Do You Hear Voices?

I once opined that there is no such thing as an Internet style of copywriting. There is only good and bad copywriting, and good copywriting is chiefly characterized by brevity and clarity, no matter what medium it appears in. This is not to say that all marketing messages should sound the same. In fact, they must not. How they should differ is not so much a matter of style but of voice. Just as each of us has a unique tone and timber to our voice, which those who hear it can immediately peg as belonging to us, good copywriting reflects the corporate voice it represents. It reinforces the corporate brand. At its best, copy for Allstate, for example, should have a different voice than copy for State Farm. Ditto for Dell and Gateway or Ford and Chevrolet. But establishing the client’s voice as uniquely theirs is only half the challenge. Good copy must ring true to the brand and it must resonate with the audience it is created for.

All of the corporations mentioned above sell their products to people across the socio-economic and ethnic spectrum. These companies disseminate marketing messages through channels that reach the entire or near-entire spectrum, but they also use channels that reach only narrow segments. The corporate voice remains the same regardless of segment, but not only does the content of the message change to reflect the different priorities of various segments, the vocabulary must change as well. Easy example: You probably haven’t seen the term “townhouse” used in a real estate ad in decades; it’s been replaced by townhomes. But if you try to sell a townhome to the very wealthy, good luck. You will have signaled to your target audience that you don’t understand them and your product isn’t right for them, because lesser beings reside in townhomes. Really rich people still buy and live in townhouses. Along with choice of words, punctuation and sentence structure and whether or not to use incomplete sentences all factor into making the tone of the message authentic to a particular audience—and appropriate to the context of the message.

In the course of this blog, I’ve begun a sentence with a conjunction and ended more than one with a preposition. Doing both is grammatically correct and in keeping with precedents set by the finest writers in the English language going back centuries. Were this an annual report, however, or were my client Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and I was trying to convince you to buy the new Ghost, I would surely recast those sentences to strike a more formal tone. Unless, perhaps, you were just taken in the first round of the NFL draft.