Before you start working on copy it makes sense to outline your marketing goals, audience and tone. Knowing what you hope to achieve and who you’re talking to let’s you know how to talk to them. Having these things clear in your mind is like having a funnel that let’s you know what your creative boundaries are.
Start with your why and your purpose. Always begin with your end game in mind. If there was one single thought you’d like people to take away from your writing, what would it be? Consider summarising it as an imagined quote from one of your users.
Knowing your mission actually helps you choose your words. For instance if you’re looking to convince, you’d use loaded, emotive words to invoke a certain feeling or response.
If you’re trying to educate or inform, you’d use facts, figures, data or general truisms. You'd ensure you're presenting them with something they don't already know.
If you’re trying to convert or have a desired action in mind, you’d use verbs and calls to action.
One thing that should be noted is that you should always be trying to connect with the audience. Make your message as personal as possible and let them imagine you know who they are, exactly what they want or what their problems are. To get them on board, use “you” and “yours” rather than "they", "we" and "I" to create a direct relationship, engage their imaginations, and to help them identify with it and find themselves in the message.
So, what are your goals and objectives?
Your purpose really determines the approach you take with your copy.
The next consideration is your audience. Great copy begins with understanding your customers and knowing why they choose you over than millions of others.
If you remember “The Strategy” episode of Mad Men when the advertising agency was tasked with coming up with copy for Burger Chef, they interviewed the fast food chain’s customers and found that most people that bought food there were busy mums who were short on time to make home cooked meals. They felt kind of ashamed of ordering in though as they felt they weren’t caring for their families adequately (this was the 60s after all). The copywriters took this knowledge and rebranded Burger Chef as a place where “every table is the family table” to invite mums to actively bring their kids there and remove the stigma.
You can write better about your customers when you have snippets of wisdom about them. What are they looking for? What are the problems they need solving? Why are they on your website and not on your competitor’s?
Accurately defining your audience is like hitting the bull’s eye in a game of darts; understand the problem you solve and who'll gain from the value you create.
So, imagine that your ideal customer is sitting in a chair in front of you right now, describe them. Imagine what this person looks like, what they’re wearing, what their demeanour is like, and what excites them. This is the person you need to inspire to purchase.
Now, write for this person, not yourself. You exist for your consumers so you should genuinely be delivering the things they desire.
So who is your target customer or audience? Is it people with a specific lifestyle like busy mums, stressed out workers, or freelancers? Or people with a particular preference like deodorants with no chemicals?
Once you know who this person is and what the insight your addressing is, you can then talk to them about the benefits of your brand
Your brand benefit could be functional or emotional. A functional benefits could be saving time and money and the emotional benefit is the feeling the audience gets from interacting with you.
Once you have a better idea of who your customers are and what kind of benefit they’re on the hunt for, you can decide how you’d like to speak to them. You’d need entirely different messaging if you were targeting a Harley Davidson fan versus marketing a yoga teacher-training program.
So another important consideration is tone.
Brand tone of voice is the way that you communicate about your company. It’s the living, breathing personality of your brand. Before you start writing anything you should have an idea of what your brand personality is. Knowing this lends a silky smooth hand to the writing process because it’ll be clear whether it’s appropriate or helpful to use puns, jokes or statistics.
Deciding on tone helps you select the language you use. Charities and not-for-profits tend to use very formal, powerful, evocative and matter-of-fact wording in their communications. Airline brands like British Airways often communicate with a tone that’s informal but never over-familiar.
To work on your tone of voice, it might help think of your business like a character; if you imagine it as a celebrity past or present – how would that person act and what would they be like? Once you have an outline you can then figure out how you want to be perceived.
Do you wish to come across as a passionate, formal, informal or a mixture of each?
Passionate brands let their zeal for their subject matter show openly. They don’t shy away from taking a personal point of view and convincing others to share it. They use strong verbs to convey an important message. They’re enthusiastic, empowering and uplifting like Dove, The Body Shop and TOMS shoes.
Brands with a formal tone of voice strive for tactful, neutral messaging that avoids strong language. They demonstrate that they admire and respect their audience and treat them with an appropriate level of dignity. This is the approach used by many large corporations, ultra luxury hotels and Business to Business adverts.
Informal brands are often relatable, casual and funny. They aren’t scared to poke fun at their brand or topic. They get people to laugh along with them to help create positive associations and become memorable and they use colloquialisms liberally to make their content conversational and accessible.
Now, let’s go through some examples of brands with different tones of voice.
Grey Goose is a premium vodka brand. Their tone of voice is formal and sophisticated without being snobbish. Looking at their website copy, you see they choose words like “unparalleled quality”, “the very best ingredients” and even “sip” responsibly. Their desired clientele are too refined to drink or chug, they’d "sip" instead.
TOMS shoes is an example of a passionate brand. Founder Blake Mycoskie travelled to Argentina and was overcome by the level of suffering he encountered and particularly, the large number of children he saw without shoes. He then went on to create a social brand that would donate one pair of shoes for each one bought, the One for One model. The brand’s communications use words that are authentic, empowering, and hopeful.
An informal brand example now. One of my favourite clients is a private beach eco resort on the Caribbean side of Panama called Azul Paradise. The brand’s tone is informal and because the subject matter is a photogenic beach resort, the copy I create can be as dreamy, conversational and wistful as I please.
UK-based drink makers Innocent have a very clear language, style and tone of voice. It’s tongue-in-cheek, endearing, knowingly naïve and it’s clear at every single customer touch point. From their cheeky packaging copy and “banana phone” customer service centre, to the name of their headquarters which is called Fruit Towers. Their personality-filled communications are casual and create a fun, intimate relationship with their audience.
Ben & Jerry’s is another brand with a very clear tone of voice: they’re playful, quirky, and no strangers to double meaning. Their communications are funny and delightful and they even use humour to tackle serious matters like climate change.
Yet another funny brand is Skittles. Sometimes their posts don’t even really make sense. What is being communicated however is that the brand has a real sense of humour and brings out your inner child.
These brands most probably have style guides or rulebooks that outline what kind of language they can and can’t use, for instance in relation to profanity. So perhaps think about your rulebook. Remember what you’re trying to accomplish, who your audience is and then the method of talking to them that suits you best.