When users interact with you online, do you use formal language, or talk like it’s just you and them? Are you serious, or are you witty and use humor? Is this a time for eliciting emotions, or are we keeping a matter-of-fact tone?
These are questions anyone who works with digital products has to answer on a daily basis.
Voice and Tone Design is an assembled brief whose job is to answer all of these questions before we start writing product related content, microcopy (UX writing) included.
If you’re still debating the importance of designing your digital product’s voice and tone — or more likely: need to persuade execs as to its importance — whether it be a site, app, self service, chatbot, etc. — here are six A+ reasons that will remove all doubt.
1. To make users love you
In a study conducted by NNG, they analyzed the measurable impact of voice and tone on users. The study had some fascinating findings, and I highly recommend checking it out thoroughly.
The study shows that a product’s voice and tone has a measurable quality and measurable impact on users, and can influence the brand’s trustworthiness and desirability.
One of the study’s findings I found to be very important is that casual and natural language, as opposed to formal and high language, makes users perceive the brand and product as friendlier and trustworthy across the board. This appeal makes users more likely to recommend the product to a friend, and to trust the brand — even in “traditionally dry” industries, like finance.
The study found that conversational and casual language makes users feel like the brand is approachable and straightforward. Using a formal voice makes the brand seem not only dull, but intimidating — making it harder for users to trust and interact with the product.
This doesn’t mean the product’s tone has to be funny; humor has a category of its own. This study shows that, while humor can sometimes create moments of surprise and connection, depending on the product and field, it can also “undermine users’ perceptions of trustworthiness and professionalism” (I wrote more about this issue in a previous post).
It was also found that when the tone matches the emotional needs and concerns of the users in the field (for example, a hospital that spoke a friendly and relaxing language), it can reassure users and make them choose one brand over another.
Designing your brand’s voice and tone will define your degree of formality or informality, set the style that will make your users feel they’re in good hands, and determine what kind of humor, if any, your writing should employ.
2. To sharpen your messages — and encourage your users to act
This is exactly what I was looking for! That’s what we want users to feel and think when coming across our products — making them happy to sign up, give us their details, tell us about themselves and their experiences, or buy from us.
To get to this point, that your messages will bring the users exactly what they’re looking for, you need to understand exactly what your users are trying to find — both on a practical level, and emotionally. If you can guarantee this, you can instill in them this confidence from their first interaction with your brand, telling them: Hey, look! You’re in the right place! All you need to do to get what you want is register/click/send/pay.
If your product was designed to give value to the user, this isn’t manipulation; it’s the simple truth.
If you’ve done your work well, you already have a breakdown of your users’ needs and desires, and the value and benefits that your product offers them — meaning you’ve characterized your product both feature-by-feature and as a standalone product in the market.
And, if you haven’t done that yet — well, now’s the time. Without this breakdown, you will not be able to develop strong messaging and language.
To hit your users’ needs and wants, and to make your CTAs sharp and effective, your messaging has to be well-researched and developed — which are basic parts of the voice and tone design process.
This is what Talia Wolf calls Emotional Targeting. In her work she shows how to measure the impact of this precision in your products’ conversion rates. Listen to her webinar with Joanna Wiebe
3. To make users feel that the brand is authentic — and convincing
In an experiment conducted by Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, he examined how people respond to digital products with inconsistent interfaces, specifically inconsistencies between the spoken tone and other elements of the interface.
His findings show that users see inconsistency as a sign that the product is untrustworthy and unreliable; they weren’t convinced by its messages, and it didn’t make them feel anything.
Consistent language, however, with a tone matching the product’s other elements, made users believe that the product was intelligent and persuasive. Users understood the messages better, were moved by them, and were convinced by them.
Nass explains that as humans we strive to create a coherent picture of the personality we’re communicating with. When we’re unable to do it, we feel confused and suspicious — and, ultimately, turned off from pursuing a relationship.
For microcopy writers this means: if a site has innovative design with obsolete voice and tone; if an app is dynamic but the language lags behind; if the product is simple but its language is cumbersome — users won’t trust, understand, or be convinced by the message.
The key to avoiding this? Designing a voice and tone that will give the product a consistent, authentic personality — that’s reliable and compelling.
Click here to get the book summarizing Nass’ experiments
4. To get the most out of the branding you’ve already done
Your branding is the personality we just discussed.
Voice and tone that fits the branding strengthens the brand, adding depth, reliability, and a sense of cohesion. Conversely, voice and tone that doesn’t feel coordinated with visual branding will break down the product persona, compromising user engagement and perceptions of authenticity — as we saw above.
For example, let’s discuss the case of two mobile phone companies. Brand A chooses to emphasize the connection between user, friends, and family; Brand B’s branding is based on technology appreciation. Though the two companies provide similar services, their voices need to communicate their different values in order to be convincing.
Brand A, emphasizing connections and emotions, would be best served by adopting a voice and tone that creates a warm, intimate atmosphere, with sentimental undertones and with the kind of humor everyone gets. Brand B, who puts technology at the center, should work with a sharp voice and tone that relies on technological jargon. If overly sentimental, it might loose some of its high-tech halo.
While there are situations where it makes sense to deviate slightly from your branding strategy, these instances are few and far between; your voice and tone should be built to match and strengthen your brand values.
5. To make writing simpler and (so much!) faster
When I start to write microcopy for a digital product, my first step is to print the already-made voice and tone design. I highlight its main ideas, memorize it, and keep it next to me when diving full-speed ahead into the project.
Let’s say I’m writing the first copy users see when they enter the site. Instead of guessing what the message should be and writing it from scratch, I go into the voice and tone design and find what’s the main thing users are looking for in the site. The information is already there, the only thing left for me to do is figure out how to make words sit well within this specific screen and context.
Same goes for buttons; when writing those texts, I go straight to the word bank I already made in the voice and tone design to grab ideas. When I’m not sure what term to use, I go into the document to see how users say this, and implement it in my writing.
There’s no guesswork. When I’m deciding whether a product should be funny, or answering any of the other questions we addressed above — these answers already exist in the voice and tone design.
An organized voice and tone design, clear writing style, and a well-defined word bank will make writing fast, simple, and natural.
6. To help all your writers keep a consistent voice and tone
Every writer has a personal style, and there’s no way or need to prevent these styles from entering their work. With that being said, messaging has to be based on the points addressed in the voice and tone design — and not left for each writer to decide on their own.
A well-defined voice and tone will guide the work of all your writers, so your brand speaks in a consistent and well-recognized voice wherever it meets your users: website, social media, newsletter, etc.