Do you ever wonder why so many corporate sites are so awful?
And so mind-numbingly drab?
Some websites sound like no human being was involved in writing the content. A robot just spewed out some gobbledygook.
Who needs a market-leading IT solutions provider?
Who’d like to download an app that was designed for a first-class experience?
Who wants to work with a company committed to customer service excellence?
Web content is full of gobbledygook. Filler words without any meaning. Like market-leading, cutting-edge, and world-class. Such meaningless words waste your readers’ time.
People prefer to read content that’s engaging and charming. Content that makes a company sound human and welcoming. Content that makes them feel it’s written especially for them.
Writing engaging text may seem difficult.
But once you understand the mistakes that make your voice drab, engaging your readers becomes easy. When you infuse your writing voice with personality, you woo your readers, win more business, and grow your company.
Let’s have a look.
The 4 mistakes making your corporate voice drab
To make your brand voice more human and personal, start with avoiding the common mistakes that make your writing dull, corporate, and ineffective.
Avoid the 4 big mistakes below, and your brand voice instantly becomes more enchanting.
Mistake 1. The passive voice
Cowardly executives use the passive voice to avoid blame for their mistakes.
Rather than say I made a mistake (active), they write A mistake has been made (passive).
When you talk with a person, you rarely use the passive voice. Have you ever told someone… You’re loved by me? The active voice is more direct and more personal:
Don’t write: Your emails will be answered in 24 hours.
Instead write: We’ll answer your email within 24 hours.
Mistake 2. Addressing a crowd
When you write for a crowd, you sound like you’re on a pedestal. You’re lecturing people, instead of connecting with them.
But your readers want to feel you’re engaging them directly, personally. They want to know you care about them.
Don’t write: To those of you who were inconvenienced, I’d like to offer my apologies.
Instead write: If you experienced any problems, I apologize.
Imagine you’re writing to one person only. Step into the shoes of that one person, and think: Will he or she feel I’m talking to her? Will she feel encouraged to sign up and buy? Or does she hesitate because I’ve not taken away her objections yet?
Mistake 3. Gobbledygook
Most online content is wishy-washy, watery, and ineffective. Because the content isn’t precise. It doesn’t express a specific meaning.
What is, for instance, first-class customer service? What does state-of-the-art really mean?
Potential clients would like to know what your customer service is like. Do you answer all emails within 2 hours? Do you have a no-quibble money-back guarantee? How exactly do you go out of your way to please your customers?
Specific details increase the credibility of your content. Don’t say you’re app is new, improved, or innovative. Instead, tell your audience what’s special about its new features. And how do these new features help your reader?
Apple, for instance, explains in detail what’s new about OS X Yosemite, and how improves the user experience. For example:
Mistake 4. Long sentences, dense paragraphs, and complicated words
At school, we learned how to write long sentences. And we learned how to impress our teachers with complicated words.
But online readers are in a hurry. And long sentences and difficult words wear them down.
To make reading your content effortless, use short sentences, short paragraphs, and simple words.
- Choose to use rather than utilize
- Go for to shorten rather than abbreviate
- Select to ease rather than alleviate
Apple often uses broken sentences and super-short paragraphs on their site:
A 3-step formula to creating an enchanting brand voice
Creating content may feel like a one-way action.
Writing web copy.
Publishing blog posting.
Composing emails and social media updates.
But communication is always about two parties—a writer and a reader; or a speaker and a listener. To get your message across, you need to understand who you’re writing for or who you’re talking to.
The first step of creating a brand voice is to define who you’re writing for.
Step 1: Create a buyer persona profile
Your web content is the start of the conversation with your ideal reader or buyer persona. You’re developing a relationship with one person at a time.
He might read your web copy, check out your blog, and then decide to sign up for a free trial.
How can you engage him? And entice him to sign up?
When you try to engage a crowd, your copy catches pneumonia, as Kurt Vonnegut has said eloquently:
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
When you write for one person, everyone who more or less matches your reader profile will feel like you’ve written your web copy specifically for them. Hasn’t Kurt Vonnegut written books read by millions of people?
Think about the one person you’d like to engage and who should buy your product. Consider:
- Demographics—How old is your buyer persona? Male or female? Does he have a family? What’s his income?
- Favorite reads—Which social media does he use? What are his favorite books? Movies? Websites?
- Personal and business objectives—What would he like to achieve? What’s he dreaming of? How can you help?
- Challenges and struggles—What’s stopping him from achieving his goals? How can you help him overcome his problems and take away any hassle?
When you can visualize one person reading your text, your writing instantly becomes more vivid, more engaging, and more persuasive. Because you can imagine what engages him. You can picture what makes him shake his head in disbelief. You know exactly what to write to persuade him to buy your product.
J Peterman’s copy speaks strongly to their buyer persona:
Step 2: Define your brand personality
Imagine meeting your buyer persona in real life. Perhaps in a physical store or at a tradeshow.
How would you talk about your product? What words would you use? How would you persuade him to buy your product?
Would you crack jokes with him? Or be quite serious?
Would you speak with authority at all times? Or swear a little?
Would you speak full of enthusiasm or keep a certain distance?
When you imagine communicating with your buyer persona face to face, you get a feel for your brand voice. Create a series of statements to define your voice. For instance:
- We’re casual and use humor, but we never make fun of my customers.
- We’re confident and speak with authority, but we never use jargon.
- We’re enthusiastic and streetwise, and we swear occasionally.
How would you like to come across? Formal like a banker? Or warm and welcoming like your favorite teacher? Funny and edgy like a stand-up comedian?
MailChimp’s Tone and Voice website provides an excellent example of how to translate brand personality and voice into concrete examples:
Step 3: Translate your brand personality into your voice
To translate your brand personality into your voice, play with the following 3 elements:
1. Word choice
How flowery are your words? How sensory? Do you use strong language? Do you use difficult or simple words?
Create a list of favorite words, and of words that don’t suit your brand.
2. Sentence structure and rhythm
Few people consider the rhythm of their writing, but it has a big impact on how content is perceived.
A series of long sentences makes your writing more formal. Interrupting your flow with ultra-short sentences adds enthusiasm and sparkle.
To get a feel for the rhythm of your writing, read your copy aloud. Or record it and then listen to it. Does your content sound monotonous or dynamic? Do you stumble across your words? Or do long sentences make your gasp for air?
Have you noticed how I’ve sprinkled questions throughout this blog post? And how most questions address you, as a reader?
Using questions in your writing engages your readers. It makes your content sound friendlier, more welcoming, as if you’re starting a conversation.
Let’s look at a few examples of how different brand voices mix these elements.
Dropbox uses simple words, short sentences, and short paragraphs to appeal to a wide audience:
Man Crates uses much stronger language to appeal to a specific audience:
AppSumo engages its readers with a question straight after their headline:
When we talk, we express our personality and our emotions in many different ways. We can scream. Cry. Whisper. We can use hand gestures. Stamp with our feet. Or bang with our fists on the table.
When we write, we have fewer possibilities. We have to choose our words wisely and construct our sentences with care, because we can’t use intonation and body language to convey our emotions.
The truth about your brand voice
People do business with people. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.
Nobody likes ringing a call center. Nobody chats with a corporation. Nobody gossips using gobbledygook.
To connect with your audience you need to sound human. You need to have personality.
Woo your customers with good writing.
Charm them with your brand voice.
Seduce them. Sweep them off their feet. Make them feel you’re talking to them personally.
About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is an irreverent copywriter and marketer. She’s on a mission to stamp out gobbledygook and add sparkle to boring business blogs. Would you like to improve your content? Join her 16-part snackable writing course for busy people (it’s free!).