How to achieve eloquence in your writing

Wednesday, 07 September 2016 by

The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines “eloquence” as ‘fluent or persuasive speaking or writing’ – and “eloquent” as ‘clearly expressive’. So I hope it’s clear why it would help you if either term could be used to describe your business writing.

However, knowing the definitions doesn’t necessarily help you to write with eloquence… which is why I’m going to give you a few tips on one aspect of that very subject.

By the way, Eloquence is the fourth part of my PAGES text-analysis – the process I follow when highlighting the areas for improvement in a client’s writing. In previous blogs, I’ve discussed Power, Architecture and Grammar, all of which can also have an impact upon fluency, persuasiveness and clarity.

We’ll look at Style another time, so for now we’re concentrating on Eloquence. To achieve this quality in your writing, you need to pay attention to your word choices, to clarity and brevity, to the use of plain English, and to avoiding clichés (“like the plague”). Let’s look at just the first of these for now:

Word choices

It may seem obvious, but the vocabulary you choose has an impact on how easily someone can read your message. However, if you’re writing about a business (your own, or the one you work for), it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to impress the reader with your word power.

Even when you’re writing to a highly targeted group of brain surgeons, professors, or others possessing above-average intelligence, writing as if you’ve swallowed a dictionary won’t work. By which I mean, it’s very unlikely to help you gain their attention, maintain their interest, or encourage them to do whatever it is you’re asking them to do (e.g. go to your website; attend a conference; pay for your products and services).

[As an aside, some of the best examples of how to write to an intelligent audience come from the advertising of “The Economist”. Just Google for images of ‘Economist advertising’ to see some examples. Note how the words used are quite simple; it’s just that the way they’re used, and the concept behind the ad/poster, is purposefully designed to engage an intelligent reader.]

 

Anyway, back to your word choices – why is it so unlikely that you’ll achieve your aims if you write using pseudo-intelligent vocabulary? There are a couple of reasons:

  1. Such language can come across as pompous, pretentious and self-important: not the most endearing characteristics and, I bet, not the ones that are consistent with your company’s branding;
  2. Longer, more complex words (and sentences) are harder to read at the first time of asking. For anyone.

It doesn’t matter how clever someone is. It’s immaterial how much time he or she has on their hands (and senior hospital staff, professional academics and the rest tend not to be all that idle!). The fact is, nobody has the capacity to “get” a 30-word plus sentence full of multiple-syllable words on a first pass. They’ll need to go back and re-read the sentence – and that’s just not going to happen with a piece of (unsolicited?) communication.

Solution?

Use the words that 70-80% of all people understand and use every day – the vocabulary that you use in your conversations.

This ensures that you not only reach a wider audience, but that more of the individuals within it actually understand your message – without re-reading it. This isn’t about “dumbing down”, but rather about keeping your reader – and their fears, aspirations and time constraints – in mind, and writing accordingly. Your words, sentences and overall message can still sing, it’ll just take a little more of your time and skills to make it do so.

Also, it’s worth remembering that when talking of conversational language, I don’t (generally) mean slang, which is too unprofessional in a business-to-business context. However, it may be appropriate if you’re writing to consumers – particularly the youth market. Also, the day-to-day vocabulary you use shouldn’t include jargon… unless you’re absolutely sure that every reader will understand the meaning behind the latest buzz-words.

 

Enough on word choices for now – although you can probably see from the above how clarity and brevity, the use of plain English, and avoiding clichés are all inter-related with this subject. We may look at those in the future – but in the meantime…

If you commission RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response. This will consider the Power of your writing and its Architecture, Grammar, Eloquence and Style.

To discuss what you need, please get in touch.

Duz gramma matta?

Tuesday, 03 May 2016 by

Ready to buy

Image: bbc.co.uk

When browsing the web, reading a brochure, or consuming any other written communication, how bothered are you by the grammar? Or, more accurately, by the correctness of the grammar?

By “grammar”, I’m talking about more than the dictionary definition that mentions syntax – the structure or arrangement of words and phrases. Yes, I’m including typos, spelling mistakes and incorrect (or absent) punctuation too. And, given that definition, consider this: does a spelling mistake, misplaced letter or absent comma get your goat? Or, worse still (for the message-provider), make you think less of them; distrust them, even?

The answer to either question appears to be a matter of opinion, as well as context. We’ll all forgive such things in an email or text message from a friend (and if we can’t, we probably don’t have that many friends anyway). But what if the mistake-ridden message is on a business website? Or in a sales letter from a charity or other organisation?

