A couple of years back, a friend texted me. He was ready to go out on his own as a consultant. Mitch* reached out because he realized how valuable the voice and tone of his business are in communicating his message.
“I took the leap! My last day is next Friday, and I’ve hustled to get my website up. Will you take a look and give me your thoughts?”
I did, and we had a call afterward. Mitch asked what the verdict was.
“Well,” I said, “it reads as if you wound up a robot and set it loose in front of your keyboard.”
“Ouch,” he said back. “Tell me more.”
Mitch knew it was the truth, and I knew he could stomach my honesty because he wanted this bouncing baby endeavor to be everything it could be. Long story short: Throughout the list of notes I’d taken one thing kept pushing through, and that was the fact that there was no Mitch on the page.
He’d lost himself in corporate speak and industry-specific jargon, both of which are notorious audience killers. Even the buttoned-up type of customer or client wants a sense of humanity bobbing in and around the message.
They want a reason to trust you, and there’s no better way to earn that trust by establishing who you are with your messaging and interactions. Mitch is hella smart, extremely adventurous, and has a sly wit. We tweaked his site’s copy to reflect the first two heavily and peppered his email drip with the latter.
He’s doing quite well these days, thanks.
*not his real name, duh
First know thyself
There are two significant factors to finding the voice of your business and setting the tone for your customers or clients, and knowing who you are is one of them.
I do an exercise with new clients who believe they have no idea what voice they should employ: I ask for a list of adjectives describing how they want their brand perceived. Those descriptive words are very telling, and help map the voice that we arrive at for them. Most of the time what we land on is an extension of the owner’s personality.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of that. It’s easier to carry out the maxim ‘you do you’ if you’re being yourself. That’s not to say that every aspect of your personality needs to come barreling down the pike. Your brand is yours; not the other way around.
And let’s face it, we all have some assy tendencies that are better left off the table from a business standpoint.
Then know thy customer
Once you know who you are and what you bring to the table, get to know your ideal customer. You can do that by going to the places they hang out — online or in person — and listening to what they have to say.
More importantly, listen to how they say it. When speaking to your people, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing that in a way that feels comfortable for you AND them. If you can find a middle ground between the two, that’s going to be truly unique. Adopt a tone that feels forced to you, and people will sniff you out.
Don’t be afraid to take risks. Have you ever had an alter ego you wanted to let out of the gate? The voice of your business can be that outlet. Make sure you practice and fine-tune your messaging before you unleash it, though. It needs to be tight and right.
Above all, make them feel
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than when I’ve written something that punches someone straight in the feels. Emotion stirs action. Action sparks engagement. Engagement can take the form of dollars in your pocket or word of mouth for your brand.
Something to remember is that you’re not trying to elicit positive emotions across the board. You’re only trying to connect with your people. Your voice shouldn’t be palatable to everyone. First, that’s not possible; even if it were, any messaging crafted for universal appeal would become so watered down or formal as to be bland. Nobody wants mush in their inbox.
Second, a dialed-in voice will work like a siren song to the people who need you and your product or service.
Striking a nerve is your aim. Make sure you focus your efforts on the nerves that count.
Have a look at the lay of the land
A great way to gauge your sweet spot is to take a look at some businesses that are memorable to you. Whose voice sings to you? Whose repels you? What about their messaging and tone caused you to wide-eye or side-eye them?
You don’t want to copy anyone word-for-word or action-for-action, but it’s great to take inspiration from those brands and their approach, especially when you’re starting out.
It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be you. Voice and tone aren’t established overnight — not even when a business has dollars upon dollars to dump into research and implementation. The way you communicate your intent as a business is a thing that evolves in subtle ways that correspond to experience, growth, and wisdom. It will take you some time to get comfortable, and you’ll make tweaks along the way.
The 4P Approach to client communication
No pressure or anything, but the tone of your client communications is a big deal. That’s why I use my 4P Approach. When I correspond with someone in a business-related capacity, it’s my goal to be:
Let’s break those down:
Professional doesn’t mean stuffy or buttoned up. It means timely responses and follow-through. It means not monopolizing someone’s time with five emails per week when one will suffice. In a nutshell, it means being respectful of the person on the other side of the monitor.
When you’re polite, people dig it. Manners build a giant pile of goodwill because the other party feels respected. Respect is tremendous currency in today’s world. Damn near every email that exits my inbox contains some flavor of thank you to the recipient. I also use my share of the word ‘please.’
Positive vibes matter to me, even more so because I’m generally not in proximity to the people I’m serving. I have a note stuck to my desk that says
- Get shit done.
- Don’t ruin it for everyone else.
I cribbed that bit of wisdom from the Expensify blog a couple of years back. I keep communications direct but upbeat, and if someone has made my day, I tell them. Positivity is infectious, and when you make it a point to exude it regularly, that pays dividends in trust and loyalty. You’ll also magically end up with more positive people in your corner, which is rad, especially on the days when you’re dragging.
Don’t be afraid to get personal in your communications. Don’t tell anyone your underwear size or anything, but share a fun gif or wish someone luck in with their newest endeavor. People appreciate being seen and generally enjoy experiencing the human side of someone they’re doing business with.
A couple tips and a word of caution
Once you suss out who you are and how you’re going to communicate, apply that voice in unexpected places. (For instance, I have some little Easter eggs nestled into my onboarding documentation. If a client’s really reading my contract, they’ll probably chuckle.) Pepper everything you do with it.
If you are struggling to determine what to say and how to say it, find someone to help you. Sometimes we’re our own worst salespeople and can use a professional touch to move the needle in expressing ourselves. The investment on the front end is genuinely worth it on the back end.
Last of all, a word of caution: If humor isn’t effortless for you, abandon it. If your jokes don’t hit at parties, they’re not likely to do so in print, where there’s a lack of tone and inflection to guide your audience. One misplaced joke can tank all goodwill.
We made you A Thing
Delighting the knickers off your clients and customers is much easier than you think. We’ve put together a charming little infographic that lists some of the things we do to up the joy factor in our professional interactions. You can snag that by clicking on the image below.