When you have a conversation with a human being (as opposed to having a conversation with a cat, which if you’ve ever owned one, you know how well that goes) you get a sense of that person’s personality. The clothes they wear, their tone of voice, how they move, the words they use – all of this gives you insight into who the person is.
Every website visit is a conversation. Think about it. The web is an interactive medium. Every time you click you ask a question. You interact with the company or brand. What kind of answers are you getting? Do you get a sense of whom you are talking to? Do you have any sense of who the company/brand is?
I’m hearing a resounding answer of, “Not so much.”
Your design, images, and copy all combine to convey your company or brand’s personality. Of all of these, I would argue that copy is perhaps the most important element for conveying your website’s personality or voice. As a copywriter, there are two things you must do:
1 – Have a clear understanding of your personality, brand or voice
2 – Convey that personality, brand or voice to your audience
Here are suggestions for how to accomplish this.
Step One: How to clarify your company’s personality, brand or voice
- If your company/brand were a person, who would it be? A helpful friendly customer-service rep? A friend who shares something in common with you? An acquaintance from work who’s working on the same project with you? (thanks to Bill DeRouchey for these suggestions)
- Get consensus on your company’s personality type. Yes, companies, as well as people have personality types. Is your company competitive, methodical, humanistic, or spontaneous? If a company has a strong visible leader, sometimes it takes on that leader’s personality type. If a company has a strong brand or values, that can also influence the personality type.
- Get consensus on three adjectives that describe your company or brand: loyal, fun-loving, friendly, trustworthy, playful, reliable, formal, informal, irreverent, gutsy, etc.
- Determine how your brand/personality is different from the competition.
TD Waterhouse: serious and straightforward
Etrade: fun and exciting
Cadillac: In your face
Volkswagen: quirky and real
Step Two: How to convey that voice in your copy
- Carefully consider the choices you make in the perspective of your copy. In presenting your content, you basically have seven copy perspective choices (find more on all seven here). Not all of these perspectives apply for everyone, but four of them can influence how you define your personality and voice:
- Intellect versus Emotion. Will your personality appeal on an intellectual level or an emotional level?
- Style versus Substance. Will your personality focus on style or is it grounded in substance?
- Active versus Passive. Will you communicate your personality using active or passive verb constructions? The active construction focuses attention on the doer; it communicates clarity and trust. The passive construction focuses on what is being done; it isn’t always clear who is doing it. The passive voice can come across as pompous and unreliable.
- Me versus You versus Them. Will you couch your relationship in terms of “I”, “you”, “we” or the third person “XYZ company”? Third person is much more formal and distant. “you” and “we” is more personal. “I’ is the most personal, but be careful – it must be clear who is speaking. If it is the company founder, make sure you are clear with your attributions.
- Be consistent across all mediums, from your website, to your emails, to your error messages. If you’re going for friendly and personal, and your error message says “that subscriber account is invalid”, you’ve just blown it. “we’re sorry we didn’t understand you. Could you try entering your account number again?” would work much better.
- Avoid techno-speak. Yes, some of you have very technical products. You can still use industry terms without sounding like an automaton.
- Use the verbiage your customers use. Mine your live chat logs, emails, customer service calls, in site search, and especially customer product reviews if you have them. See what words your customers use to describe their problems, needs, solutions and the product benefits they find most helpful. The quickest way to build rapport with your customers is to make them feel you are like them. Use their language, and they will instantly feel understood and connected.
Product description: The large 440cc titanium head on the R580XD Driver boasts a large sweet spot and massive moment of inertia (MOI) for greater forgiveness on mis-hits.
Customer language: This driver is the best driver I have ever used. My balls used to slice and all other sorts of freaky stuff. But now that I have my new Taylor Made Driver i have been hitting fairways and getting an extra 20 yards on all of my drives.
Example – Formal vs. Conversational
“if you require assistance” vs. “if you need help”
“Please submit your comments” vs. “what’s up”
“We’re a human capital management firm specializing in employment industry solutions” vs. “We can help you find the right people for your employment staffing needs.”
Every website visit is a conversation. Every click is a question. Are you answering your customers’ questions? If they click on a link, does it take them to a page that answers that question? If they click on a link that says “we’re the right solution for you” – does it take them to a page that clearly spells out what their situation is and how you can help? Or are they simply taken to a list of products or services?
Are you talking about what they care about or what you care about? Are you answering their questions or just spouting off your product features? Remember, no one wants to hang out at a party with someone who only talks about themselves. Creating voice is all about building a relationship with your customers. Talk to them about what they care about using their language. Otherwise you risk the same response I got from the cat:
“Talk to the tail…“