I recently worked with a client who asked for a “formal tone” for his copy.
This is a common request from clients but I’m going to be completely honest.
I loathe formal tone copy.
Perhaps more specifically, I dislike what many imagine formal tone copy should be, whether they realize it or not.
Whenever someone asks for a more formal tone to their copy, I ask them to define it and then give me examples.
What Is Tone?
Tone is the personality of your copy. The copy is what you’re communicating but the tone is the style of your communication. In essence, it’s the personality of your brand.
Your tone can be formal, geeky, spiritual, controversial, hip, funny, cerebral or seductive. Tone is injecting these “personality traits” into your copy. It is the way you bring words together on a page.
Take the Dollar Shave Club, for example. Their tone is sassy, edgy, and funny (the video on their website also can be offensive to some). Their target audience is 25-45 year-old men. So this isn’t your grandfather’s type of shaving club and their tone shows it.
You wouldn’t use the Dollar Shave Club’s tone for an upscale bank or prestigious golf club. But you should have a tone and then reflect it in all of your marketing materials.
To choose the right tone, think about the person you’re trying to reach. Are they “twentysomethings?” Mid-lifers? Seniors? Are they looking to re-invent themselves? Do they want to be smarter? Or maybe they have a desire to get the best. Whatever you offer, match their tone.
Another Example of Tone
If your target audience is 25-45 year-old women who are professionals but like fun shoes, you can use a lighter, breezy tone with words like “cool,” and “rock your ___.”
If you were providing professional photography services for businesses, you’d want to take a more serious approach that carried quality coupled with style. Infuse your copy with words like “stunning,” “striking,” or “elegant.”
It all depends on who you’re trying to reach. Discover the language they speak. Research message boards online or check Amazon reviews for items that would appeal to your target market. Read carefully how they express themselves. Then use that tone when writing your copy.
Why Formal Tone Usually Sucks
My client sent me an example of what he thought of as “formal tone.” It was awful.
For one site, I found that there was not one mention of “you” in 423 words of copy.
Although many would call the tone formal, I call it boring. This is typical of most B2B copy. Very straightforward and with very little appeal.
Many think that those who are in the B2B world, especially within the financial and legal fields, only want to be informed and use copy that is the equivalent of Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday’s, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”
This is a mistake.
Real people are reading your copy. Not robots.
And real people have emotions that can be triggered. They have hopes, dreams, and fears that are never far from their mind.
If you still want a more formal tone, go for tone that makes a person feel smart, secure, resourceful, innovative, or upscale. Instead of trying to make your business sound serious and competent, go for what you’d like your target audience to feel.
At the end, you won’t have boring copy. You’ll have elegant copy that still maintains the image you want while speaking to your prospect’s desires.