In a former life, it was my job to respond to comments across Facebook and Instagram. Hundreds of comments from both happy and disgruntled females between the ages of 18-35-years-old who either loved or hated my client’s curated collection of the latest trends. Whether they were pleased with a store assistant who helped them solve their style dilemma late on a Thursday night, or rabid with rage over the use of Angora fur, it was my job to respond with empathy, grace and composure.
And it was tough, but thankfully, I wasn’t winging it. I had a large PDF bible I referred back to that spelled out the tone and precise vernacular I was to use when speaking to customers online. From crafting private Facebook messages to broadcasting Tuesday’s online drop of all new styles, there was a set of rules and guidelines for achieving that perfect, resonant pitch.
And it’s not something that this major Australian brand was pioneering.
They’d seen the overseas competition holding the torch for trustworthy voices and creative brand stories, and they were following their lead. And with success, too, because those social media accounts grew and grew every day. Although my client was originally a bricks-and-mortar chain, their ecommerce website was the focus in an age of click, swipe and buy.
Why websites are the new salespeople
A simple Google search will reveal that shopping malls are headed straight into the mouth of the wolf – that’s an analogy for online shopping. Ecommerce has reached such a critical mass that shopping centres all across the US have been left to decay, now the playgrounds of those fascinated with urban ruin. True, both the U.S and Australia are spending more and more in restaurants, but the main money-markers are the internet behemouths – Amazon and eBay. The drivers are a combination of increased access for overseas shoppers, bargain hunting thanks to comparison websites, and the convenience of saving time travelling to and from your retailer of choice.
It’s a cultural shift that’s seen clothing, shoes and accessories rise to the top of online purchases, according to the Nielsen Australian Connected Consumers Report 2016. And it’s not just the actual purchasing of items that your consumers are occupied with – it’s the research of your products via your website.
That’s your number one salesperson, directing most consumers towards a purchasing decision between the hours of 6pm-10pm.
Yep, while you’ve clocked off, your website is delivering an electronic sales pitch to the modern Australian shopper.
And if you’re not delivering it in the right tone, then why are you even speaking at all?
Finding your voice online
The best brands have devised a tone and vernacular for speaking to customers across their channels. And for the fashion industry, a common theme sees a lean towards casual, tongue-in-cheek, culturally relevant language.
Take Nasty Girl for example. As an ecommerce platform that was born online by a 21-year-old arts college dropout, the brand has a straight-shooting, conversational prose in its DNA. Because founder and former CEO Sophia Amoruso understands that talking to your customers and developing that connection is the key to conversion, their animated, casual voice is core to the brand’s success.
You barely have to scan the home page to understand that Nasty Gal’s fashion speaks to the Cool Girl, who commands the room’s attention and saunters home at 5am, all sultry smiles and smudged eyeliner. But it’s not that Nasty Gal has an air of exclusivity, a la ‘You Can’t Sit With Us Mean Girls Lunch Table Style’. Nasty Gal excels in exuding inclusivity. You can be one of them, and all it takes is a Satin Slit Dress in taupe satin to give you a leg up in the fashion stakes.
In a similar fashion (pun intended), Canadian sister brand to LuLuLemon, Kit and Ace, has crafted an intentionally short, sharp and informative tone that speaks to the practical-minded. As a brand with form, function and versatility, top-of-mind, Kit and Ace keeps their communications brief without sacrificing on creativity. Their focus on providing well-made basics for the urban professional resonates throughout their website and eDMs. It’s a tone-of-voice that’s a fusion of features, benefits and aspiration, And the perfect carrot stick for the time-deprived professional with timeless style and functionality top-of-mind.
How do they do it?
I’m not privy to the marketing strategy at either Nasty Gal or Kit and Ace, but an educated guess would be that:
+They’re clear on their brand attributes, and have developed a blueprint for infusing their communications with these in mind.
+ They’ve developed a uniform style guide for their tone-of-voice which all staff would be trained in translating into digital communications.
Finding your brand attributes is an exercise in introspection. It requires an analysis of your audience’s emotional triggers, clarity around your brand’s mission and purpose, a bit of revision, and a lot of patience. It takes times to understand the DNA and expressive style of your brand, but it’s well worth the investment and development.
And it doesn’t stop there. A tone-of-voice style guide should act like a set of communicative guidelines for all company employees, and serve as a gentle reminder when tongues get twisted and messages muddled.
Utility versus emotional integrity
Skeptics of online shopping – the sort of person to exclaim, “The Home Page doesn’t need much copy!” – will focus on the practicality of online shopping. Like ensuring that shipping information is prominent, along with an email address for customer queries. But the savants of ecommerce success know that resonance runs deeper than that. Your customers have emotional lives and treat fashion as an exhilarating experience. What you say is part and parcel of that. It’s an unfortunate truth, but the clothes won’t do the talking by themselves. It’s the intimate dimensions of your Instagram caption, Tweet or Facebook status that delivers the clicks, full shopping carts and a community of engaged online shoppers.