What does it mean to speak with a conversational voice? After all, different people all have varied opinions on what constitutes casual. Also, the type of tone that suits one particular topic of discussion might be fiercely inappropriate elsewhere.
A conversational voice is one that shies away from formality in favor of direct, information-oriented discourse. These voices are dynamic enough to incorporate various idioms, personal nuances, and emotional connotations. They may also exchange some of the more difficult grammar rules for free-flowing back-and-forth.
In these times of increasingly informal interactions, you need a guide to penetrate the mess. Fortunately, we’ve laid bare the unknowns of conversational competency.
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This post was updated in May 2021
A Primer on Voices in Art, Advertising, and Business Communication
When examining literary and other forms of artistic work, academics commonly refer to something called the story, or author’s, voice. This is the sum of the creator’s style, incorporating everything from their speech patterns to their word choices.
In media, story voices take many forms, and you’ll often see more than one example in a single work. For instance, many advertisements feature characters that substitute for brands and consumers. These figures usually distinguish themselves from each other by speaking in unique character voices.
Except for autobiographical works, character voices are typically separate from the author’s tone. They may, however, overlap with the narrator’s voice as characters take on the duty of educating the audience.
How does this all apply to marketing? Your voice sets the tone for your future interactions with readers, consumers, partners, and other audiences. For instance, you might adopt an extremely formal stance when creating a publicly available corporate charter. When drafting internal team-building memos, on the other hand, being casual is often more productive.
What Is a Conversational Voice?
A conversational voice exemplifies the everyday language, or vernacular, of its surroundings. A good example is the type of casual style that commonly crops up in emails, texts, Tweets, and similar space-restricted communications. Such content tends to come across as far richer by including the following elements:
- Contractions: “We’d prefer it if you’d stop,” instead of, “We would prefer it if you could stop.”
- Relaxed grammar or regional expressions: “Y’all will love our fresh gear,” instead of “You might like our new offerings.”
- Less stiff language: “Be careful around the dangerous area,” instead of, “Please exercise caution near the hazard zone.”
- Slang: “Join us for a heart-to-heart,” instead of, “We’d like to invite you to a meeting.”
- Direct address and implied second person: “Come check out our new spot,” instead of “We’re inviting all of our customers to our grand opening.”
Is Conversational Voice the Same as Casual Voice?
The distinction between casual and conversational can be a tricky one. After all, conversations don’t all sound the same. What’s more, some people naturally express themselves very formally or casually. Where should you stand?
Consider what kind of brand voice you’ve already cultivated to decide what’s appropriate for the future. For instance, imagine that you’re reviewing all of your old official emails in preparation for a new marketing push. You discover that, although it’s approachable, your public-facing outreach never uses slang even though your whole workforce regularly does. As a result, it might be wise to draw a line between how you write to customers and how you speak around the office.
Let’s look at another example. You’re building a customer service system designed to handle your remarketing, or connecting with people who previously interacted with your brand. You’d like the software to automatically send emails to shoppers who abandon their digital carts. When programming the system with predetermined text snippets, you decide to take a multipronged approach. For instance, you’ll use your least-formal voice to reach out to new site visitors but reserve the white-glove tone for loyal buyers.
There’s no universal rule here — even if some grammar experts would wish otherwise. It’s all about finding a tone that
- Makes sense in context with your other branding, such as ad copy, social posts, and product descriptions,
- Gives your marketing the ideal mood for building your target brand personality, and
- Flows naturally so that your customers find you accessible.
Remember these basics, and you’ll be primed to engage people.
Why Is Conversational Tone Important in Advertising?
Advertising is a bit different from literature and other types of multi-voiced creative work. A traditional radio commercial, for instance, can’t include the other person in the conversation — although audio advertising trends are making such outreach more personally relevant. Since much of casual dialog arises in response to what others have to say, it can be hard to choose the perfect approach.
Fortunately, you don’t need a crystal ball to find an optimal balance. Just as healthy conversations thrive on mutual accommodation, good marketing content goes halfway. Here are some reasons why:
People Like Feeling Included
Even if your radio spot’s listeners aren’t in the trenches writing the script beside you, they shouldn’t feel like outsiders. Keep them involved by using a casual tone to clarify the cultural references, jokes, and other elements that make your ad personable.
Conversational Tones Humanize Enterprises
A casual tone can make your brand easier to engage with. Accessible language helps companies sound like they’re powered by actual humans instead of boardrooms full of faceless investors. An ad with a conversational tone might also be more natural for viewers or listeners to consume. You’ll notice this frequently in commercials for industrial or niche products. These spots use everyday speech to explain complex technical ideas and lower the barriers to entry for sustainable engagement.
