For many years big brands have made a big fuss about their tone of voice. Tone of voice is 'the secret ingredient' of powerful business writing, we have been told. Yet tone of voice is nothing without something powerful to say. The things you say are generally more important than how you say them, even though how you say them is pretty darn important too. And this is something that businesses lose sight of. Maybe they've been focusing too much on tone and not enough on content.
'Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.'It's by CS Lewis from his book Studies in Words, and it's valuable advice for us all. Because the last few decades – maybe the last 100 years or so – have in fact seen a remarkable devaluing of powerful words. Right now, the best way to write powerfully is, if anything, to be understated.
I know I spend a lot of time highlighting what I see as bad business and marketing writing. But I'm not really a negative person. I just dislike lies and manipulation. I don't like people who show off either. I don't like copywriting that struts and preens, nor do I like copy that ingratiates itself, or copy that misleads. I don't like being spoken to like an idiot. But it's worth celebrating good marketing writing sometimes, if only to remind ourselves that it can be done well (and what it takes to do it well).
Read something the other day that stuck in my head. It went something like this:If a website were a person, then the design would be how good looking they were, and the content would be their personality.
When a business messes up, it can actually increase customer loyalty if it deals with the mistake carefully and courteously enough. YouTube don't seem to have heard that. Here's a textbook example of how not to write your less prominent bits of copy.
There's an interesting article over at Profwriting.com pondering on 'tone of voice'. Tom Scott, a lecturer on the professional writing course at University College Falmouth, wonders whether tone of voice isn't just another way of saying style. So when we go on about tone of voice are we really referring to a brand's style?