Marketing is a form of storytelling. When creating marketing content, the general goal is to tell the story of your product or service (and your organization) in such a way as to persuade or educate your prospective customers. But most importantly, you’re trying to make a reliable, consistent and trusted connection that elicits positive emotions and loyalty. It’s this connection that causes people to invest in your product or service—and continue investing. With this in mind, two of the most important aspects of creating marketing content are to know your audience and to convey your message in a tone that resonates with them.
Know Thy Audience
Your audience is your intended reader and customer, the specific person or people you seek to influence through the content you’ve written. If a content writer is creating marketing based on their own perspective, they’ll often miss the mark because they’re not paying attention to the audience’s perspective. When creating marketing content, knowing specifically who you’re marketing to and for can and will make a huge difference in creating and fostering that connection.
One way to define your audience is to create a buyer persona. This is a profile of your ideal customer, which includes specific character traits, qualities and needs. It gives your audience a “face” that you can think about as you communicate. In this way, you’ll be able to address them more accurately and relatably. Audiences easily get turned off to messages that they don’t think are really for them. The situation becomes worse if the audience can discern that the message is for them, but is a miss in terms of tone and accuracy.
Be careful when determining your audience, though, to avoid using stereotypes. Stereotypes are based on common behaviors of a certain type of person, but they often generalize too much. When you’re crafting your buyer persona, do so with real data and research that is attached to your target audience. Factor in buyer trends that you’ve seen, website data and even one-on-one interviews with your audience to better understand who they are.
Watch Your Tone
One of the most important aspects of content writing is tone, and making sure it’s right and consistent. Tone is the “how” of what you’re trying to say. It is the fine-tuned use of linguistic devices such as punctuation, word choice/jargon and grammatical structure in order to best connect with your audience.
Maybe you’ve heard the joke “punctuation saves lives” in reference to something like the use or neglect of commas: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!” This joke makes a good point. Punctuation can play a big part in creating a tone for your messaging.
Punctuation is also dependent on the media form that you’re using to communicate your topic. For short-form content like ads and social media, you’ll use fewer commas or semicolons, and use more periods, exclamation marks or question marks. For long-form content like blogs and ebooks, you’ll use longer sentences broken up by commas, colons and semicolons. Just be careful not to make your sentences too long. That much information coming at the brain all at once can overwhelm and distract. If you use a particular manual of style, such as the Associated Press guide or Chicago/Turabian, pay attention to the guidelines within it for sentence length and structure.
You’ll also want to pay close attention to which sentence-ending marks you use because they’ll determine the continued and overall tone of the entire piece of content. You could use a lot of exclamation marks to make an emphatic point on Facebook or Twitter, but you’ll probably need to use a lot more periods for a blog. And once again, this depends on your intended audience. If you’re writing an informal blog and you want to seem like a close friend, you’ll want a conversational tone that involves more natural-to-speech punctuation.
Grammar and Spelling
There’s a time and place for proper grammar, and it can affect your content by making it feel formal and proper or loose and conversational. You may remember grade school English classes in which your teachers talked to you about writing gaffes like dangling participles, ending sentences with prepositions, incomplete/run-on sentences, split infinitives and things of that nature. But content writers need to know when it’s appropriate to break the rules of language to make their content accessible to their desired audience, especially since native English speakers break formal language rules in communication every day. For instance, the “proper” linguistic way to reference a group of individuals is usually to say “he or she”, but in a modern and simplified context, it’s more approachable, simple and acceptable to say “they”, a pronoun which has recently come to encompass whoever you’re talking about, regardless of gender.
Different Tones & How They Sound
These aspects of tone can all be used in conjunction with one another to create numerous, practically unlimited different tones of voice, according to the connection you wish to make with your audience. Some of these include:
- Sound: rhymey, lyrical, down-to-earth, witty
- Desired audience mental response: comfortable, happy, amused, excited, adventurous.
