"It's not what you say, it's how you say it."
Your website has a voice. Think of that voice as the personality of your site. Voices can range from professional to conversational. As a business or organization, you must decide what type of voice you wish use in communicating with your audience. The voice you use should be appropriate to your business and mainly depends on who your users are. If your users are middle-age working professionals, a voice that is whimsical and informal may not be effective. On the other hand, if your users are high school and college kids, you may not want to use a voice that is too formal or impersonal.
How Voice Can Shape Perception
To demonstrate the effects of proper voice, we will look at some real life examples of sites, explaining what their voice is and why they are using it. We will also look at an alternative version of the sites in an improper voice to illustrate how using the wrong voice can severely hurt your overall message.
On Apple's home page is currently an advertisement for the new MacBook Air. Many businesses try and fail to emulate Apple's marketing style. The voice of Apple's advertising reinforces the core ideas that Apple is selling: simplicity, ease of use, and accessibility. Apple communicates these ideas with messages that are concise, to the point, and modern. Apple has used this voice effectively throughout their various TV commercials, advertisements, marketing, and website. In this particular ad, they demonstrate the idea of simplicity by showing the product rather than telling us about it.
What if Apple decided to use a different voice? If it was anything like the image above, it would be a disaster. In this example, the voice is completely inconsistent with the message of simplicity. Instead of being succinct and no-nonsense, the voice gives off an unprofessional and silly feeling. The combination of a lot of copy, competing font styles, multiple fonts, and crowded content is disordered and less than professional. Keep in mind that the real Apple ad has a very similar message to the mock-up above, but when presented in a different way, it comes off as tacky.
In contrast to Apple, Chipotle uses a personal writing and hand-drawn graphical style that separates them from most fast food chains. A key part of Chipotle's operations is the use of naturally raised animals and the promotion of healthier eating. Their marketing, interior design, and web site all are aimed at making the customer think about their food choices, letting them know they are eating well and making good decisions. By using this type of voice, Chipotle sounds more like a person than a corporation.
In contrast, the above image demonstrates how a simple, formal presentation creates a completely different perception. While it is not bad aesthetically, Chipotle as a brand loses a lot of the personal touch that they are trying to show to their customers.
Changing Your Web Voice
What if you want to change the voice of your site? For example, maybe you want to target larger businesses while your current customers are individuals. You can't continue doing the same things and expect to attract different people. You would need to change your voice to one that speaks to the needs of those businesses, which is probably a lot different than the voice used to target the individual consumer. This shouldn't be any different than the voice you are using in e-mails, public relations, advertising, and other public communication. It needs to be a genuine, holistic effort that your entire company is embracing, or else you risk sending an incoherent message to your audience.
Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Web Voice
You probably have a good idea of what type of voice your business or organization should be using. Here are a few tips that can help you fine-tune it to be more effective:
For A Formal Voice
- Pay extra attention to formatting and grammar. Nothing says "unprofessional" like misspelled words and poor grammar.
- Stick to a limited number of styles. Keep yourself limited to a certain palette of colors, fonts, and layouts. This will maintain a sense of continuity and communicate the fact that you really have it all together.
For An Informal Voice
- Don't be afraid to show personality! If your business is a little bit different, let that show through your writing! Be creative and bold.
- Be careful to maintain order. It is easy to fall into the trap of using so many different styles of writing and ways of laying out content that your site becomes incoherent and looks childish. While an informal, personable voice can get away with a little bit of disorder, you don't want your site to look as if you threw a ton of disconnected ideas at the screen, hoping that at least one of them would work.
- Be consistent. Regardless of the voice you choose, make sure that all channels of communication are using this voice. This means all e-mails, advertisements, marketing, and web copy should feel the same. You do not want your brand message to be perceived as incoherent. This will reflect negatively on your business as a whole.
- Be professional. Just because you are using an informal voice does not mean you need to forego a professional image. Don't undermine your credibility.
- Consider creating a style guide. Many businesses will take the time to formulate rules about how they are to communicate with, market, and advertise to their clients. While it will take some time to do it right, creating a style guide can solidify your business message and get everyone on the same page. Depending on the scope, it may be advisable to hire outside help to get the best results.
- Review, revise, and reword. Even the best writers rarely get things right the first time. Get opinions from others in your company, and make sure that your writing is reflective of the voice of your business.