I started my career as a Fashion Copywriter for luxury brands. My days were spent looking for decorative, aspirational words I could use to enhance product descriptions. Everything was adorned, accented, and embellished. It was fun. Plus, I got to know my way around a thesaurus. Synonyms were my savior.
Things changed when I started working for early-stage startups. With the opportunity to meet and personally get to know some of our customers, I realized: the best tone of voice isn’t one that’s built in-house, behind the scenes. It’s the tone of voice of your customers — the way they speak, the words they use, the tone they take.
Put it this way: A good tone of voice is the difference between talking at your customers and talking with them.
Good marketing shouts. Great marketing listens.
If I’ve learned one thing it’s the importance of sitting alongside your customers, not across the table from them.
Nowadays, as a marketing consultant, I won’t take on a messaging project without speaking to customers first and simply listening to how they explain things. Sure, there’s always some room to be the authority or build trust as a brand, but the language is a deeply personal thing. You have to find the humanity in yours.
How to make it happen
For product copy, ask your customers or target customers to describe what they think your product does — and pay attention to every word they use. If you’re launching something new, ask some people in your target audience what they think the name of your prospective product means and listen, hard.
As a general rule, I prefer speaking to customers via 30-minute research calls. Why? Because surveys tend to result in laziness and groups tend to lead each other.
One-to-one calls are different – they’re more personal and full of greater insight. Inspired by the Jobs to be Done methodology, if I interview 10 people and seven people use very similar language or feed into a particular theme, I know I’m on to something.
So many of my greatest taglines have come from customer research calls.
For positioning copy, ask your customers about what they currently need the most help with, and notice what emotions they lead with.
How do they talk about the problems they’re currently facing in their own lives? Are they calm? Focused? Joking a little?
It’s that tone that needs to be mirrored in any mission, vision, or website copy you write. So many of my greatest taglines have come from customer research calls.
As a brand, you can only get to know who you are by really knowing who your customers are.
For FAQ copy, make sure that you have a way of documenting what questions your customers ask, and how exactly they ask it. This will help you be fully on their side and you’ll make their user experience easier and clearer. You know that feeling when you’re on a website and you just wish they would get to the point? Our job as marketers is to achieve the opposite of that.
Above all, be the brand your customers can imagine having a relationship with — because from real customer relationships, comes long-term brand loyalty.