- Pro/Con: Relieves tension and provides a burst of happiness, but risks absurdity and oversimplification
- Sound: extended, complex, verbose, grave
- Desired audience mental response: thoughtful, reassured, informed, a sense of inclusion and importance
- Pro/Con: Causes your reader to focus in on something important, but can tire them out with details and emotional impact
- Sound: technical, extended, rhetorical, explanatory, dry
- Desired audience mental response: informed, educated
- Pro/Con: Gives a sense of authority, but can seem emotionless and lack professionalism
- Sound: simple, easy, informal, down-to-earth, approachable
- Desired audience mental response: relaxed, open, chill, entertained
- Pro/Con: Gives a feeling of approachability and simplicity, but may seem inauthentic and lacking in expertise or critical thought
- Sound: reverent, caring, praising, servile, humble, subdued
- Desired audience mental response: feeling important, appreciated, dignified, looked up to, equal
- Pro/Con: Appeals to a sense of honor, pride and worth, but loses attachment to intense emotions and might skirt difficult topics for fear of offense
- Sound: witty, sarcastic, subversive, provocative, unflinching
- Desired audience mental response: amusement, shock, embarrassment, potentially cringey
- Pro/Con: Brings up often hidden or less socially acceptable thoughts and actions in order to seem honest, relatable and real, but can be seen as offensive, opinionated, unnecessary or primal
- Sound: upbeat, exclamatory, adventurous, bright
- Desired audience mental response: positive, ready, gung-ho
- Pro/Con: Good for getting the audience excited or pumped up, but has a lack of critical thought and might seem impulsive or overly emotional
- Sound: rhetorical, informational, neutral
- Desired audience mental response: thoughtful, educated, interested
- Pro/Con: Empowers the audience to think critically and factually, but can feel cold, unemotional and aloof
- Sound: strong, adventurous, candid, instinctual, trustworthy
- Desired audience mental response: empowered, respected, independent, capable
- Pro/Con: Appeals to tougher, spirited thoughts and emotions, but can feel aggressive, harsh and abrasive
- Sound: approachable, supportive, creative, expressive, gentle, diplomatic, lively, upbeat
- Desired audience mental response: empowered, included, appreciated, prepared
- Pro/Con: Appeals to finer feelings and tastes, but risks feeling too informal or flowery
Mixing and Uniting Different Tones
The tones we just listed are by no means the only ones you can use. But you may have noticed that some of them seem similar in feeling or emotional impact, while others stand in stark contrast to one another. Some of these tones often work well together and mix to form new flavors of tone. And sometimes you can also form a unique tone by combining two dissimilar ones. It’s up to you to decide how best to use them in order to reach your target audience. When planning tone, we like to mix multiple descriptors and tone types to cover our bases and add depth to our message. It creates a sense of layered personality and multi-dimensionality so our content doesn’t feel flat or robotic. Feel free to try this out! The more unique you sound while communicating your message, the more likely you are to stand out and connect with people.
For instance, say your goal is to communicate a serious and formal topic, but you want to lighten the mood a little so your content doesn’t feel dry or uninteresting. Try adding a little bit of humor or quirkiness that fits with your organization, and try being more casual, down-to-earth and honest with your content so it’s more approachable and relatable. Or maybe you’re writing about an informal and enthusiastic topic but don’t want to sound flighty and unprofessional. Try adding a little bit of formality, practicality and respectfulness while also keeping the brightness of the subject alive. It’s important to find a happy medium between two unrelated tones so that one doesn’t feel heavier than the other.
Being able to combine multiple tones, especially unrelated ones, can add credibility and draw interest to your product or service. It also means you’re becoming a much better writer! Layering tone also adds deeper meaning to your topic and communicates it to the audience in a way that they will appreciate. When this happens, your audience will be able to place a pleasant, welcoming and helpful “face” on your organization, just as you’re creating one for them in order to write better content.
Tone Variance Based on Content/Media and Goals
Tones can also shift a lot based on what media and formats you’re writing in, what length your content needs to be and the goals you’re pursuing.
- Simple, concise
- Basic, but detailed information
- Direct, open, emotional, inviting
- Short but tonally solid posts (maximum length similar to a tweet)
- Make a quick but firm connection
- Start a conversation
- Call to action
- Point to product/service and website
- Short and to-the-point, for quick consumption (500-750 words)
- Long and informative, for extensive, detailed information (1,500+ words)
- Tone can be flexible depending on audience, but must stay consistent and support the main idea/goal
- Keep content to an eighth-grade reading level as much as possible
- Must hook the reader with headline and first few lines
- Break content into small pieces with descriptive headings, lists with bullet points and short, easily skimmable paragraphs
- Engage with interesting/unique ideas
- Solidify the idea of your product/service in the mind of the audience
- Long-form (2,000+ words)
- Extensive and detailed, but accessible and easy to navigate and understand
- Like a long blog, break content into pieces and use a table of contents
- More permanent and evergreen
- Meant to be referred to often for expert information
- Highly informative, yet concise and simple
- Formal and direct
- Can potentially cover a lot of ideas, but must connect them under one overall topic
- Briefly educate and inform
- Evergreen content that also makes the audience want to know more
- Direct to other sources of information, website or contact information
Ads (Social media, magazine, billboard)
- Short but meaningful, highly concise, must stick with the audience
- Meaning must be clear, but also deep
- Get creative and witty!
- Put the idea of your product/service in audience’s mind
- Click a link for more information/website (if online)
- Short and direct, used as “guideposts”
- Provide basic information like direction or title
- Point to something else
- Briefly describe
Implementing Audience and Tone
At 434, we keep consistency in our client’s story, audience and tone by creating an official brand guide. A brand guide is an organized grouping of all of this information you’ve gathered on your target audience: goals, the feelings you want to express and elicit, the purpose of the product or service, demographic information, desired content tone (lighthearted, serious, humorous, personable, encouraging, etc.) and other necessary content requirements. Essentially, it’s a story outline.
Also, take some time to invest yourself in learning about the audience and the topic at hand. Do research (this is super important). Ask your audience questions and conduct interviews and surveys. Take notes. Look for differing perspectives. Find common ideas and opinions on the topic and what kinds of people think these things. Chances are, other writers have written about the same topic and for a similar audience, so if you can find that kind of information, you can integrate it into your own writing and adapt it for your audience. Armed with all of this knowledge, you can create the proper tone to reach your audience and nail your content!
We’re Here to Help
Finding the right audience and tone can be difficult, and research can take a lot of time and effort. If you need help getting your brand and story to the right people and engaging them with your product or service, let us know!