How do I find the right tone of voice for my communications?

Sonja and I are excited to be giving a talk on marketing communications tonight to Basecamp – a group of Bristol University student and graduate entrepreneurs, and this is one of the questions they’ve asked us to answer.

It can be tough when you’re starting out, knowing the right voice to use in different situations. How do you appear professional without years of professional experience behind you? How do you write a sales pitch that will strike the right note? Is it okay to be jokey? Do we have a template they can use?

There is no one-size fits all template that you can adapt for every business communication, but there are some rules that will make it easier for you.

1. Know your audience.

Number one rule – just as you wouldn’t launch a product without knowing your market, don’t start writing without knowing a fair bit about the people you’re hoping to engage with your words. Is the market you’re aiming at formal or informal? What type of communication would they expect? A service for lawyers will expect a way of speaking that is miles away from a music industry magazine. Get in the right ball park.

2. Listen.

We talk a lot about uncovering a client’s concerns so that you can create the right type of content to answer their questions. Listen harder so that you can pick out the actual words that they use. Building these words into any copy is useful for SEO (the keywords people will be searching for) but more importantly because it demonstrates empathy and understanding.

3. Spelling and punctuation matter.

Sorry, they just do, whoever you are writing for. If you can’t spell, get someone who can spell well to check whatever you are sending. When your business is flying you can outsource all your communications if you want. Until then, rely on literate friends to assist and check.

4. More than one voice.

Different occasions call for different voices. A proposal will read differently from a blog, you’ll sound a bit different on your website home page than you will on Twitter, and different on Twitter than you do on LinkedIn. It’s not schizophrenic, it’s just being human. We all talk differently in different situations. BUT…

5. Unite your communications around a central thread.

Give your business meaning. Tell a story and focus your communications around that central theme.

Whatever you’re writing – be clear, put your customers first, be straightforward. If in doubt, write it for six year olds.  Being clearer is always better than being over complicated – whether it’s a research paper or a tweet. The simple word that everyone understands is always a better choice than the jargon phrase.

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