Watch Your Tone!

December 19, 2014

We all know how crucial tone of voice is. But (unless you’re a small company trying to appeal to local customers), it’s easy for brands to generalise when it comes to marketing to countries. Rather than thinking of them as one entity (for example, “the USA”), we have to work hard to divide them up if we really want to target efficiently. So, how exactly do we go about this? And is there more to it than time zones?

The US Regional Planning Association now recognises 11 urban “megaregions” in America, including Arizona Sun Corridor, Great Lakes and the “Texas Triangle”. But, according to an article I read on Econsultancy, relying on time zones is a “form of outdated demographic targeting”. And geography isn’t the only issue. Apparently, a study that looked into the language used on Twitter has suggested that class and social boundaries also play a pivotal role in defining tone of voice on social channels.

We may expect online communities to have less local slang and neologisms (newly-coined terms or words that are yet to be accepted into mainstream language) than their offline counterparts, the analysis of over 100 million tweets has revealed that the opposite is true.

Using a local voice can imply that you are from that area. Which is often a good thing, but it can also place various expectations on your brand. Econsultancy uses the example of its international Facebook page, which now uses US spelling – something it started doing about a year and a half ago. On the blog, they use a “where is the author from?” section and give the writer free rein to use UK or US spelling. But because they are making a focused effort to reach out to American users on Facebook, US spelling is always used. Brands like Walmart are also mentioned on the blog, rather than just Tesco, for example.

Although this will naturally require more research, it can really pay off and helps to communicate both value and relevancy. When it comes to tone of voice, it’s not really a statistic you can track or a design element to be tweaked. Instead, it’s about meticulous planning, doing your homework and, of course, practice.

I must also add that this is a very American-based article, but the nuances are the interesting bit, as this must occur in Europe too. And although I wish I was multilingual and knew the way in which different European countries like to receive their copy or be spoken to, sadly I am not and could only take wild guesses. It’s a fact that our Pan European campaigns go out with one set of copy translated, and I’m contemplating that we ought to be thinking along the lines of our friends over the pond.  Should we consider how each European country likes to be talked to, to get the best response?  Talking to our copywriters, it’s not something that is done, but the team thought it’s a consideration that is very valid and should perhaps be something to invest the time and meticulous planning in.