Every good copywriter lives by one rule:
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say.
Good copy doesn’t just give you information. Good copy makes you feel something.
And that all comes down to tone. So before you decide what to write, take a second to think about how to write.
What Is Tone?
Tone is the magical element in your writing that gives it personality and character. Tone jumps off the page and connects with the reader.
Tone gives your company its personality. It gives you your brand identity.
Some businesses have a professional, direct, and trustworthy tone. Others take a more friendly, even quirky personality. Both are great. As long as it works for you.
How To Find Your Voice
Step 1. Who are you?
Your voice – your identity – can’t (or shouldn’t) be manufactured.
It should comes from deep within the company. It’s an extension of your ethos and mission statement.
Good copy, and a unique tone of voice, is more than clever writing and witty slogans. It’s about telling customers what you believe in.
So who are you and your company? Deep down?
Nike is one company who are admired for their copywriting. It’s always inspiring, positive, and powerful. Their tone of voice is urgent, motivational, and encouraging. It inspires customers not just to buy their clothes, but to get out there and run a marathon.
Wouldn’t you love copy like that?
But it’s not just the copy that’s great, it’s Nike’s core values.
Your copy only has a voice if your company has a voice.
So, before you start writing your company’s headlines and slogans, go right back to the basics. Go back to your mission statement and your foundations. What does your company stand for? What makes you different? What makes you important?
Pick out the adjectives that define your company. If you’re a financial business, your company should be reliable and trustworthy. If you’re an app company, you’re innovative and forward thinking. If you’re Nike, you’re aspirational and full of energy.
Those same adjectives should be used to define your tone of voice.
Step 2. Authenticity
If you follow step 1, authenticity should come naturally.
You’ll never create a unique voice by copying someone else. Let’s take a look at (probably) the biggest copywriting success story ever, Innocent Drinks.
Their copy is uniquely witty, informal, and playful.
There’s an email sign up that promises: “love, friendship, and a weekly newsletter”.
There’s a ‘bananaphone’ number to call the main office.
They offer a self-deprecating approach to the environment: “We sure aren’t perfect, but we’re trying to do the right thing.”
Their playful style has been replicated a thousand times. But, it only feels authentic in one place: Innocent.
Because it comes from the very core of their company. At heart, the company was built by creative, fun people trying to do something good. The copy isn’t revolutionary, it’s just honest. It’s an extension of the people that work there.
So, stop looking at Innocent, Nike etc and trying to copy their copy. Look at your own business and write what feels natural to you.
Step 3. Talk to me like a real person
Copy is just a conversation with your customers.
If you owned a real shop, you wouldn’t approach a customer and reel off dense, technical wording. You’d be friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Do the same online.
The first step here is working out who you’re talking to.
Once you know your target audience, you can create a tone that resonates with them.
Learn more: How To Define Your Target Audience
Some technical industries struggle with this. They know their audience are business-people with lots of tech knowledge.
But that doesn’t mean they want to read dull, dense language!
Lawyers still have personalities! Engineering suppliers still have a story. Naturally, you’ll still write with a sense of professionalism, but loosen it up a little. Talk to them like real people.
One example here is MailChimp. Email newsletters are about as dull and technical as it gets. Yet, MailChimp make it approachable (dare I say fun?). Best of all, their copy makes it simple.
Here is a small piece of advice from MailChimp to its own employees about how to write copy. Learn it!
Step 4. Make me feel something!
There’s a real difference between writing and just typing.
Writing makes you feel something.
Typing just tells you something.
Telling your customers something is the bare minimum requirement. You copy must tell people what you do, where to go etc.
But it’s your tone of voice that makes them feel something. That feeling creates a connection. It creates loyalty and trust.
A good tone of voice inspires and persuades. It connects and feels familiar. Remember, your copy is supposed to sell something.
Step 5. Forget what your English teacher told you!
The best thing about copywriting is that you can do whatever you want.
The internet isn’t an English essay. You’re not getting marked on your grammar here. If we were, then Apple, Adidas and Subway are all in big trouble.
Apple: Think Different
Subway: Eat Fresh
Adidas: Impossible is Nothing
The grammar geek inside me is screaming. “It’s ‘Think differentLY!” “Eat Fresh?.. Eat fresh what?” “Impossible is nothing?” This doesn’t make sense!”
But I know this is brilliant, effective copy.
Online, it doesn’t matter. Copywriting is a way of communicating with people. Sometimes, we communicate better using colloquial terms, so use them online.
Remember, we don’t read the internet like a book or an essay. So don’t write like one.
Yes, I’m one of those bloggers who gives you homework! But trust me, it will help.
1. Define the essence of your company
Before you start writing anything, go back to the drawing board. What are the core values of your business. What adjectives describe your company? Are you reliable and trustworthy? Are you innovative and forward thinking? Are you aspirational and elite?
These are things that inform your tone of voice.
2. Write as much as possible in five minutes
Put a timer on your watch or phone. Just five minutes is plenty. Now start writing. Write in your own natural voice about your business or product.
Use this time limitation to force out that flow. After a minute, it will start to come naturally. Your sentences will have a better cadence. They’ll have a natural rhythm and bounce.
The more you think, the more clumsy and dense your writing becomes. Stop thinking and just write. That’s the closest thing to your natural tone.
Have you seen any great examples of copy you love online? I’d love to hear about them.