Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

Getting the right tone of voice for your writing

We’re very sophisticated at using different tones of voice from an early age. From our first playground moments, most of us are aware that we use certain words for specific people. We’re brilliantly adaptable at this, so there is no reason why we can’t get it right with our writing, too.

Using the most appropriate tone of voice for your website, blog or printed material makes sure that you are addressing the people you want to reach in the way that works best and appeals most to them. Are you talking to the teacher or your classmates?

 

What is tone of voice?

Simply, it’s how we speak, or in this case, write.

The easiest way to think of tone of voice is to imagine your brand is a person (easy enough if you’re a self-employed tattooist; harder if you’re a hotel). If you ran into them, how would they greet you? Are they chatty or quite formal? Are they relaxed or lively? Do they handshake or hug? If your hotel is a five star establishment catering for high-end business people, the brand-person will greet you warmly but politely, using fairly formal but cordial language. If it’s a seaside B&B, they might offer you a scone (linguistically speaking).

 

Why do we need one?

How a business communicates is a crucial part of its brand. A marketing expert could tell you that the voice builds confidence, helps identify the unique qualities of a brand, and creates consistency to support the brand values.

From the writer’s point of view, it makes sure we’re saying the right things to our audience. Some pieces of writing have to be general as they have a broad audience (the BBC news website for example), and then general principles of clear writing apply. At the other end of the scale, there are many businesses that speak to very defined customers – think of really esoteric products and services (erm…reptile food?), or very specific tribes (anything that’s opened in Shoreditch recently). If you’re writing B2B (business to business) text, you may be more formal than if you’re selling cupcakes to general customers.

You may be explaining a complicated service to a lay audience, and that’s one of the occasions when thinking about your voice is crucial – you can’t address your non-expert customers in the same way you’d speak to one of your colleagues. It often takes real conscious effort to step back and talk about your specialist subject using a different vocabulary.

 

How do we find our voice?

There are many good marketing businesses that can help you with this – it’s a great topic for a brainstorming workshop. This isn’t always possible or affordable, so here are a few suggestions, from the writing point of view.

Choose a handful of words that best describe your business. Quality, welcoming, good value, friendly, professional, expert, innovative, quirky, classic, business-like, relaxed, fun, creative… Go with three or four. If you’re a high-end retailer, you may have chosen quality, expert, classic, for example. Then, every time you write a section of text, look over it again. Think – do my words reflect these qualities? Use your chosen words, but don’t overdo it. Think of synonyms, and then you start to build your own vocabulary.

I create a lexicon for the business. For most of my clients, I have a list of words and phrases that suit their brand and (I hope) appeal to their audience(s). To return to the posh shop example, I may have added trusted, service, professional, indulgent, elegant, and no doubt a whole host of superlatives.

Next, how do you want to talk to them? Are you Big Sister dispensing hair care advice, or Vidal Sassoon doing the same thing? Do you want to seem friend or expert? Simple things like how often you use the word “you” establishes the level of warmth you want to get though, as it builds a direct rapport. Think about the real physical customers you come into contact with – how do they speak?

I’d also add, be as authentic as possible. Look how much we all cringe when politicians attempt to be more “street”. As a writer I’m used to being adaptable and borrowing other people’s voices – but I still know my limitations, and didn’t take on the job that required the writing to have “a Jamaican lilt”… If you have a colleague or friend who is closer to the target market than you are, use them!

 

Now speak!

 The best thing about this exercise is that you really think about the way you write. It’s good to pause and think about how you speak, how your actual business would speak if it could, and how your customers themselves speak.

Keep your three or four main words in mind, and go back to them constantly. If you read a page or paragraph and it doesn’t feel “extreme, funky, young” and you think it should, revisit that writing. I keep the lexicon, the word-list, in front of me when I’m writing for a specific client – it’s a handy crib if I’m feeling short of suitable words.

And as ever, I’m always happy to help, and can work with you to create a tone of voice document as a handy reference for your business writing (shameless, self-publicist, brazen…).

The Apprentice – talking the talk

After learning how to talk like bakers last week, this week – how (not) to talk like an entrepreneur. Welcome back, The Apprentice.

It would be too easy to critique the language of The Apprentice. Business-speak has amused us all for years. Just Google it, and there are so many articles listing choice hyperbolic expressions. Characterised by insane analogies (“It was a case of low-hanging fruit”) and borrowings from more conventionally macho jobs (“We need to look under the bonnet”), it is endlessly entertaining to those who never have to speak it.

I confess to having been fairly fluent in this language. For the first few weeks after leaving the “robust” language of the shop floor and joining the strategic team in the offices, I struggled with this new way of communicating. Then I realised that if you just stuck a “going forwards” on the end of most sentences, you got away with it. It was that simple. I was in their radar. It is the lexical equivalent of putting on a suit, and just as shallow.

So, what I loved about The Apprentice last night was that it’s become very conscious of its own language. Lord Sugar, an admirably jargon-free talker (when will the candidates learn from that??), said to one chap, “I read that you ‘dislike corporate speak’.” He then proceeded to read out a statement from another candidate’s CV. I tried to jot it down, but I can’t write that fast. It was stunning; a real master-class in corporate jargon. Lord Sugar concluded with: “What a load of [insert noun here]”. Lord Sugar also introduced new aide Claude: “He tells it as it is.” Take note, candidates – Lord S is dropping some very strong hints here about communication.

