Killer copywriting and how to speak your customers’ language

The web is still fundamentally a text-based medium so language matters.

One simple thing can make or break an ad, post or mailer – ‘voice.’ In other words, not just what you say, but how you say it.

We all use different voices in everyday life – when we speak to clients, colleagues, children or family. When we take part in leisure activities additional sets of languages are often used.  The voice we might take with other football or running friends will be very different from that used in volunteering or committees.

When writing, however, we often drop into the trap of a single voice. We write everything in the same style regardless of the audience.

Most people understand the needs of writing for the web, and usually get it right from a structural point of view (if you are struggling check out Jakob Nielsen- ‘How users read on the web‘). Short sentences, breaks, use of headings etc. However, the voice is often the same, – regardless of the target audience.

Quick tip – how to check your language and find your voice.

People who are great communicators when speaking, strangely change style when they start to write. Everything drops into a dead, stilted voice. It’s rather like the way some people have a ‘posh telephone voice’. Long words are chosen over simple ones – sentence construction becomes complicated. Their written voice bears no relationship to their speaking voice. The good news is that we can correct this once we are aware we are doing it.

Some useful advice from an old copy writer is to always read your copy out loud. If it sounds silly to you when read aloud, you can be pretty sure it will seem clumsy to your reader.

Getting the voice right.

More difficult to correct, is when we use the same voice for all readers. In real life we tend to change our voice depending upon our audience. We may simplify for children and use jargon in business. In an important presentation we carefully choose our words and timing. With close friends we may relax our voice and use ‘code’ and ‘in jokes’.

Another piece of wise advice is to think of somebody you know who fits your target audience (the archetype or persona), but choose a real person. Then write just as though you are talking to them, Again, when you have finished, read it out loud. Does it still sound right? Then you’ve probably nailed the voice.

If you have dictation software on your computer you can take this stage further. Try dictating your whole proposition out loud, again visualising that real person you want to talk to. Some people struggle with this, but if it works for you it can be a shortcut to getting that all–important voice just right.

Don’t forget the buddy-check.

Find someone else to read and check your copy. Try if possible to choose somebody near your target audience in terms of age, gender, occupation etc. If you are writing for a video or audio script, it’s vital you read it out loud to them.

Of course, there is much more to copywriting than just the voice, but if you get the voice right you are much more likely for the message to be received and understood

Ian West
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