Post By Joe Richardson

We hear more from brands than ever before. And we expect more too. When it comes to their tone of voice, startups need to step up.

A brand’s tone of voice has never been more important. Of course, as a copywriter, I would say that. I’ve got rent to pay. But think about it. Back in the day, we barely heard from brands. Not compared to now. These days, they’re in constant “dialogue” with their customers. We expect them to have a view on world events and a take on popular culture. They even have to conduct their customer service out in the open.

More than ever, how we perceive brands is tied up with how they talk – and what they talk about. That means startups need their tone of voice and key messages locked down before launch day. 

Here are five more reasons TOV is so important to startups...

1. There’s no second chance at a first impression

As on dates, so in business. Our first impressions are instinctive and indelible, so startups need to nail theirs on two levels. First, the messaging. People must immediately grasp what product, service or lifestyle you’re selling. What’s in it for them? What’s in it for the world? These messages need to be clear and memorable. Sticky soundbites people can fire off in WhatsApp groups or share with mates down the socially distanced pub.

Then there’s tone. There’s that famous quote from Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you did… but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I don’t think she was talking about marketplace disruptors, but the point still stands. Whether it’s playful, fearless or some other adjective, your tone needs to move your audience and reveal your brand’s authentic personality.

2. Simply selling is no longer enough

Today, we expect brands to have a purpose beyond the founder’s dreams of retiring to a modernist villa at 45. To be truly successful, startups must connect with their audience on an emotional level. Principles must align. And values must converge. Whatever your brand purpose is, it should shape your tone of voice and shine through in all your messaging. 

Ace & Tate do this wonderfully. Their brand purpose is to make designer glasses cheaper by cutting out steps of the production chain. Obviously this comes through in their messaging – but it’s also reinforced by a tone of voice that’s human, uncomplicated and liberating. (Great glasses too btw.)

3. Descriptive messaging will only get you so far

Squarespace don’t sell web domains, they sell opportunity. Starling don’t sell banking, they sell financial freedom. Beyond Meat don’t sell vegan sausages, they sell a more sustainable future. Your startup’s messaging needs to move from descriptive to evocative if it’s going to capture and hold the public’s attention. What world does your target audience want to live in? And how are you gonna get them there? It’s all about the bigger picture.

4. Our expectations are crazy high now

Now we never leave our homes and spend our nights watching ad-free streaming platforms, so many of our encounters with brands are online. This means we no longer judge them against other brands. We compare them to funny Twitter feeds or slick Insta accounts or our favourite websites. 

Startups need to be sharper, quirkier and cooler than ever. Just look at DoorDash with their wry, semi-ironic messaging (so millennial) or trolling politicians to promote workflow tools. Then there’s the GOAT, Wendy’s, with social media admins who could easily work for SNL. These approaches might not be right for your startup, but they’ve raised the bar for everyone.

5. A slick brand voice builds trust

It’s always a leap of faith using a product or service from a startup, no matter how much the reviews are raving about it. A fresh tone of voice helps quell the doubts in people’s minds. We make the connection that if time has gone into the messaging, it’s gone into everything else as well. On the flip side, if the copy is all over the place, the product probably is too. 

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Post by Joe Richardson