Whitney Houston, in her pre-crack years, attracted fans like a superconductor magnet. Her voice surged with power. It was hers and hers alone – and millions of people loved her for it.
Bob Dylan, with a voice like emphysema and valium, reached into the heart and soul of a generation, and continues to rasp through six decades of fans. Yes, six decades!
Amy Winehouse channeled a voice from deep within. Adele, from high above. Mick Jagger, from his loins. Tom Waits, from a bottle of bourbon.
What’s in a Tone?
The performers above all possess immediately recognizable voices. A listener hears a few lines and it stirs a reaction in them. Love. Excitement. Revulsion. You may or may not be a singer’s target audience, but their voice communicates to you. It carries the personality of the singer, their ‘brand’.
Copywriting performs an identical function. Your voice is your brand – at least one of the most important parts of it. The style of your voice influences your target audience. The voice communicates what your brand is about, what it stands for, how it acts and achieves.
Is your brand youthful and edgy? Mature and polished?
Is it aristocratic and limited to a high-paying elite clientele? Is it for every man?
Is the brand exploding with energy? A lull of calm?
Does it soothe, provoke, romance, teach? Make your life easier? Speed up a task?
Your tone of voice should embody the individual characteristics of the brand and stimulate the desired feelings within the reader.
Copywriting as Branding
I will admit my bias. Coming from a strong branding perspective (much of my professional expertise is in brand building – as well as copywriting), I insist on a robustly developed tone of voice.
Some copywriters emphasize selling over branding. It’s the classic sales versus marketing opposition. My professional stance is that both functions can and should be integrally united. Your brand is a sales tool, one of your business’s most critical resources. It needs to be strategically developed, consistently implemented (i.e. every communication is in-brand), and managed over time, evolving slightly as needed according to new market demands, changing products, societal changes, etc.
Step one is to decide what your brand is all about. Especially in a larger business, there may already be a pre-existing strategic platform that has been created based on extensive market research, analysis, corporate vision. There may be a Brand Bible. There might be some kind of ‘who we are’ documentation.
In a smaller business, or a new enterprise, you might be working from a blank slate. Maybe you have been hired specifically to help shape the brand.
Establish, in consultation with your client, the overall personality of the brand. With this in hand, you can begin to define the brand’s tone of voice, which will be reflected in all future copywriting.
The next two parts in this series will discuss the two key components of your tone – syntax (the language patterns in your sentences and paragraphs) and diction (the kinds of words your brand uses).
Stay tuned to learn how to develop your own voice, even if you sing like a dog with a mind-numbing howl. I can’t help your face (and yes, sometimes you have to write for a product not even its mother would love), but I can help you charm your prospects.
UPDATE: Part 2 of the copywriting tone of voice series is now live. Click the link in the previous sentence to read on.