So, you’ve got your organisation’s website copy, marketing materials, customer letters and other bits and pieces rewritten in a human, friendly tone of voice. Well done! (If you haven’t, you really should – why not have a chat with us about how to get started?).

But have you covered everything?

Recently I visited the website of a big UK business. They’d done a brilliant job with their writing. There was no business jargon on any of the main pages, very few passive sentences, everything was clear, and the tone of voice was friendly and warm.

Except there was one thing they’d forgotten. When the home page loaded, a dialogue popped up and demanded my attention with the following words:

Customers are advised that for an optimal browsing experience cookies are utilized on this site. Click “I accept” to indicate your acceptance of this.

Whoops

At a stroke, this ghastly nugget of corporate speak made the friendly tone of the main copy seem fake: ‘aha,’ I thought, ‘so this is what this business is really like. All those warm words are just fluff.’

It’s a common problem. Businesses and organisations spruce up their writing, but forget to apply the new style to everything their customers see. Usually it’s because of the way they manage communications.

The ‘important’ material on your website, like the headline and copy on the front page, is probably written with great care by your marketing and communications people, often with the help of outside specialists.

But what about the less sexy stuff?

The cookie reminders and the 404 messages? It’s a fair bet they get knocked together as and when they’re needed, probably by non-specialist writers. The job often falls to IT guys and girls, who are fab when it comes to managing network protocols but not so good at sounding warm and human.

Don’t forget the small stuff

With that in mind, here are some of the things that are easy to overlook when you revamp your tone of voice.

  • Out-of-office emails. Instead of boring old ‘Dave Smith is on annual leave and will be out of the office between the 3rd and the 5th of August inclusive’, try something a bit more friendly. Getting an O-O-O message is always annoying, but one that’s written in a human, helpful way helps to ease the frustration.
  • 404 messages. When a visitor to your site stumbles on a bad link or a missing page, the last thing they want to see is a message saying ‘the requested page could not be found’… and nothing else. A good 404 page is friendly, perhaps even witty, and offers visitors an easy way of getting back on track. Check out the Daily Telegraph’s 404 page for one example of how it can be done.
  • Cookie messages. With GDPR most sites have one of these now, and it’s one of the first bits of copy your visitors see. Make it friendly, not fearsome.
  • The small print. Businesses often write their privacy policies and terms and conditions in horrible (and unnecessary) legalese. Rewriting Ts&Cs in a good tone of voice isn’t as easy as fixing some of the smaller problems I’ve just mentioned, but it will make your business more customer-friendly. We often work on this type of project, usually alongside lawyers to make sure the legal side stays tight.
  • Operational letters and emails. As far as your business is concerned, sales-related letters and emails are probably the most important comms. They’re the bits and pieces that get your customers to engage more or spend extra cash. For your customer, though, operational comms are just as important. The instructions on how to read a new gas meter and the note explaining when to expect the engineer’s visit need to use the same human tone of voice as everything else.

Can you think of any more?

Have you seen any dodgy writing in odd corners of websites? Let us know in the comments. And if you’d like to know more about rewriting your stuff so it all sounds great, get in touch.