My favourite part, words-wise, is the little introductory clips where the candidates talk about themselves to camera. I am sure there is some researcher screeching “Sound ridiculous! Come on, you don’t sound self-absorbed enough! More bonkers analogies please!”  However they manage to speak with such straight faces that I’m convinced they mean it. My favourite this year is “I am the Swiss-army knife of business skills”. Excellent. Please open this beer for me.

But – and this is what really captured my attention – is the second that they started running around trying to buy, cook, and sell fish (I loved this task), the posturing language all went. They started to talk like real people. Put someone in a pair of work wellies, and any talk of “blue-sky thinking” vanishes faster than squid in a taverna. In fact maybe they went a bit too colloquial – buy the fish because “it’s bloody nice” probably won’t win any sales awards. I quite liked the use of “Power Hour” to describe the last panicky bit where they feverishly flog everything – borrowed from the drinking game, or is that an actual Apprentice-created term?

So, aside from overusing “specification” (much more masculine than “recipe”, don’t you think?), some nice, normal speech. Then – back to the boardroom and it all goes horribly wrong again… In her self-introduction, one candidate stated: “I’m suited, I’m booted – come on!” And that sums it up. On with the suit, out with the business speak. Stick a person who has shown all signs of being a perfectly good communicator next to a jug of corporate water and a large table, and he or she starts talking like David Brent again. The losing team had a “massive complication”. No you didn’t – you made a mistake. You can’t hide errors behind overblown language. You bought the wrong fish.

However, much to my delight, this year they have a self-proclaimed “wordsmith”. I shall be listening to him with great interest, and maybe he can keep the corporate speak in check.  But don’t laugh at these guys too much for their language. Like the jackets, jargon is something you put on to portray an image. As they grow in confidence, they’ll all calm down and start speaking in their usual idioms again. Going forwards.

The Great British Bake Off and the language of cake

I worry about myself sometimes. Even when faced with lavish piles of cake, I still home in on the words. The Great British Bake Off has given our national lexicon far more than a soggy bottom. Here is my take on the scrumptious language of cake.

 

It’s jolly rude…

The innuendo! Goodness me. The splendid Mel and Sue (with some help from naughty Mary) have brought back the language of the Carry On films, and what could possibly be more British than seaside postcard humour? Of course, “soggy bottom” has already entered the British consciousness, and in this series, we’ve had a jolly romp through plums, buns, nuts, tarts and er, cracks. It’s back to the old “naughty but nice” cream cakes campaign of the early eighties.

 

We can all sound like experts

I love this about this sort of show. It allows us to pretend we’re experts by giving us the language. I can talk about “even bakes” just like Mary and Paul can, and shake my head knowingly when the dough simply wasn’t given long enough to prove. And to sound like proper bakers, we all casually drop in a reference to “crem pat”.

(See also: talking about non-standard construction with Martin and Lucy; shaking your head with Kevin McCloud; savaging a CV with Claude.)

 

It’s very definite

 Suddenly, things that don’t usually use one have the definite article. It’s like being French. “The bake wasn’t good”, frowns Paul. The bake. The rise. The prove. It makes them sound rather menacing, as if these things have taken on a life of their own.

 

There are random new cake words

The Bakes themselves can be splendidly esoteric. I have small kids: I bake cupcakes and not much else. Now – wow! I have a whole new vocab of cakes I’ve never heard of. Mokatines, entremets, and the impressively bonkers tennis cake. I still can’t pronounce millefeuille, but was pleased to hear that no one else can either.

 

It can be beautiful

 Nadiya’s speech at the end of the 2015 GBBO final had the nation welling up. She may have become famous for her wonderfully communicative face, but her words are equally expressive.

“I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say ‘I don’t think I can’. I can and I will.”

As lovely and reassuring as a freshly-baked sponge.

Walking to find words

In a very British way, I’m boringly passionate about the benefits of fresh air and exercise, much to the irritation of my children. I’ve blogged previously about ways to get around writer’s block; however my personal all-time favourite way is just to go for a  walk.

Even when I worked for A Large DIY Chain on the outskirts of town, near absolutely nothing of any interest, I’d still get out during my lunch break and have a quick stank (Cornish for “brisk walk”) along the main road, Alan Partridge style.  The other option was to poke around one of the local suburban estates, admiring the clipped lawns – not exactly exciting, but I’d still return to my monitor rosy of cheek and fresh of mind.

Because just getting away from it is a wonderful way to collect your thoughts – just step away from the desk and into another environment, however brief, however mundane the surroundings. As I walk, words come to me. I especially love it at this time of year, as there’s the added bonus of crunching through leaves (and let’s be honest, who ever really grows out of doing that?).

There’s plenty of stuff out there on the health benefits of walking every day, and as a desk-hogger with a biscuit habit, it’s just as well that I like to move about a bit. (Although earlier in the week, my work involved writing about James Bond, and nothing could have dragged me away from Google images and Daniel Craig…) But as well as the leg-stretching, it’s the opportunity to clear my mind that I really appreciate.

So, at a loss for words for this blog, off I ambled down the lane to the post box. It was one of those beautiful Cornish autumn days. The sun was out. There were lots of leaves to crunch through. I even saw a squirrel. And I came up with a blog post – about walking.