How to find the right tone of voice for your business blog

Blogging gives you valuable contact with your clients and customers – but finding the right tone of voice can be tricky. Here are six suggestions to help you write with confidence

Photograph of an old-style microphone to illustrate a post about finding your tone of voice for bloggingPhotograph by Antoine Beauvillain

Writing a blog can feel a little bit like performing on stage. It’s exposing and unnerving and it’s hard to relax and settle into it. The good news is that, unlike belting out “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” in front of the whole school, you can edit, change things around, correct your mistakes and rewrite clunky sentences. On the flip side, blogging is not something you can really practise or prepare for to any great extent – obviously you can write posts without publishing them but ultimately you just need to dive in there and get on with it, learning as you go.

One of the hardest things to develop is the right tone of voice. You’re talking to your customers, or potential customers, after all, so surely you need to sound professional? But blogs are a little different from other business materials – you’re not talking as your brand but as yourself. And, yes, you are representing your business but the whole point of a blog is to strip away some of the formalities between you and your clients and let them get a glimpse of your personality. This may sound like a dangerous game but who would you want to do business with – a faceless company or someone you know, even just a little bit?

In fact, people are far more likely to do business with someone they know, like and trust – and these are the key factors that should drive your blog content and the way in which you write. Let’s break it down with a six-point plan to help you find the right tone of voice for your blog.

1. Imagine you’re writing to a single person…
When the late, great Terry Wogan was asked how many listeners he had (around eight million in fact), he answered: “Only one.” And this, many people have suggested, was the secret of his success – he talked as if he were chatting away to one person: no grandstanding or gimmicks, no boasting, and no need to surround himself with a fawning entourage to laugh at all his jokes. He could have been beside you in the room and I think that the most successful bloggers take a similar approach. They talk directly to you because they know that, much like listening to the radio, blog reading is a solitary activity so they have a great opportunity to connect with every individual member of their audience. If you find this difficult, imagine your are writing an email to just one of your customers. You would use a different tone from the one you might use if you were writing, say, an e-newsletter that was being sent to your entire database – less formal, more chatty, more warm and friendly. That’s the tone you want to use.

2. …and know who they are
It also helps to have a clear idea of who this one person might be – up to a point. Chances are you already have an idea of your “typical customer” – so try to flesh that out with a bit more detail and speak directly to that one person. A lot of business people suggest that you should know everything about your ideal customer, from their age, gender, location and job to their cultural interests, likes and dislikes, favourite shops, dream holidays, hobbies, habits, etc – but I don’t think you need to go that far. If you are producing a very niche product or service then this could work well, and it would probably be an interesting exercise for any business to spend some time on. But, at the end of the day, your customers are likely to be a relatively diverse group of people. What you really need to work out is what they all have in common, ie, why would they come to you for help, or buy your product? What do they all struggle with? What are their “pain points”? (Hideous marketing jargon – my apologies.) What do they all need from you? Once you’ve got that list sorted, you can start to amalgamate them into one typical client – and have that person in mind when you’re writing. For more on this topic, see this post by creative coach Jen Carrington.

3. Show you’re human and use your natural voice
OK, so your blog is not the place to sound off about your dreadful day, your marital woes, or your precarious financial situation. But there’s no need to pretend that your life – even your working life – is all sunshine and rainbows, either. No, you don’t want to tell your customers about the time you lost a week’s worth of orders or flooded your own studio, but it’s fine to admit that not everything runs smoothly all the time. Being honest and truthful will help you speak in a natural voice that more closely resembles the way you speak, and that will encourage your readers to engage with you more closely. Customers like to know that there are real people behind a brand, who deal with the same kind of issues as they do, and that knowledge will reinforce their relationship with you. I follow a lot of design blogs, most of which are produced by women with young children, and they have all written a post at some point that details their struggle to balance their commitments while maintaining some semblance of a professional façade. Those posts generally get a massive response, with lots of grateful readers thanking them for their honesty, relieved to know that their picture perfect blogs do not tell the whole story. That kind of truthfulness helps people warm to you and feel that they know you a little better and, ironically, they’re more likely to trust you if you’re prepared to admit that things do go wrong. So that’s all our “know, like and trust” boxes ticked in one go.

4. Share your interests
Generally, people will come to your blog because they are interested in your area of work – not just the products you make or the service you provide, but your general field of interest. If they are drawn to your brand, they will likely be drawn to other things that are related or associated with your brand. So, if you make art deco style ceramics, for instance, your customers will probably also be interested in other types of ceramics and how they’re made, antique ceramics, the 1920s and 1930s in general, art deco style, interiors and interior styling… you get the idea. They will look to you as an expert who can tell them more about the subject, give tips and advice, inform them of upcoming events, and suggest places to visit and shops to explore. However little you feel like an expert or guru, you probably know a lot more than you realise. So share as much as you can with your readers – anything that you’ve found useful or helpful is likely to be of interest to them so be generous with your advice and ideas. But sharing, rather than teaching, is the key word here and will help you strike the right tone of voice. It’s vital not to patronise or preach – potential customers want to feel that you’re knowledgeable and wise, but they don’t want to be talked down to. They should feel they are in safe hands and that you know what you’re talking about, so it’s important to sound confident and knowledgeable. But don’t be tempted to lecture them or show off – the idea is to share your passion with like-minded people.

5. Don’t keep your reader at arm’s length
A blog is a public space that allows your customers to interact with you, should they wish to. They might want to comment on a post you’ve written or they might want to ask a specific question or make a suggestion. It’s a great way of getting feedback and improving your customer service, so make sure that you invite that kind of communication as you write. Address your reader directly, ask questions (rhetorical or otherwise), and make it clear that you’re interested in what they’ve got to say. Oh, and don’t forget to tick the “Allow comments” box on your dashboard!

6. Write about a subject you care about
The best way to really find the right tone of voice – the one that you feel comfortable with and that suits your brand – is to write about things you’re passionate about. When you’re writing about a subject you love and know plenty about, the words are bound to flow more easily. And when that happens, the right tone of voice will follow.

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