Of all the characteristics that separate one writer from another, voice may be the most difficult to quantify. A few lines can tell you whether you’re reading Hemingway or Hawthorne, but detecting subtler differences between contemporaries or describing why you respond differently to websites with the same subject matter is tougher.
Business writing is necessarily more even and neutral in tone than fiction. While fiction typically elicits emotions, business content is usually thought-provoking or involves a call to action. That doesn’t mean it’s cold or dry, though; good writing always has an engaging voice even when that voice is communicating ideas, facts and figures. Your content’s voice should also change depending on where your audience finds it. Static site pages are more formal than blog posts, which are likewise more formal than social media channels – at least if your content creation team is working.
An experienced content creator can adopt the reassuring tone of a CPA firm addressing potential customers, the upbeat personality of a children’s bookstore or the businesslike demeanor of a B2B newsletter addressing industry professionals. Non-native English speakers and novice writers often have trouble with this content karaoke, but it’s crucial to get it right; striking the wrong chord with your readers can alienate or even offend them.
When considering tone, your content creator should consider three fundamental questions.
Why Are You Writing?
Knowing what you want your content to do is the vital first step for any project. Your site’s home page informs visitors and welcomes them in to explore the site more fully. An email campaign contains a persuasive, powerful call to action. A blog post entertains, informs and promotes discussion. A feature article educates. All of these might share similar information but use it in different ways.
For example, your latest product innovation might appear on your home page with a link to more information about it while your blog contains a series of posts describing its uses. Meanwhile, an email campaign goes out with a coupon offer to entice readers to click through and buy. You’re featuring the same product, but your content creator showcases it in different lights. Understanding the “why” behind every piece published in your company’s name is important to choosing the appropriate voice.
Who Is Your Audience?
A feature article for an industry journal should look very different from an introductory article for the general public. Knowing the intended audience allows your content creator to pitch the piece straight to its target, not over your audience’s head or beneath their notice. Industry knowledge, product familiarity and buying history factor into how your content creator addresses the audience.
In a more general sense, knowing a few things about your ideal customer’s demographic profile can also help when choosing an appropriate voice. Are you writing for physicians or high school students? Will professional real estate agents or prospective first-time home buyers read the content? Are you pinpointing business owners, marketing directors, IT specialists or purchasing agents with your site? Your answers will guide your content provider to the right choice of voice.
How Should They Feel About You?
Business writing isn’t overtly emotional, but readers still feel something when they read it. Words may have the same definitions but elicit different emotions; think of how differently customers might feel about a fashion newsletter that described higher sizes as “stout” instead of “curvy” or “full-figured.” Those connotations are difficult for non-native and novice writers to catch, but they can make the difference between a voice that makes your customers respond and one that makes them clap their hands over their ears.
Voice is about more than word choice. Subtle cues – short sentences to communicate urgency, metaphor to explain a concept, even punctuation to create pauses – affect how readers perceive content. When you give your business content a voice, you instantly tell your audience who you are. Make sure you’re sending the right message with a content creator who’s sensitive to tone.
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