You can have a fun, friendly tone of voice for a serious or ‘boring’ business. That’s been done, and it’s been done a lot.
In fact, everyone from power companies to dentists is joking around and getting matey with their customers. The fun and friendly brand voice is so common now, it’s no longer surprising or particularly noteworthy.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for fun, friendly copy if it suits your business and brand. But it’s not the only option, and it’s not always the best option either.
Sometimes a fun tone of voice is actually inappropriate – like if you’re dealing with a truly serious topic and joking around too much would be insensitive.
And it’s weird when businesses that were always serious and formal suddenly start trying to joke with you as if they’re your best friend. It’s like being a teenager and watching your mum get drunk with your mates.
Luckily, you don’t have to be funny to have memorable copy. In fact, going against the fun-and-humorous grain with your brand voice can help you stand out.
So if your business is on the serious or ‘boring’ side, that’s okay. The essential element of copy that connects with people isn’t jokes – it’s humanity. And just like there are fascinating people out there who aren’t comedians, your brand doesn’t have to be either.
But a fun, jokey brand voice is so popular these days that it’s hard to imagine what else you might do. Sure, you could do the opposite of that and be dry and boring (stripping your copy of all personality and speaking only in clichés), but obviously that’s not going to be effective.
So in a world where it seems like everyone is trying to be fun and humorous with their brand voice, here are some other engaging options.
The compassionate voice
Empathy is powerful and attractive. People crave it. Think Dear Sugar, but for your business copy. Think Maya Angelou, the patron saint of the empathic voice.
Where fun, quirky copy wants to joke around, make small talk, and nudge you with its elbow, compassionate copy embraces you and says: “Welcome, you’re in the right place. Your problems are real and important, and you shouldn’t have to face them alone. I want to listen to you, understand you, and work with you to make things better.”
This kind of voice is naturally suited to brands that are either in the business of helping people (say, if you’re a dietician or therapist), or are in a position of giving advice or direction to others (such as a coach or tutor).
For example, there’s this from ‘intuitive guide and healer’ Mara Glatzel:
“If I had only ten seconds of your time I would tell you… You are not broken beyond repair.”
But, it’s also possible to be, say, a compassionate software company that takes time to understand its customers’ perspectives. Or a law firm that listens.
Case Study: Ellice Tanner Hart
This boutique law firm makes it clear you’re not dealing with a cold, intimidating bunch of suits. The opening line on their homepage puts you at ease straight away:
We listen more than we talk. Now that’s probably something you’ve never heard a lawyer say.
And there’s this further down the page:
Our promise to our clients is to make a world of difference with the legal services we provide … we will always strive to give more value than we take.
It ain’t funny or quirky, but it’s caring and personal – and therefore memorable.
The industry expert
This brand voice doesn’t have to be unfriendly – just professional, honest, and straight-forward.
The key? Talk the way a professional person would talk to another real-life person. That means using contractions (writing ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’, etc.) and avoiding unexplained jargon that your audience won’t understand.
You should also make an extra effort to cut unnecessary words and phrases from your copy – making it crisp and clean to read and getting your message across more effectively.
The crucial thing is to make your copy truly useful or insightful for your audience. That way, you can be sure they won’t be bored.
Case Study: Fisher Funds
Investment manager Fisher Funds is in a stereotypically boring industry. But they manage to have a friendly tone to their copy without having to be funny or quirky. Here’s an example from their homepage:
At Fisher Funds, investing is all we do. You have our undivided attention.
The tone is authoritative and serious, but warm at the same time.
It helps that they don’t drone on and on about themselves. Being succinct about their experience adds to the sense of authority, because real experts don’t need to go out of their way to prove they’re an expert – their work speaks for itself.
Fisher Funds also does a good job of talking directly to the reader. They use words like ‘you’ and ‘your’ a lot in their copy (including their tagline, ‘With you all the way’), which gives a sense that they’re interested in you personally. Here’s another example:
Communication is as important to us as investing. We want you to be comfortable with our strategies. We’re proud of what we do and want to share it with you.
This inclusive language helps readers feel like they’re beginning a two-way relationship with Fisher Funds. Of course, for that to continue the company must follow through, but as far as web copy goes, being relational can turn serious copy into memorable copy.
The passionate voice
You can be passionate and funny if you want, but this brand voice can easily take a more serious slant and still captivate readers.
The passionate tone of voice is all about caring, a lot. You have strong values; you’re working towards something important. Your copy can be theatrical and dramatic, or just expressive.
A passionate tone is great for charities, values-centred businesses or anyone who’s enthusiastic about what they do. If you’re the kind of business that goes the extra mile and stands for something important (whether that’s providing care for sick animals or delivering impeccable customer service), this could be the brand voice for you.
Bonus points if you can convey your passion without actually saying “We’re passionate about …” It’s far more convincing to use your copy to show rather than tell.
Case Study: Everlane
Ethical clothing brand Everlane isn’t completely devoid of fun copy – they use it sparingly as appropriate. (E.g. ‘Feels like leggings. Looks like you tried.’)
But on the whole, Everlane’s jam is pretty serious. They’re all about being transparent about how their products are made, from how much profit they make to where the item was created. That goes hand-in-hand with the cold, hard truth that a lot of the stuff we buy is made in ways many of us would find unethical.
So while clothing is hardly top of the list for boring topics, Everlane’s point of difference certainly requires a straight face. Here’s their serious but passionate tone in action:
Nothing is worse than complacency, and as a brand our culture is to dissect every single decision we make at every level of the company.
That’s kind of full-on, right? It’s not fun, it’s intense. But it works, because it’s a serious topic. By speaking seriously, Everlane shows it takes ethics seriously.
At the same time, the copy is clean and straight-forward, which matches up with their promise of being transparent. They explain everything clearly, which helps build trust. For example:
We spend months finding the best factories around the world … We visit them often, and build strong personal relationships with the owners.
The copy doesn’t just say Everlane finds the best factories; it specifies they spendmonths doing it. And we know Everlane doesn’t just go there once to take a quick look, because they let us know they visit continually, and know the owners personally. Those details help us picture the process, showing Everlane is passionate about transparency instead of just saying so.
One last note: Don’t feel like your brand voice always has to be the same. If you met someone who was constantly joking around and slinging witty comebacks, even when you just told them your grandma was in hospital, you’d think they were a jerk, right? Emotionally intelligent people know when to be chatty and laid-back, and when to be serious. Your brand can do the same.