Casual Voicing Helps You Fit In
Remember that not all casual branding takes the form of a blatant advertisement. For instance, when companies respond to Yelp or Google reviews, what they write can help educate others about their values. Enterprises that want to market on multiple fronts use these platforms to expand the reach of their voices. By engaging in casual conversation the same way reviewers and customers do, they promote themselves as forward-thinking, youthful firms. They also avoid sticking out like sore thumbs of the social media landscape.
When Should My Brand Use Conversational Voice?
In addition to the examples we’ve already covered, many other circumstances call for informality:
Creating Internal Communications
If you’re a manager or exec, then you know that sowing information can be like pulling teeth. After all, your team members don’t want to deal with whatever extra burdens you’re probably assigning them. They’ve already got work to do, so it’s as if you’re fighting against gravity.
Casual language can soften the impact of internal communications. Even better, you can still maintain a conversational air without dancing around essential or serious issues. When you’re trying to win people over, tasteful informality makes you sound less needy.
Performing Consumer Relationship Management
Identifying the ideal casual tone is one of the holy grails of CRM. Most modern companies routinely send out emails with exclusive offers that are specific to individual recipients. These messages usually take an extremely casual tone and use active, imperative verbiage. For instance, it’s not uncommon to receive marketing emails that command you to “visit,” “try,” “experience,” or even “fall in love with” a product, venue, or service. Although most people would rightfully ask why they should listen to some random person who met them on the street with such demands, you usually get a bit more leeway in inboxes.
Writing Public Relations Content
PR content, such as press releases, doesn’t always have to be formal, so reflect on your audience’s expectations. If you were announcing a new partnership with a charity, then you’d sound more humble if you discussed your contributions in direct terms without fanfare. When responding to controversies on social media, writing a casual-language post might help you move the dialog forward.
Yes, in most cases, PR should be solemn, but avoid overdoing it. For instance, suppose that your boss tasked you with creating an apology for a data breach. As Creative Bloq points out, humor, direct address, and slang have all been used with excellent results by brands. Depending on the context, these fundamentals of casual tone might even help you sound more honest. After all, there’s nothing less genuine than a written apology that reads like a corporate form letter.
Conversational voice is integral to commercials. Using different tones makes it easier for people to follow ads. Mixing in a pinch of casual tone is the logical next step.
Conversation-style commercials make people feel like they’re listening in on an organic dialog. For instance, if a stay-at-home dad hears the people in your diaper commercial speaking like he naturally does, he’s more likely to identify with your brand. If your content is so stodgy that it sounds like a technical description, he’ll probably look elsewhere for his nappies.
Advertising narrators can also take a conversational tone. Instead of just droning on about a product’s features, you might try
- Directly telling people what benefits they can get using a positive, upbeat, “You can…” construction,
- Building rapport by asking questions, such as, “Have you ever tried…,” or, “Are you tired of…,”
- Making your brand more accessible by sharing naturally spoken anecdotes, like “We started Company X because we believed…,” or “We’re passionate about…,” or
- Showing solidarity with social groups or causes, à la, “We feel your pain…,” or “We stand with you…”
Can a Conversational Voice Be Too Conversational?
Although you might feel ready to pitch an ad where the narrator swears like a sailor, resist the urge just yet. While we empathize with your desire to cut loose, there is such a thing as overly casual:
Pick Your Stance
One of the easiest ways to slip up when managing marketing campaigns is being inconsistent. Have you set a tone that exudes a certain level of formality? Stick to your decision, albeit within reason. If your voice changes wildly from one interaction to another, then it gives off the impression that your company lacks direction.
Don’t Abuse the Audience’s Goodwill
Also, remember that there has to be room for nuance. Just because customers seemed to like your funny, plain-spoken ads doesn’t mean they’ll still be laughing when you make a political joke. It’s important to distinguish between acceptable conversational speech constructions and appropriate conversational topics — Don’t say something that you wouldn’t share in mixed company.
Understand How Things Might Translate
Handling conversational voices may also prove problematic when it comes to marketing content translation. For instance, Japan’s businesses are notorious for using extremely formalized speech, known as manual keigo, when addressing customers. If you try to rewrite your ads in Japanese without getting rid of your American informalities, you might come off as disrespectful. Similarly, brands that try to break into new markets without first studying what’s socially acceptable may be walking on perilously thin ice. Fortunately, experts understand how to adapt their translation processes for unique cultures.
Exploring Your Conversational Voice
Warnings aside, a conversational voice is a powerful communication tool. From marketing to disseminating standard operating procedures, knowing how to personalize the way you converse is vital to keeping others listening. As you develop your outreach content library, be self-aware enough to find a tone that you personally wouldn’t mind striking up a conversation with — and always be open to feedback.
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