Voice and Tone in Microcopy
How do we know what to say and how to say it? That's where the Voice and Tone Guide comes in.
Microcopy is what we call all those words and small phrases that help someone use an application or website in an optimal way so that they feel good about themselves and succeed in whatever they wanted to do in the first place.
But how do we know what to write, what messages to project? That’s where the “Voice and Tone Guide” comes in.
First of all, what is voice and tone? Everyone has their own voice through which their personality shines. This is usually pretty constant. What changes is the tone. The tone of your voice changes depending on who you are talking to and the emotional state they are in.
For example, my voice is familiar and friendly. I know my stuff and want to help companies in a clear and straightforward manner, hopefully without sounding patronising. My tone changes according to the person I am talking to. I always try to be clear, but sometimes I need to be reassuring or confident.
So we design the voice and tone of a brand to provide a consistent personality to that brand. TechSmith recently published a great blog post about brand consistency and satisfied customers (link here).
Kinneret Yifrah’s marvellous guide (Microcopy: the Complete Guide) puts it this way:
“Voice and tone design defines the language the brand will use when communicating with its users across all its interfaces. This voice and tone design keeps the language the brand uses in line with its core values and supports them, so as not to create dissonance and unreliability.”
When defining the voice and tone, we need to decide how we want users to relate to us. For example, are we their guide, or maybe their partner? Look at the app or website through fresh eyes to understand how the user might feel at any given point, and then use the appropriate tone. For example, when we ask for their email address, they might become suspicious, so we need to tell them why we need it and what they gain by giving it to us.
How is the Voice and Tone defined? Well the optimal way is to have a brainstorming session with all the key people in the organisation to flesh out the brand’s personality and the target audience. We ask questions and they bounce ideas of each other until we have good solid answers. In my experience this takes around 3 hours. But you don’t always have everyone in the same country, so I have held phone conversations with each person, then got them to look over each other’s answers until they arrived at a consensus.
We also look at similar products, at company presentations, and best of all what customers say, be it when they call support or in focus groups. That’s when we hear their authentic voice and understand what is really important to them.
By going through the process of defining the voice and tone, not only do you understand how to communicate with your users (how formal, if humour can be used, etc.), you also understand what the important messages you want to convey are; you’ll understand what to say to get them to act and feel good about it.
Remember - the relationship has to benefit both sides.