Are you more inclined to disbelieve the facts that have been presented within the content? Do the errors make the company appear less credible and/or capable? Are you less likely to act upon the message (in the way the writer/ organisation would like you to)?

Having Googled for statistics about the importance of grammar and its impact (upon reputation, sales and other criteria), it’s clear that there’s not much research into this area – or little that’s published, anyway. It could be that firms are doing A/B tests with correct versus incorrect grammar to see if it makes a difference to whether someone clicks or buys… but if they are, it’s not in the public domain as far as I can see.

So, that leaves us with our gut-instinct and/or personal experience. Of a certain age (i.e. I was taught grammar and spelling at school) and a professional copywriter, I have to admit to being swayed by poor grammar – in a negative way.

While acknowledging that we all make mistakes, and that language is constantly evolving, I also happen to believe that businesses should ensure they check and correct their writing before publication. Firstly, it shows they care and that they’re diligent. Secondly, it supports clear communication – a text riddled with errors isn’t as easy to read as the same message that’s been proofed and amended so that it’s grammatically correct.

Checking your work

So, as well as spell-and-grammar checking your texts, you should also print them off and read them out loud – so that you can hear the mistakes (and/or get someone else to do it). Then, you should proof-read them, looking at each word in turn, from the end of the doc backwards. Yes, from the end of the piece back towards the start. Doing it that way stops your brain from assuming what’s likely to come next, and therefore allows you to spot missing words.

It’s pain-staking work but, I’d argue, worth it. Getting it right won’t offend anybody, while getting it wrong may do.

However, if you’d like an alternative to all that hard work… hire a copywriter 😉

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response. We consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message, its Architecture (structure; logical flow) and Grammar – as defined above – plus Eloquence and Style.

 

 

Brochure layout

When you’re thinking about writing more than a couple of hundred words, it’s worthwhile planning a structure. And there are quite a few ways to do it… here are just three:

The sketch

The image is the plan I sketched out before starting to write the local primary school’s prospectus. We’d agreed a broad outline for the content – see below – and figured out we’d need a 16-page brochure. My task then was to organise all of the topics we wanted to include into a logical sequence.

To determine the content, I thought about the audience for the prospectus – parents thinking about sending their child(ren) to the school. Since my own daughter and son attend, I was at an advantage because I had personal experience of the situation. Even so, I made a point of talking to the school’s representatives – and other parents I know – about what they thought should be included.

With ideas about the content and page count in place, I wanted to have a visual guide too. The sketch that I created shows me what each page should look like and what each headline should be. I then mapped the content we had across to this rough layout and started honing any existing text and writing fresh copy.

The inverted pyramid

Broadcast, print, and digital journalists all use this technique when creating their news articles, since it puts the most important information first.

The approach dates back to the days of type-setting, when the simplest way to reduce an amount of text so that it fitted into a certain space was to take out words from the end. This encouraged reporters (who didn’t know in advance how much space their story would occupy) to get the most news-worthy elements as near to the start of the story as possible. Incidentally, this would mean answering 6 basic questions within the first few sentences: who? what? when? where? why? how?

Here’s how it looks:

Inverted Pyramid

When you’re writing a press release that you’d like published, this is also the technique to employ. For more on “How to write an effective press release” please go to this website’s Free Reads page.

The AIDCA technique

While this sounds like a title for a Robert Ludlum novel (the creator of Jason Bourne, and author of books such as “The Sigma Protocol” and “The Holcroft Covenant”), it’s instead a step-by-step guide to structuring your copy.

The first “A” is about Attention – competing with the thousands of other communications received by a reader and ensuring that it’s yours he or she pays attention to. The “I” is for interest – how do you arouse and maintain it? – and the “D” for desire – what can you do to engage emotionally with your reader? The “C” is about conviction – ensuring the reader is convinced by your argument(s), feels reassured and that the risk of doing something is minimal. The second “A” is about action – asking the reader to do that something that they weren’t necessarily considering before reading your text.

There are various ways to put each AIDCA step into practice (e.g. at least 12 types of headline exist and you can use them to gain Attention) – and too many to mention here. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch.

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response.

We’ll consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message, its Architecture – as defined above – and Grammar, and also look at Eloquence and Style.

Whether you’ve danced the tango or not, you’re probably aware of the basic rhythm that the entwined partners must follow: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.

