In this instalment of Words that Bite, I explain why finding the right voice and tone is important when drafting website copy for a professional services firm.
In the last instalment of Words that Bite, I explored the importance of considering writing style when creating copy for a professional services firm’s website. This time, I want to go more deeply into the question of writing style, and examine the role that voice and tone play in creating website copy that actively works to grab the attention of potential clients.
To begin, it might help to show how style, tone and voice differ.
Examples include: friendly, conversational, patronising, intimate, humorous, ironic, etc.
Each of these elements can also be applied to music and I think that Miles Davis, the famous American jazz musician, summed up the question of ‘voice’ well when he said: ‘Don’t play what’s there; play what’s not there.’
Although we often distinguish between style, tone and voice when we talk about writing, it is important to recognise that each of these overlap. Each element should work harmoniously with the others. If they clash, your website copy might end up looking a bit like the man in the photo at the beginning of this post.
When drafting website copy, you need to find your unique style, tone and voice to help distinguish your firm from your competitors. The biggest problem I see with copy created for professional services firms is that most of it lacks any kind of personality. In short, it is bland, and it is as if no thought has been given to the copy’s tone or voice. Ultimately, this means that it is failing to do the one key thing all such copy should do: differentiate a firm from its competitors.
I should point out that I don’t mean that you have to make your copy different for the sake of it. Rather, it is a matter of making an effort to find the most appropriate style, tone and voice for your particular firm.
When it comes to finding the right tone for a piece of copy, the most important thing is to decide who your audience is and then write for that audience.
If you are a top-tier or an international law firm whose clients are mainly in-house counsel with legal backgrounds, then you won’t hesitate to be formal and possibly use legalese in your copy.
However, if you are a family law firm dealing with stressed clients from working-class backgrounds, you might want to adopt a tone that is less formal, or even conversational.
This becomes more difficult if you have several different types of clients, because you then need to create copy that speaks to all of them. Sometimes, you have to pick a tone that speaks to the middle ground and that may mean it is not as punchy as it would be if you were talking only to one type of audience.
I believe that every group of people in a workplace has a ‘collective personality’. Individuals within a group have their own distinct personalities, but once they join a group, that group develops its own personality quite separate from the individuals within it.
A good example from a different context is a school class.
If you ask a teacher how they feel at the beginning of each school year, they will probably confirm that they always feel slightly nervous about meeting their new class or classes. This is because they don’t know what to expect. One year, they can strike a group that is keen to learn and the next they can find they are teaching a group that doesn’t seem interested at all. It is almost like the individuals within the class become subsumed by the collective mentality of the group. And the personality of the group depends on the dynamics between the individuals that make up the group.
This also applies to any company or professional services firm, as each company has its own distinct personality. However, a company or a firm is different from a class in a school because there is a hierarchy, and the people at the top of it usually have more impact on the personality of the firm than those in the middle or at the bottom.
In larger firms, the individual sections or teams tend to have their own distinct personalities. You will often hear young lawyers or accountants in such firms say that they want to work with a particular group not because of the type of work they do, but because they are a ‘nice’ or fun group’. You may also hear a junior say that they don’t want to work in a particular team because it is perceived as unfriendly, or is known for making juniors’ lives miserable.
So, if every professional services firm has a personality and that personality can be used to market the firm in a positive way and also distinguish it from its competition, then you should use that personality to try to win clients.
One way to do that is by designing a website that visually represents the personality of the firm. However, it is also important to ensure that the copy on the website is written in a way that reflects it.
Yes, I think you can and, in a sense, all branding is manufactured. However, I also think that, in the case of professional services firms, it helps that the firm represented in the branding and on the website resembles what a client will see and feel when they walk in the door. It is not an area where you can get away with tricks or gimmicks.
In short, if the personality that is presented to the world matches the real thing, clients won’t feel disappointed or cheated when they walk in the door. For example, if a client comes across a website that presents a hip and groovy firm and decides to retain the firm on that basis, that client will have certain expectations. If they turn up for a meeting and are greeted by decor that resembles that of a funeral parlour, they might be disappointed.
All in all, it is a good idea to ensure that the personality you choose to present to the world matches the firm.
The best way of finding your firm’s voice is through understanding its personality.
If you aren’t sure, review the sites of thirty of your competitors and identify the ones that have managed to find their personality and have used that personality to find their voice.
Use their work to inspire you.
Most importantly, though, don’t be a copycat.
When you are preparing copy for your firm’s website, you should make sure you think about the following three elements:
The idea is to come up with copy that reflects the personality of your firm and helps you attract clients.
Do you need help with your website copy? The Pink Rottweiler loves researching professional services firms and then finding the magic words that capture the brand. If you would like to chat about your firm’s website copy, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.