they can be applied across all types of communications, from your website homepage and company presentations to order confirmations and payment reminders. It’s not about spouting the exact same words every time, it’s about creating positive perceptions of your business and ensuring a consistent experience for anyone who comes into contact with it, no matter where or how.

You wouldn’t wear your best evening dress to an awards ceremony and then start shouting in slang about what you and your mates got up to at the pub at the weekend. Find the right tone of voice to match your brand visuals, values and goals and you’re laughing. Get it wrong and nobody is.

Future Content offers half and full day workshops for brands looking to find their voice. The we write content for you, too. Good eh? For more info, have a look at our services.

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Jo Thomas

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