Tango

Image of tango dancers courtesy of Schema Magazine

If you apply this multi-step sequence to your writing, it may give you the opportunity to improve the vocabulary you’re using – a view that’s partially supported by a study published in the British Journal of Psychology (available to buy via the Wiley Online Library).

The advantages of slow…

This post on PsyBlog neatly summarises the research findings: forcing yourself to type more slowly can improve your writing.

The post says that “participants in the study who typed with only one hand produced higher quality essays… People who type quickly may use the first word that comes to hand [whereas] slowing down allows the mind more time to find the right word.”

The PsyBlog post qualifies this last point by talking about an improvement to “the sophistication of vocabulary used.”

… may be limited

This link between higher quality and “sophisticated vocabulary” is a little troubling for me, as someone whose livelihood depends upon my ability to “find the right word” (from the tens of thousands available). That’s because the word choice is so dependent on context:

Who’s going to be reading the text?

What am I hoping they’ll feel and do as a consequence of reading it?

What’s the brand’s tone of voice?

and so on.

Copywriters have to consider all of these factors – and more – when figuring out which words to use. For example, you may decide it’s not appropriate (for your audience; for your brand) to use vocabulary that’s highly sophisticated. After all, writing clearly and with plain English in mind is likely to make your writing accessible to the widest possible audience, including any specific target group (or individual) that you want to address.

In addition, the PsyBlog post issues a warning – based on previous research – that “slowing down too much can be detrimental. When people slow to below the rate of normal handwriting, their quality gets worse.”

Write as you tango

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the “go slow” directive counters the advice that copywriters often receive. We’re encouraged to write down everything about a subject without editing along the way – as long as our brain-dump is within the context of a pre-determined content plan.

In other words, think about what you’re going to write (in outline) and then just write… editing later.

Certainly, this is advice I’ve followed in over 20-years of professional writing. And it’s worked, in terms of both my own efficiency and the effectiveness of the writing (as judged by my clients and/or the people they’re communicating with). Moreover, I pass on this wisdom to my own clients in the training sessions I devise and deliver, including  my Copywriting Fundamentals course.

So what’s the answer then? Should you, after finessing your content plan, splurge everything onto the page (or screen) then go back and edit later? Or should you slow down and agonise over every word?

I believe the best way forward is somewhere between these two extremes: to do the tango!

A three-step sequence

Step 1 – Slow, Slow

Absorb all of the information you have about your writing project (all of those context factors) and then make a considered plan for your content outline.

Step 2 – Quick, Quick

Follow your planned structure but write quickly and without editing – get your thoughts onto the page/screen and be as creative as you can.

Step 3 – Slow

Print off and read your Step 2 output and consider the changes that would improve it. This may mean a re-structure (indicating your Step 1 wasn’t slow or considered enough) but is more likely to involve deletions (to match up to word counts or to tone of voice) and replacements (finding better words, or clearer ways of expressing something).

Try the sequence next time you write something – and let me know if your work has been tangoed!

 

 

Ad wars at Christmas

Tuesday, 22 December 2015 by

Mog

This Evening Standard report (with videos included) reckons that Sainsbury’s has won the battle of the Christmas ads this year – at least as judged by the number of views on YouTube.

This means the store’s mini-disaster movie “Mog’s Christmas Calamity” that features Mog the cat has beaten the perennial festive favourite from John Lewis (“Man on the Moon” for 2015), as well as all the other retailers.

However, the value of the sales that these stores clock up over the season may tell a different story. In recent times, John Lewis has out-performed its rivals at the tills, thanks in large part to its ads featuring a girl’s journey to womanhood one year, and a penguin (called Monty) another.

John Lewis Woman 1 montythepenguin-2

 

But why do any of these ads work?

Emotional resonance

Quite simply, they work because they tell a story and play on each viewer’s emotions. Either we recognise and identify with the scenes (e.g. the stages of a woman’s life) or else get sucked in by the cuteness and/or humour.

What’s more, these stories work as ads partly because they stand repeat viewing – there’s so much depth to the visuals (including animation/computer graphics as well as smart editing) and often a great piece of music to accompany it too. (The music also helps to wrestle our emotions into the right mood, just as it does in a film.)

Using emotional language in your messages

Now you may be thinking “That’s all very well for John Lewis, with all their millions to spend on TV advertising… but how can I apply some of this in my own promotional materials?”

