Why Is Tone-of-Voice Important?

tone-of-voice-melbourne-copywriter-camilla-peffer

If you’re a female and use Instagram, there’s a strong chance that you may have come across frank body scrub. You know the ‘grams I’m talking about – shower selfies of girls covered in coffee grinds, often accompanied with a witty caption about ‘getting dirty’ and tagged #thefrankeffect. Owned by two Melbourne copywriters, frank isn’t just well known for producing a potent coffee scrub with beautifying abilities to heal eczema, psoriasis, minimise cellulite and tone and condition the skin. frank body scrub has a marketing strategy and tone-of-voice which precedes the product itself – and it’s had the media and industry leaders all talking about it. Crafted as a flirty, highly sexual male with a love of boobs the female body, frank is more than just a coffee scrub – frank is a persona. A cheeky, borderline-sleazy, hypersexual persona. And it sells.

Image via @frank_bod on Instagram

Image via @frank_bod on Instagram

Over the past couple of months, I’ve noticed a trend when clients approach me to write for them. This trend owes a lot to frank’s cheeky irreverent tone. Everyone wants their personality to shine through in their marketing collateral. They want it to be highly creative. They want to make their audiences explode with laughter. They want to sound like a mixture of frank, Burberry, an episode of Gilmore Girls and Seth Godin all rolled into one.

They also want their copy to be really, really simple.

 

As you might have been able to guess, it’s actually quite difficult to combine all of the above-mentioned styles into one, unique tone-of-voice that makes sense. If I want to speak to the right audience and convey a consistent message, I really have to hone in on 2 compatible stylistic jump-points. When I’m doing that, I have to decide how I’m going to go about writing that copy. Am I going to put on my wordsmithing hat and have a grand old thesaurus dip? Or am I going to work more like mathematician in a formulaic way?

 

Writers – artists or technicians?

There’s a recent trend amongst online copywriters that you might have noticed. A flowery, sparkly, hyper-descriptive trend that excites with ornate language and liberal use of the exclamation mark. It’s a style that’s used by copywriters who target female business-owners and entrepreneurs, and it’s a style that sells. It’s a style that I’ve used before, and occasionally still use if I feel the audience will be receptive. It’s fun to write and when used appropriately can deliver some good results.

But sometimes…it’s a flop.

Sometimes, clarity is the key to conveying a message, not creativity.

So when do you know which hat to wear? Should a writer be an artist, or a word technician?

“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life.”
— Rollo May, The Courage to Create

Articles on the art of writing are dense, often incredibly abstract or just plainly too subjective. I appreciate these arguments, and I don’t discount them.

But when it comes to writing – particularly online – the purpose isn’t usually to grandly display your creativity with pretty prose. Although it can be, if your audience loves to read and are similarly creative.

Writing online – whether that’s blogging, writing website copy or articles – is usually approached with a particular goal in mind, and it’s not usually winning an award for literary greatness.

 

Writing online aims to engage, to convince and convert, to excite, to educate, to influence, to invoke an emotional response, or to sell.

           

The Tyranny of Competence

In any industry, there’s a high value placed on technical competence. You could hire a highly creative filmmaker who promises to move your audience to tears of jubilation. But if they can’t use the tools of trade, you’d either: a) replace them with a more competent filmmaker; b) hire an additional filmmaker to assist with the execution, or; c) keep them and have a really poorly executed production.

However, if you’d hired a skilled, creative filmmaker, you wouldn’t be facing this problem.

Being a creative with technical mastery often means you have to precariously balance, or shift back and forth, between an inspired, innovative approach, and a practical, formulaic method. It’s a constant tug of war, especially if your creativity is worn like a badge of honour. Ideally, you want to create an authentic connection with your audience, sound and appear genuine, and be able to meet your business goals.

 

The Writer’s Balancing Act

If you’re a creative, you know the feeling you have when you look back at your previous work. Cringe-worthy. When I look back at articles I wrote 5-years-ago, I try not to beat up 21-year-old Camilla too much and instead focus on how much she’s grown as a writer.

In a word, I guess you would say my writing style was flamboyant. As a slightly arrogant undergrad, I loved to claim my role as a writer, and a creative, intelligent wordsmith at that. Writing was a form of expression for myself, as it might even be for you. But with time, I realised that as a writer by profession, my writing is not always an outlet for whatever stirs my soul. It’s not always a platform for me to demonstrate my aptitude of the English language. More often than not, it serves a commercial purpose, whether that be page views, click-throughs or conversions.

So I’ve learnt to put my thesaurus away and focus on being as clear as possible.

That’s not to say that a mechanical, sterile tone-of-voice is the only means to achieve click-throughs. Creativity and clarity can exist side-by-side in harmony…you just need to balance them out.

 

5 ways to write crystal-clear creative copy

1.    Do replace long, convoluted words with shorter ones

Did she utilise the spoon, or did she use the spoon? Longer words are useful if you’re trying to demonstrate your mastery of the English language, but they can also come across as pretentious and unnecessary. Unless you’re writing for a crowd of academics, ditch the fancy word if a shorter one gets the point across.

2.    Short sentences are powerful

Long and rambling paragraphs will confuse your reader. Stick to one idea per sentence, and you’ll make a more powerful impact.

3.    Do consider your audience’s knowledge of the topic/their intelligence

Not all copy need be written like you’re talking to a 5-year-old. Is your audience tertiary educated? Do they like reading? Treat them with respect and write to them on a level that’s accessible yet speaks to their intelligence.

4.    Care about your readers

If you don’t care about your reader’s comprehension, they won’t care about your copy, your blog-post, or your e-newsletter. Be genuinely caring, and it’ll shine through in your writing.

5.    Write like you talk…only better

If writing is a newly acquired skill, remember this one important rule if your lack of confidence is giving you writer's block: write like you talk. Whether you’re writing a blog post, a newsletter or a sales page, you want your reader to feel like you’re speaking directly to them. You don’t have to resort to unprofessional colloquialisms, but a personable tone-of-voice will engage readers more.


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