It used to be the case that, when you picked up something in the supermarket and flipped it over, you’d expect to read something dull and austere. There’d be a list of barely intelligible ingredients, maybe something about the quality of the product and the solid gold intentions of the brand, but that would be more or less it.
Then something strange happened.
Shampoo bottles started poking fun at us, smoothies disarmed us with cute little quips, brands of all shapes and sizes began cracking gags left right and centre in a bid to make us buy their stuff, and for a long time, they were praised for it.
Fast forward a decade or so and here we are: in a world of peak chat. While tone of voice as a marketing tool has been studied and formalised time and time again at this point, it still seems that many brands default to chatty when tone of voice needs a revamp. The real problem now is that’s just not going to differentiate you anymore.
Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Chatty vs conversational
Let’s start by taking a look at the difference between conversational and chatty. While conversational just means in the style of a conversation, chatty is something we would attribute to a person; someone who is comfortable talking or likes to talk a lot is chatty. You can write copy that’s conversational without your tone of voice scanning as chatty, and if you only take one thing away from this article, let it be that.
Of course, that’s not to say that chatty doesn’t work for some brands. If it fits, it fits. Just don’t conflate having a tone of voice with being buddy-buddy with your audience.
Why conversational is good
If we all spoke how we wrote, conversations might be a little more accurate, sure, but they certainly wouldn’t be very relaxing. Languages and dialects have developed in the way they have because it makes communication more efficient and comfortable. It’s not just about sharing information, it’s about relating to one another.
So trying to write copy a little closer to how we speak is a good thing because it makes communication more universal. It narrows the gap between consumers and brands and goes some way to diminishing the us-and-them dynamic.
Why chatty isn’t always good
Conversational copy is good because it feels like human interaction. Chatty copy can be problematic because it assumes that the best kind of human interaction is the sort you have with a close friend, and then it tries to channel this energy everywhere without restraint or filter.
The way we communicate with our friends is special, that much rings true for everyone, but the key problem is we don’t want to be friends with crisp packets, milk cartons or shampoo bottles. It’s tolerable in small doses, perhaps even funny, but when 90% of the inanimate objects in any given shop start getting a little overfamiliar, it’s exhausting. And, of course, they rarely know when to stop. Are heavily lopsided conversations something you look for in a friend? We’re going to assume you’re shaking your head.
So what should we aim for when deciding on our tone of voice?
It’s simple: stay true to what your brand is all about - don’t chase trends. If you think that chatty is truly a good fit for your brand and will resonate with your target audience, then by all means, go for it. But if you think something subtle might be more apt, don’t be afraid to keep it pared back. Having a tone of voice doesn’t mean you need to hit everyone over the head with it.
The key to any tone of voice is authenticity and consistency, so stay true to your brand, don’t be tempted to spice it up for the sake of it, and you’ll be well on your way to forming a brand-defining tone of voice!