What’s more important — what you say or how you say it?

Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

Your technical expertise — and the technical expertise of your people — has been integral to the success of your business so far.

But when it comes to marketing your business and getting your name out there, their technical skills aren’t what you need.

The incredible individuals who write beautiful lines of elegant code aren’t so good at writing sentences that sell.

The results are letting the business down because they’re selling you short. You aren’t ready to employ a full-time copy or content writer yet so you’re reliant on what your in-house team can achieve. What can you do?

I think there are two issues to unpick here.

The first is the way your business sounds — its tone of voice. Your business might sound tech-y, geeky or slightly more formal than you’d ideally like.

The second is the information you’re putting out there — the way you sell your product or service.

It’s vastly more important to get the second right than the first. Let’s look at why.

Don’t (necessarily) worry about your tone of voice

Your tone of voice is the way your business sounds. It’s the words equivalent of your logo and branding.

If your marketing materials are being written by your technical people, the chances are your tone of voice will be quite formal, possibly a little dry and understated. This may or may not be a problem — here are three examples.

If you’re a B2B business

In the context of B2B marketing, which is my area of expertise, I’d say it isn’t as big a problem as you think. In B2B marketing, ultimately, you need to appeal to people’s rational minds. Yes, you can attract them with sparkling prose or witty one-liners but at some stage people will want — or need — to hear the rational argument for why they should spend company funds on you. When your technical people write for you, this is where they’ll excel.

If you’re still a small business

If your technical people’s roles also include onboarding customers or troubleshooting customer queries, they are the face of your business as well as the brains.

Imagine a situation where your marketing copy sounds bouncy, shiny or a little bit wacky. Then imagine how a customer will feel if they get in touch and speak to a member of your dev team who’s brilliant but also introverted and prone to sounding rather stilted until you get to know them. It will feel, as I heard it fantastically described recently, like tonal whiplash.

If you’re selling to tech types

As well as sounding like you, you also need to sound like someone that would appeal to your target customers.

If you’re selling a technical solution to technical people, you don’t want a tone of voice that gets in the way. You want a tone of voice that one tech person would use when talking about a tech solution to another tech person. In other words, exactly the way they’d talk naturally.

Equally, if you’re selling a serious solution, then a serious tone of voice might be appropriate. If you’re selling software that checks system security, a happy-go-lucky tone won’t inspire confidence in your solution. Best to stick to a tone of voice that’s quietly factual.

Focus on your attention on how you’re selling your product or service

The bigger issue in your marketing might be the way you’re selling your product or service.

As technical people, you and your team are likely interested in the technical details. The clever line of code here, the innovation there.

To a greater or lesser extent, your target audience doesn’t care about these technical elements in and of themselves. They care about what those technical elements mean for them.

This even applies when you’re talking to a tech audience. They won’t buy from you because they’re impressed by the elegance of your code. They’ll buy from you because your elegant code solves a problem they face. It’s vital that you highlight the problem that you’re solving. You might think that your audience are clever enough to work out why your code is so useful for themselves. They might be. But why run the risk or make them work harder than they need to?

If you’re selling to a technical audience, you’ll definitely need to include information on how a particular feature works. They’ll want to see ‘under the bonnet’ so they can be confident that your solution will do what you say it will.

If you aren’t selling to a tech audience, you don’t need to go into such detail. Sadly, they won’t actually care about how your solution works, just that it does. This applies in B2C settings, obviously. It also applies in B2B settings where the people making the buying decision aren’t the people who’ll actually be using it. You’ll need to make a strong use case to prove that your solution is worth it.

Let’s take Xero accounting software as an example. Behind the scenes, the code required to make this system work must be incredibly complex. But Xero is selling to small business owners. They don’t care about the code, they care that there’s a solution that takes the hassle out of accounting.

Here’s some text from the website:

Get your books done faster
Xero can automatically handle tasks that used to take up all of your time. From importing bank transactions to sending invoice reminders, we’ll do the work for you.
Feel confident in your numbers
With all your data stored safely and in one place, it’s easy to get a snapshot of how your business is tracking. You can also invite your accountant or bookkeeper into Xero so they’ll ensure you meet all your tax obligations.
Add more to your software
Look after your staff with Xero Payroll and drive profitability on your projects with Xero Projects. It’s fully integrated with Xero so you can keep all your business information in one handy place.
Do business from anywhere, on any device
It’s easy to access all your data and Xero tools from anywhere — just connect to the internet. Plus, keep all your essentials like invoicing and payroll at your fingertips with Xero’s mobile app.

The tone of voice is quiet, confident and straightforward. The content is resolutely non-technical.

On the other hand, let’s look at Selenium IDE, a tool that automates web testing. Its market is web developers and QA teams. Here is how it sells some of its features:

Resilient Tests
Selenium IDE records multiple locators for each element it interacts with. If one locator fails during playback, the others will be tried until one is successful.
Test Case Reuse
Through the use of the run command, you can re-use one test case inside of another (e.g., allowing you to re-use your login logic in multiple places throughout a suite).
Control Flow
Selenium IDE ships with an extensive control flow structure, with available commands like if, while and times. To learn more, check out the Control Flow documentation.

The tone of voice is unobtrusive. The text highlights the benefits first, but backs them up with technical detail.

The vital importance of the basics

One other thing to bear in mind is the quality of your language. Whatever you say and however you say it, it’s vital to get the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation right.

When you make mistakes, the best case scenario is that a reader doesn’t notice. But if they do notice, they’ll make judgments about the quality elsewhere in your business.

Website Planet carried out research and found that typos on the landing page increased bounce rate by 85% and reduced time on site by 8%. In the short term it means you lose out on sales from people who came to your site and immediately left. But there are bigger risks too. One of the metrics Google uses to rank your site is bounce rate. If Google notices a high bounce rate, it signals that the site is not trustworthy and lowers its ranking in results, making it harder for you to attract traffic.

The bottom line

You probably don’t need to worry about your tone of voice.

You do need to worry about getting your messages right and making sure they’ve been thoroughly proofread. If you need to enlist the services of professionals to achieve either of these things, then do.

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