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From Cold to Warm and Beyond:
Options for Tone in Copywriting

by Marcia Yudkin

Whatever you're writing, you have the ability to shape the tone as well as the content of your message.  Are you communicating with a stone face or a smile?  Are you starchy and straight-backed in your wording or down-home and loose?  Will your reader get the impression of a fussy bureaucrat or an earnest helper?

Cold or Warm?

Let's start with a statement that we might find written about a financial software program or app.

Quikmetrik enables users to optimize and organize expenditures, financial assets and debits.

This is cold and distant in tone, formal and impersonal.  We don't know whether this comes from the company that makes Quikmetrik or from an outsider observer, and its very neutrality was probably deliberate.

The verbs and nouns are complex, abstract, highly intellectualized.  They belong to the vocabulary of someone who has been to college or is at least college-bound.  Obviously our sample is a written rather than a spoken sentence.

Now let's warm it up by using everyday, universally known words and the pronoun "you":

Manage your spending, saving and debt with Quikmetrik's
easy-to-use dashboard.

This version makes a connection, though not an intimate one,
with the reader. It puts forth an invitation from one party to another, rather than a factual statement.  And because the words don't force any higher intelligence to kick in, we no longer feel like we're being held at arm's length.

We can make our example warmer still:

Are you flush or broke? On track? Quikmetrik's money dashboard updates you at a glance.

Here the wording is more casual, and the passage interacts with us through informal questions. This blurb hints that something's at stake. It brings in feelings about money, offering mild empathy instead of just informing or observing.  It seems to be coming from a pal rather than from a banker, accountant or other expert.

Now Add Enthusiasm

Although we've made the original version much friendlier, the impression coming through is still calm rather than excited.  Let's add some positive energy and belief:

Are you in the red or the black?  Quikmetrik is the cool, fast way to know everything about your dough.

Now we're being addressed by an advocate, someone who's trying to convince us of something.  "The cool, fast way" is a bit salesy and assertive in tone, but not oppressively so.

Dial in more enthusiasm and you get something like these three versions:

With Quikmetrik, spending, saving and getting out of debt are as easy to manage as texts and phone calls!

Imagine, no more "Uh-oh" overdrafts or "We're over budget again" arguments!

It's the best in-your-pocket money tool since the portable checkbook!

Exclamation marks, along with explicit or implicit praise words like "easy," "imagine" and "best," have us picturing someone jumping up and down while they're talking to us on the page.  When this works, the feeling being put out becomes contagious.

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On to a Nerdy Tone

Let's suppose, though, that we're targeting scientists or engineers, and we want a tone that particularly puts them at ease.  This variation would be both neutral and nerdy:

Quikmetrik gives users individualized control over the seven factors that account for 92.7% of money management success.

We're back to distant, abstract word choices but with numbers factored in.  Warming that up with techniques mentioned earlier, we might get:

If you're part of the 78.2% of the population who have trouble managing their money, Quikmetrik gives you control over seven key financial elements.

Note that we can create a geeky tone with vocabulary rather than with numbers.  Consider this example of a nerdy, enthusiastic version:

Quikmetric offers you the ultimate in personal finance hacking. Don't lose a millisecond of control - get started today!

Consider Elegance

Tone variations are undoubtedly infinite, but let's take a look at just one more: elegance.  If we were writing for a posh, oh-so-refined client, we would need to signal that in our tone.

Which tweaks below make the same message we've been working on all along comfortable for the elite, well-off, socially conscious crowd?

Is financial discipline your aspiration?  Quikmetrik's sophisticated online tools give you backstage, discreet management of your assets and encumbrances.

For an upper-crust flavor, long euphemistic words (such as "encumbrances" rather than "debt") work well as long as they are mellifluous - smoothly flowing and pleasant to the ear.  It's even better when the words chosen imply delicacy ("backstage," "discreet") and social graces ("aspiration" and "sophisticated").

Which Tone is Best?

Of course, which tone to choose depends on the audience you're aiming at in the promotional or informational piece at hand.  Also relevant is how you want the reader to perceive the company or individual behind the message.  With your choice of words, sentence structure and attitudes underlying how you put it all together, tone is yours to control.

Become a tone virtuoso by practicing cool, warm, enthusiastic, nerdy and elegant versions of your own starting statement, then going on to tones like air-head, authoritative, compassionate, spiritual, snobby, sports-crazed and more.

Copyright 2016 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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