Well, it is possible – with a little time thinking and some more time on your writing (but not a huge budget). The thinking involves you putting yourself into the shoes of your customer or prospect and imagining what they need or want – and how you/your product or service can address that requirement/desire.

Your writing should focus on evoking the primary emotion that, for your reader, relates most closely to his/her situation. Notice that I’m not advocating using lots of adjectives and adverbs in your texts to try and convey the emotion (things like “exciting”, “amazing”, “wonderful” and so on). Such words won’t get your reader to feel these emotions – more likely, you’ll turn them off with your gushing copy.

No, instead, you must demonstrate how and/or why what you’re offering is exciting to/for them – preferably without using the word “exciting”. White-water rafting is exciting; your new widget or service is not (honestly, it isn’t). Key into the emotional state that your reader is likely to be experiencing when s/he reads your copy, and then make your words transport him or her to a different state.

So, move them away from fear about losing money (by making a bad investment decision, perhaps) to the financial security and peace of mind that your product and/or service can offer.

If you need help making the shift in your own thinking, as well as writing in a way that moves your reader’s thinking and emotions, let me know.

But just wait until the New Year, if you don’t mind – I’ve got some ads to watch and turkey to eat!

 

 

Why learning new words is as good as sex

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 by

Now I’ve got your attention, I’m not going to disappoint you by talking about something completely different… the headline is backed up by scientific research. (Yes, I know you’ve heard that one before too, but please bear with me.)

PsyPost, a psychology and neuroscience news website, recently reported on a study published in the journal Current Biology. Researchers from the University of Barcelona and elsewhere discovered that learning a new word activates the reward region of the brain. So what?

Well, this is the same area that gets us excited when indulging in food, drugs and sex.

As well as being fascinating, and perhaps helping to explain my love of language (!), the article also reminded me how my regular “Word of the Week” post used to generate a good response on Twitter. Now I know why – and feel inspired to resurrect the idea.

Dictionary "V"

 

With that in mind, just think about “ventral striatum” for a moment. Does it feel good? (Doubly so, perhaps, since there are two words.) Anyway, it’s the medical name for this reward region of the brain we’ve been talking about.

And if that’s just too, er, Latin for you, how about these “ven” words:

vendace – either of two types of fish

venery – sexual indulgence (there we go again)

venipucture – puncture of a vein as part of a medical procedure (e.g. taking a blood sample)

Look out for more “Word of the Week” tweets by following me on Twitter @CopywriterRich

 

3 power tests for your writing

Thursday, 01 October 2015 by

When a prospective or existing client asks RichWords to assess an example of their writing, we use a step-by-step system of analysis called PAGES.

The “P” stands for Power – we’ll consider the other elements in future posts – and we judge the strength or weakness of the sample by answering these three questions:

1)       How persuasive is the writing?

With the right structure and language, you can address your reader’s likely objections and lead him/her through a series of logical steps to the call to action.

2)       How reader-centric is the writing?

If the text addresses the reader’s concerns, talks about benefits, and uses “you” more than “we”, it will achieve a higher power score than a piece of writing that does none or just some of these things.

3)       How effective is the writing?

Scoring well on (1) and (2) goes some way to scoring highly on effectiveness, although other factors come into play too. Does the headline and overall design (for example) create an impact? Is the call to action simple or complex? And so on.

Today’s post will focus on persuasiveness – how you should structure your text, and what language you should use. Get these things right, and you’ll keep people reading and convince and persuade them to take action.

Building your case

What’s the best structure to use when writing your marketing messages? The answer is… it all depends.

Some differences in structure relate to the audience you’re addressing. For example, you should set out a written press release in a specific way that’s designed for that collateral – read about it in How to write a press release that journalists will read and act upon.

With any other marketing materials, you can use a technique that successful salespeople (and copywriters) employ: AIDCA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, Action):

  • Attention is all about grabbing the reader with one of 12 types of arresting headline
  • Interest relates to keeping readers engaged by writing from their perspective
  • Desire involves unlocking the emotions of your reader
  • Conviction is about reducing the perceived risks that your reader associates with your product or service
  • Action relies on you addressing all of the above, and then making the call-to-action clear and easy to follow

You can learn more about AIDCA on the RichWords one-day Copywriting Fundamentals training course. We can tailor this to your needs, or you can attend one of our open courses – more coming in 2016 – for delegates from a range of organisations.

Using the right language

To choose the right language, you have to bear your reader in mind as well as your own branding and tone of voice.

