When it comes to advertising copy, few things are as important – and as hard to pin down – as tone. Any client can tell you what kind of widget they sell and why their widget is better than their competitors’ widgets – but not all clients have a clear idea of what tone they’re looking for. And, as a copywriter, it’s your job to help them find out. Unless, of course, you really want to write five zillion drafts of that web page until you get the tone just right.
Deciding on tone isn’t as black-and-white as, say, figuring out whether your client prefers bullet points or paragraphs. And, tone is extremely subjective: Something that sounds fun and innovative to one client may seem dry and technical to another.
So, how do you know exactly what your client means when he says that he wants something “energetic, yet fiscally responsible” or “high-energy and professional”?
Read on for a few tips for pitch-perfect tone:
1. Make a list of adjectives. Ask your client for five adjectives that describe her business. For example, does she see her company as hip and cutting-edge? Or would she prefer a straightforward and businesslike approach? Getting a few good descriptive words down is always a good starting point.
2. Ask about your client’s favorite websites (or print ads or blogs). Ask your client for a list of websites he likes, and then go visit them. You should get a pretty clear idea of the tone he has in mind. If all of the websites are serious and technical, it’s probably a good indicator of the tone that will work for him.
3. Provide tone samples. Sometimes, showing is way more effective than telling, and tone samples are a quick and effective way to provide your client with options. Take one page of copy (something pretty basic – I usually like to start with the home page), and rewrite it two or three different ways. Comparing tones side-by-side makes it much easier for you (and your client) to decide which one works.
Keep in mind that, when writing tone samples, it’s absolutely critical that you keep the same information in each sample. If one tone sample includes, say, a list of products and the other sample has a Q & A section, your client may get distracted by the differences in information and pay less attention to tone.
4. Identify your client’s target audience. Tone is going to vary by audience, so make sure you understand exactly who your client is trying to reach. A website geared toward teenage skateboard enthusiasts will be completely different in tone than a website aimed at nuclear physicists, or retirees, or stay-at-home-moms, etc.
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