Is Your Marketing Too Formal? How to Find the Right Tone for Your Business Communications

A more casual tone might be just what you need to connect and build relationships with your audience. In this blog, we'll help you understand whether your tone is off, how to determine the best tone for your organization, and how to implement that tone.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Successful marketing in the B2B space is a complex undertaking. It’s tempting to simplify it as a formal process in which buttoned-up buyers require clear, factual information, devoid of emotion or personality. The reality, of course, might look very different.

Sure, depending on your industry and target buyers, you might encounter the need for a formal approach. However, research has consistently found that emotions play a significant role in B2B buying decisions. So, in the vast majority of cases, you likely have more leeway than you think, and taking advantage of that leeway can put you at a real advantage.

Take cold prospecting as an example. This early in the funnel, taking an overly professional approach can isolate your audience and make your company seem unrelatable. On the other hand, a more casual tone might be just what you need to connect and build relationships with your audience.

So let’s dive into the details. In this guide, we’ll help you understand whether your tone is off, how to determine the best tone for your organization, and how to implement that tone. 

1. Evaluate Whether Your Tone is Off-Target

At its best, the tone and voice of your business communications can help to build a few core advantages: 

  • Speak to your audience in their language, engaging them as peers rather than from a superior perspective.

  • Effectively communicate your value proposition with a more casual tone for products and services designed to ease a company’s work.

  • Separate yourself from your competition, creating a unique space that sounds different from the typical ‘industry speak’ your audience is used to.

When you don’t reach these goals, your tone might be off-target. While there is no single metric specifically designed to measure tone, you can measure its impact at least indirectly through your marketing results:

  • Language that is too formal in a cold sales message may not result in responses and conversions that measure up to email marketing industry benchmarks.

  • Market positioning that is not considerably different from your competition may be a hint that your tone is off.

  • A lack of understanding and response to your value proposition may be solved not just with a stronger value proposition, but by adjusting the ways in which that message is communicated—including tone. 

Most importantly, you can ask your buyers. Check-in with them on whether they feel your voice and tone are appropriate. If they think improvement might be necessary, move on to the next step.

2. Determine the Best Tone for Your Organization

This step is valuable regardless of your situation as a crucial part of any branding exercise. It becomes especially urgent, though, once you have discovered that your tone is off-target. 

Ideally, that tone should be informed by two foundational pieces:

1. Your organization’s values. A deeply personal, community-oriented B2B business demands a very different tone than an industrial manufacturer. Aspirations to change the world of technology probably require something else altogether. Your messaging needs to reflect who you are and tone plays an important role in that process. 

2. Your audience’s preferences and personality.  An entry-level marketing manager at a tech startup will react very differently to casual language than a 20-year procurement specialist under constant pressure in a corporate environment. In other words, both the organizations and individual buying team members you target should play core roles in determining your ideal tone.

To get to both, it pays to define both your ideal customer profiles (ICP) and buyer personas. Creating an ICP means building a profile of the type of organization you look to target, including the organization’s size, buying team makeup, central challenges, and buying processes. Building a buyer persona makes it personal, creating profiles of hypothetical buying agents including their demographics, goals, and even personal preferences.

Both ICPs and buyer personas combine to create a comprehensive picture of the audience that will receive your communications. That, along with your internal priorities and values, gives you the background you need to settle on a tone designed for maximum effect.

3. Implement Your Tone Consistently

Once you have created a template for your ideal tone, write it down in an easy-to-understand way. This helps anyone crafting communications, including external partners, follow a template to make your messaging more consistent. 

Most brands define their tone on a few core dimensions such as formal vs. casual, funny vs. serious, enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact, or emotional vs. factual. An individual business doesn’t always land on any of the extremes, but may live on a slider in-between that tends towards one side a bit more than the other. 

Once the template is built, you have the foundation for consistency. Now, it’s time to implement that consistency across your channels, including anything from your website copy to your emails, newsletters, and social selling efforts. Even your images can communicate your tone, though that tends to be more subtle than what you can convey in words.

In both the planning and implementation process, it never hurts to review examples of how other B2B brands have managed to land on different tones in their messaging:

  • The research firm Gartner takes a buttoned-up, formal approach in all of its marketing communications. Its audience of global business executives expects formality to sustain the credibility of its reports and guides.

  • The business communications platform Slack promotes a more immediate, casual way of internal communications. But its audience still consists of teams large enough to need this type of chat function. As a result, Slack takes a moderate tone that’s casual enough to reflect its mission, but formal enough to appeal to larger teams.

  • The email marketing platform MailChimp prides itself on its easy, plug-and-play approach to email marketing. With its audience largely consisting of early-career digital marketing specialists, the company has become a prime example of a casual tone in B2B marketing.

Of course, these are just three of the many examples of B2B organizations successfully leveraging tone to adjust to both their mission and their audience. The drastic difference between Gartner and MailChimp especially showcases the difference that tone can make in appealing to the audience segments each looks to attract. While it might not be as obvious when targeting business audiences, tone still plays a core role in creating effective marketing messages in this environment. If your prospecting messaging is missing the mark, connect with us here

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About Sapper Consulting

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