We say “reader” (singular) because addressing one person rather than a mass of people helps you connect to every reader in turn. To do this, use the word “you “ (as a singular, not plural, pronoun) more than you use “I”, “we” or your company name, and adopt a conversational tone too – writing as if you’re speaking to someone. These techniques will create a more personal tone in your writing, even if the reality is that you’re communicating with dozens or even thousands of people.

In addition, you should write about what matters to your reader: empathise with their issues and problems, and explain how your product(s) and/or service(s) can help to solve them. And remember to write about benefits, not just features.

What’s tone of voice?

Simply put, tone of voice is the way your words sound to your reader – and the way the words make him or her feel. So you have to decide what your brand stands for (as well as why it’s unique) and then capture that through your word choices.

Your tone can be: formal or informal; youthful or traditional; posh-sounding and intellectual or full of slang (I’d recommend somewhere in the middle of those extremes) and so on. Getting the tone right is one of the hardest parts of writing… which is why many organisations turn to a professional copywriting firm for help. To discuss this further, please get in touch.

 

If your organisation commissions RichWords to assess some writing samples – with a view to editing, rewriting or replacing the text – we’ll use our PAGES analysis system to give you a structured response.

We’ll consider the Power of the vocabulary/overall message – as defined above – and its Architecture, Grammar, Eloquence and Style.

The less said about fewer the better

Wednesday, 17 June 2015 by

The title of a recent article in The Telegraph online edition summed up the problems facing the new boss of the UK’s biggest retailer: “Tesco’s Lost Decade”.

Despite its 28% (lion’s) share of the market, the company has lost its way over the past 10 years and is now experiencing declining sales and poor credit ratings. It’s also enduring negative publicity on other issues, ranging from suppliers who feel they’re being squeezed unfairly through to disgruntled customers unhappy about their shopping experience. There are also environmentalists and other commentators grinding whatever axes they can find to attack the store.

Even wordsmiths like myself and others with a claim to expertise (or interest) in English have joined in on the act. There have been complaints about Tesco’s poor grasp of basic vocabulary and grammar, and the chief culprit is the humble sign that appears above selected checkout aisles in every store: “10 items or less”.

The first thing to say is that Tesco’s is not the only retailer using this wording… but as hinted above, the “Let’s bash Tesco’s” band-wagon is rolling, so various people are jumping on board with some word pedantry too.

The second thing to say is that the sign IS wrong – in terms of traditional grammar, at least: the word “less” should be replaced by the word “fewer”. The reason for this required change is simple – “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to number.

Now, for many people, there’s not a lot of difference between these terms; they understand “quantity” in the same way as they understand “number” (which explains the existence – and prevalence – of the wording on the sign in the first place).

So the best way to recognise the distinction between the two words is to cite a different example. The style guide gurus William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (aka “Strunk & White”) provide a great one in their classic reference book “The Elements of Style“:

“His troubles are less than mine” means “His troubles are not so great as mine” (where “less” refers to quantity, or degree). In contrast, “His troubles are fewer than mine” means “His troubles are not so numerous as mine” (“fewer” referring to the number of troubles).

See the difference now?

If you believe it’s important to abide by the traditional rules of grammar, then the use of “less” in the sign may irk you… but probably not stop you from shopping at Tesco’s (although some of the other issues mentioned above might have that effect).

However, your own organisation may well be subject to different rules of engagement – assuming it isn’t the size of the retail giant. In other words, when similar errors creep into your company’s communications, the effects may be more serious and detrimental to the success of your business.

So, a spelling mistake or grammatical mis-step may cause a client (or prospect) to pause for a moment and (re)consider your organisation’s attention to detail. Frequent or obvious mistakes may cause them to question your intelligence and educational background (even though these may not be relevant to the product or service you’re hoping to offer).

This means that getting the words (and grammar) correct can play an important part in helping you win – and retain – business.

If you’re unsure about getting these things right, then RichWords is happy to provide you with advice and training, as well as originate and/or edit texts – just email richard@richwords.co.uk to find out more.

You see, every little bit helps…

 

 

 

 

The proof’s in the puddling

Monday, 18 May 2015 by

Yes, I know there’s an error in the headline. It’s deliberate – and there to prove a point about the importance of proofing (or checking) your written work. Because, if you don’t proof your work, you can end up looking:

Silly

Unprofessional

Illiterate

Untrustworthy

Uncaring

Are those the traits you want to portray to people, the impressions you want to create in the minds of your readers?

