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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

2 Simple Steps to Finding Your Website’s Voice

By Holly Buchanan
February 14th, 2007

Icon___Mask.jpgWhen 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.

Examples

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.

Examples

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.”

Final Suggestion

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…

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Comments (37)

  1. I knew this piece was yours before I saw who had authored it, Holly. great job.I can use all of these tips as we go from “wordpress” boring template to our potentially stunning brand redesign. I am trying to help articulate our brand and message, etc…so this is all very helpful, thank you. ;)

  2. Great article. Everyone who creates websites should read it. I’ve printed it out and will refer to it often. By the way, I just got my first freelance “writing for a website” job and can’t wait to take all the knowledge I gained from your Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar and put it to action. If you ever offer something similar again I’d sign up in a minute. I’d love to go back to NYC again.
    - Elizabeth in Ontario, Canada

  3. Thanks for your kind words, Elizabeth. You’ll find an overview of upcoming events on the right-hand side of each page on GrokDotCom, or check out our full list of upcoming events. Hope to see you again soon!

  4. In this article it is very well noticed, that on many sites there is no contact between users and administration. I offer to write something such as an instruction or a book for developers and support which would show all features of this conversation. What is your opinion about this?

  5. [...] opinion — If you aim to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no one. Have a clear and unique voice. Dare to be [...]

  6. [...] For Limiting Flash Use 734.  Top Ten Reasons to Remain a Wage Slave 735.  2 Simple Steps to Finding Your Website’s Voice 736.  33 Names of Things You Never Knew had Names 737.  The World’s 2,000 [...]

  7. [...] Vía Grokdotcom  [...]

  8. [...] 2 Simple Steps to Finding Your Website’s Voice – My background is in creative writing where voice is most important to getting your ideas across, and obtaining and retaining attention. Writers face the same challenge: Tired Feet Synrome. I pick up a book and if it can’t grab me before I’m tired of stand [...]

  9. [...] Grokdotcom Tags: 112, 12, 188, 192 Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback [...]

  10. [...] may already know how to find your website’s voice, so let’s unpack Dina’s question a bit and see if it applies to your social media [...]

  11. [...] Have a voice.    In our Soccer Mom Myth Newsletter, Michele and I are big believers in the use of humor.   Who doesn’t love a good laugh once in a while?   Roy Williams’ extremely popular Monday Morning Memo always has something profound to say and features Roy’s unique way of expressing his ideas.   Here are some tips on how to create a voice for your website or your newsletter. [...]

  12. [...] may already know how to find your website’s voice, so let’s unpack Dina’s question a bit and see if it applies to your social media strategy as [...]

  13. Thanks Holly for the informative & useful article. I would make the relevant changes in my site, which were overlooked for a long time.

  14. I agree with Ergonomic Chairs. I too had overlooked my website for a long time, its time for a change. Thanks

  15. Ultimately, your website must reflect your personality. If it reflects anything else, its not serving its essential purpose. You got to be true to yourself. A conscious marketing strategy can take you so far, but to genuinely appeal to your viewers, your content must reflect the brief your company embodies.

  16. We created a blog site after reading your article. Much of our site is devoted to the features of our products. We were not getting any feedback from there. The blog has changed that. The cat purrs, which is an improvement.

  17. I particularly liked that : Every website visit is a conversation. And all good conversationalists listen more than they talk. And they get the lass too! So its very apt advice

  18. Useful article, Thanks

  19. Thanks for the useful article. I agree with you.

  20. Thanks for the useful article too. I’m glad to find this.

  21. That is a good idea.
    I will try to apply to my sites
    Thank you

  22. take care about customer want

  23. The web is a conversationalist’s dream come true. Who wins is ultimately decided not by how much you can talk, but how well and how convincingly.

  24. Our website is a mirror image of who we are as human beings. Do we care? Do we care to listen? Do we care to listen and heed?

  25. Great article. All those who create websites to read. I printed it and call often.

  26. Nice Article! It’s very useful.

  27. take care about customer want

  28. The advice you have given is invaluable. If even half of it is adhered to, websites would gain so much.

  29. Good job , i find it.
    Thank you for share.

  30. I appreciate your insights and the good information you have shared here. All points are significantly important for me and your article have helped me a great deal.
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  31. A good copywriter is a rarity on the net. He gives the site character and integrity.

  32. Good Post! I like your post. thank for your sharing … very helpful for me :)

  33. t’s great to read such a well written post.

  34. A web site gains considerable credibility once it finds its clear cut voice.

  35. A copywriter who has some unique content to reveal and present is a rare diamond.

  36. A website functions as an advertising forum for the company, a blog is akin to a feedback form.

  37. While branding is absolutely essential, integrity is what convinces.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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