First, I’ll put this straight on the table – the best marketing sounds like a conversation. Fact. And if you get conversational copy right, your reader will be rushing to continue the dialogue with you in person as soon as they reach the end of the page. Sound good?
I’m not saying that all of your content has to be pun-filled, hilarious and start with ‘hey there’ and a witty line that comes with an actual or implied . Definitely not. But your marketing should feel like the start of a great conversation. And most importantly, it has to be a conversation that people (including you) want to stay in.
With so much communication now online, it’s very easy to duck out of (or mute) any exchanges that you find dull, awkward or inappropriate. That’s the last thing you want your audience to do.
This blog is about creating marketing content that your audience will choose to stay engaged with.
Lesson 1: Conversational and chatty are completely different things
Chatty is what most people mean when they ask me for a conversational tone. Because everyone wants to sound as cool and quirky as the Innocent smoothie guys, right?
Now I love the Innocent brand. It’s charming, chummy and quirky all rolled into one. I think the copywriting is genius. It’s an amazing example of the power of a distinctive tone of voice. It’s tightly written, crafted to perfection, and executed consistently across every platform. Whether it’s words on packaging or a poster, you know it’s Innocent instantly. (If you’re interested listen to this podcast featuring one of Innocent’s senior copywriters)
But would I recommend a client to imitate Innocent’s language? No way.
Because that’s Innocent’s personality. They make cute little smoothies. The witty one-liners (or wackywriting as some term it) are not going to work if you’re an architect pitching to design a megabucks business park.
Fear not, this doesn’t mean you can’t use conversational copy if you’re an architect, or a lawyer, or even a nuclear physicist. In real life, conversations take many different forms and have unique tones – a light-hearted natter, an argument, gossip, an informative rant. Some subjects lend themselves to colourful debate. Maybe throw in a little banter if you want to push boundaries.
But this is key – there is space for a multitude of voices in a conversation. So instead of defaulting to chatty, experiment with your conversational voice. Just know the point where fluff and frivolity is going to cloud your message.
Lesson 2: Stay true to yourself
That’s sounds cheesy (cringe). But honestly, favour imitation over orginality at your peril.
Your readers need to believe what you’re saying, and the language you use is such an important part of this. Think of your tone of voice as your brand’s personality. Don’t talk like a smoothie brand if you’re selling life-saving pharmaceuticals. If your software is designed to drive efficiency in the logistics industry, you’re probably not the joker in the pack.
I’ll use a personal example here. I never swear. I’m not offended by swearing and I even feel for the right brands there is a place for sweary copy. It’s just not natural to me, and I feel stupid if I try. So if I started casually dropping the f-bomb in my social media posts (f-bomb? Sorry I really am bad at swearing) it would seem weird, disjointed and not at all me.
So, similarly don’t start your emails with ‘hey there matey’, if you are going to hold out a stiff hand poised for a formal shake when you meet people in real life.
Lesson 3: Think about who you’re talking to
As with anything in marketing, it’s not just about you and what you like. Your audience should also influence the language you choose.
Would you talk to your biggest client in the same way you address your mates in the pub? Probably not.
Let’s go back to the Innocent example. They sell smoothies. Its customers are usually looking for lunch. Not intelligent debate, inspiration, or reassurance. They simply want a drink to go with their sandwich. Colourful copy and a clever pun? If it raises a smile, while they’re dithering about whether to choose a ploughman’s or to experiment with a falafal salad, why not? (By the way, always go for the ploughmans).
But if you’re a property developer looking to appoint someone to design a building that transforms a skyline, would you expect your architect to talk to you in such a frivolous way? Probably not. Let’s face it, buildings that talk and have their own personalities aren’t as cute and charming as a smoothie bottle wearing a bobble hat.
Lesson 4: Write like a human
Your marketing shouldn’t sound like a formal contract or a letter of engagement. So ditch the formality and write like you speak, right?
This is tricky (which is why brands often bring in a copywriter to do this). Transcribe a conversation with a customer and it probably won’t make an inspiring read.
Conversational copy is a lot more scripted than the spoken word – less ‘erms’ and ‘oks’ and without the fluffy bits that seem natural in real life, but are superfluous on a page.
It takes time to get your written intonation spot on, so first get the basics right:
- Avoid cold corporate terminology, jargon and clichés. And words like ‘nothwithstanding’ need to go.
- Embrace the apostrophe and use ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’, ‘you’re’ in place of ‘you are’ – basically, write naturally.
- Use questions. Use ‘you’ rather than ‘us’ and ‘we’. Speak to your audience. It makes the reader feel like you’re talking ‘to’ them rather than ‘at’ them.
- Vary the length of your sentences. It adds a conversational-like pace and intonation to words on a page.
- But in general keep sentences short. (Or very short.)
Lesson 5: Show it off. Everywhere.
If you take a conversational tone, it has to work across all your platforms. Social, website, packaging, advertising. Everywhere.
Whether you go for chummy, playful, serious, or even brooding – once you’ve nailed your tone, stick to it. Own it. Go for it. If it’s you, you can be bold and brave with it. Make every word work for you.
So my biggest tip is this – don’t be afraid of writing conversational copy. Have fun with it. You can add lots of character into your copy without being cheeky or even remotely chatty. It’s not the only way.
And if you can legitimately get away with playful, pun-filled content… please can I write it for you. That sounds like fun.
(All other conversational type writing challenges are also happily accepted).