What the headline should say is “The proof’s in the pudding” – a shortened version of an old saying “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. The problem with the full version, of course, is that by the time you’ve said it, half of the dessert is likely to have gone.

Anyway, this is all a convoluted way (excuse?) to write a blog post about “proofing” – a shortened version of the word that describes the least favourite task of many writers: proof-reading.

A short history of roof

Yes, another deliberate mistake since I’m not going to write about mud, hay, slates or tiles.

The term “proof-reading” or “proofing” derives from the print industry, before computers and electronically word-processed texts were sent around the world as digital zeroes and ones. The Oxford English Dictionary calls a proof “a trial impression of a page used for making corrections before final printing.” The key part of that definition is near the end: “making corrections”.

Back in those olden days (maybe 30 years ago) when type was set, printers created a proof and sent it to the author for proofing. The idea was for the writer to be able to check that the printer had managed to correctly “translate” his or her own words (either typed or hand-written) onto the printed page. If the author found an error, s/he would mark up the proof using a set of industry-standard symbols that denoted what action was needed to rectify the mistake.

Once the text had been proofed from start to finish, the author sent the annotated – or signed-off as “clean” and approved – proof back to the printer, either for printing (if it was OK) or for re-setting (if not). In the latter case, and especially when more than a few minimal changes were required, the printer would have to send another proof back to the writer for checking… and so it went on.

Harder than you thing

(“Think”, not “thing”!) Nowadays of course, everyone’s a publisher in some capacity or other – from emails to blogs, Facebook posts to tweets, we’re all writing and sending stuff out to the world every day. What’s more, correcting a mistake is as easy as hitting the “Delete” or “back” button on whatever device we’re using at the time…  except it isn’t that simple, is it?

First of all, you’ve got to bother to check the text for mistakes before pressing “Send”. Have you got the time/energy/inclination to do it? If you have all three and want to review what you’ve written before sharing it globally, do you know what you’re looking for?

Which brings me to point 2 – you must decide what constitutes an error. Do you have a personal (e.g. ethical, religious, or other) set of rules that govern your communications? Or, if writing in a business context, a set of corporate guidelines that dictate tone of voice, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and so on?

Third, do you have a technique for proofing your work properly and thoroughly? I have – and it involves printing whatever I’ve written, reading it through several times (including out loud, and from finish to end – yes, backwards). It works – but it’s long-winded too.

If you’ve thought about – and can answer – those three multi-layered questions, you’re probably a copywriter. If you haven’t, you don’t want to, and you’re not, then maybe you need one?

To find someone who regards proofing – and writing – as their bread and butter, simply email richard@richwords.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Tone of voice is all about two factors: the way your words sound and the way they make your readers feel. We’re going to focus on the first of these.

To get your tone of voice sounding right, you have to take care of both your sentence structure and flow, as well as your word choices. It follows that you must also be able to adjust the volume knobs on the sound.

Deciding how far to turn the knob, and in which direction, depends upon what you want to emphasise (by turning the volume up) or play down. In making these selections, your tone of voice needs to reflect your brand personality attributes or traits: those elements of your corporate persona that sum up your organisation in the minds of your audience.

So, when I ask my training delegates to talk about Apple, they often say “stylish” or  “innovative” because these are the traits that the company projects in its communications – and in its products, retail outlets and so on.

I’ve never seen the words “stylish” and “innovative” in any of Apple’s marketing materials, and yet they’re the adjectives that people use to describe the company. Why? Because these are the words that are evoked in Apple’s tone of voice, the way it works and its products.

Adjusting your volume

As long as you know what your brand stands for, and which personality traits you want to portray, you can decide which attributes to push or hold back upon.

For example, let’s say that one of your brand’s traits is “fashionable” yet you also have an established history. You’ve decided to target the older demographic with your audience, so your communications play down the trendy elements and focus on your heritage, since you know this will appeal more to your readers in this case.

Other factors can also influence your decision about the volume levels. When RichWords provided tone of voice training to international relocations and assignment management company Crown Worldwide, it became clear that different countries needed to use different volume levels for different personality traits.

So, rather than dictating what the levels should be from the centre, we encouraged the training delegates from around the world to decide which traits to dial up (or down). They based these decisions upon their intimate knowledge of the local culture and what they thought would work best with their national and regional audiences.

If you’d like help establishing your brand personality, translating it into a coherent tone of voice, and figuring out which volume knobs to adjust, please contact richard@richwords.co.uk

 

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