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Voice and Tone: Creating content for humans (Kate Kiefer Lee)


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A brand’s voice stays the same from day to day, but its tone has to change all the time, depending on both the situation and the reader’s feelings. This talk focuses on articulating your brand’s personality and writing for emotional humans.

I use MailChimp as a case study to explain how we created, an interactive voice and tone guide, and how it improved the company’s content and processes across departments.

I also share a few of my favorite voice and tone guides, as well as some examples of empathetic (and not so empathetic) content in action.

Voice and Tone: Creating content for humans (Kate Kiefer Lee)

  1. Voice and ToneCreating content for
  2. Find your voice Speak onto the page Watch your toneKnow when to keep a straight face Be honest
  3. Ask questionsWhat does your company do?Why did you start your company?Why do people visit your website?Who are your customers?What other companies do you admire?
  4. Ask questionsIf your brand were a how would youhow would you If your brand were a person, person, describe them?describe him examples of content that suits your brand. Show me a few or her? What other companies do you admire?Show meyou fewpeople to feel whenof content that a want examples they visit your website? How dosuits your brand.How do you want people to feel when theyvisit your website?
  5. MailChimp isfun but not childish.clever but not silly.powerful but not but not but not alienating.informal but not sloppy.helpful but not but not bossy.
  6. Design persona (Aarron Walter)
  7. Voice guidelinescompanys missioncontent typesspecific content examplesbrand traitspersonality explanationreader/customer typesvisual guidelines
  8. AMPERSANDS DATES Don’t use them. Type the word Spell out the day and abbreviate the “and.” month CAPITALIZATION DOLLARS AND CENTS Use common sense. When in doubt, Use a dollar sign. Don’t include cents don’t capitalize. on round dollars, and spell outYaaaawn. “cents.” ese words shouldn’t be capitalized: website, internet, online, email. $35 COLONS $35.50 $35 million Use a colon if you’re telling people what comes next in the first part of 35 cents the sentence. You can choose from three support ELLIPSES options: online chat, email support or MailChimp’s Knowledge Base. Use ellipses (...) to show that you’re omitting words or trailing off before the end of a thought. Don’t use an COMMAS ellipsis for emphasis or drama. Use the serial/Oxford comma.
  9. "It is insight into human nature thatis key to the communicators skill.For whereas the writer is concernedwith what he puts into his writings,the communicator is concernedwith what the reader gets out of it.He therefore becomes a student ofhow people read or listen."William Bernbach
  10. Find your voice Speak onto the page Watch your toneKnow when to keep a straight face Be honest
  11. "A good teacher I know, JenniferAuger, has a simple but effectivetechnique for the writing classroom.When her students have blahvoiceless writing, she makes themspeak the following words to herbefore reading their text: Listen tome, I have something to tell you."Peter ElbowVernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing
  12. Jerrold, a Nerdbot
  13. Find your voice Speak onto the page Watch your toneKnow when to keep a straight face Be honest
  14. Style guide: content types e app e application is MailChimp’s heart. Its language helps people along as they create, send and track email campaigns. People using the app already know and love MailChimp, so we can have a little fun with the language–though our priority is helping them get their work done quickly. Why we do it: Duh. Microcopy Microcopy is that small but oh-so-important instructional copy that you usually see in forms and feedback messages. It might remind a user that her password has to contain a number or explain that email communication will only be used regarding a specific order. We also call it “help text,” and you see it both in the app and on the public site. It’s short and to-the-point. Why we do it: To help users complete tasks. MailChimp newsletter MailChimp’s email newsletter is a company update written by our CEO, Ben. It’s full of photos, stories, experiments, links and announcements for customers who want to know more about MailChimp. It’s casual and entertaining. Why we do it: To give customers more MailChimp news and provide an occasional behind-the-scenes look at how the company works. We are an email service, after all.
  15. Mascot’s jokes: an extra layer of humor
  16. Compliance alert: bad news
  17. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions
  18. "If advertising had a little morerespect for the public, the publicwould have a lot more respect foradvertising."James Randolph Adams
  19. To determine your toneof voice, consider:1. Content type2. e readers emotional state
  20. Ask yourselfWhat situation is the reader in thats bringingher to this content?What situation will this content put her in?How does the reader feel right now?How will this content make her feel?What can I do to maintain the readers stateof mind or put her in a better one?
  21. Sensitive subjects Sensitive content typeshealth and medicine help contentreligion contact pagepolitics FAQmoney formsprivate information privacy policytranslation issues failure messages and alerts
  22. Friendly reminder from the Fake AP Stylebook
  23. "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.""No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."Robert FrostRobert Frost
  24. Tufts University’s voice and and tone wikiTufts University’s voice tone guidelines
  25. Tufts University’s voice and tone guidelines
  26. Indiana University Alumni oppositions IU Alumni Association’s word Association
  28. Macmillan Cancer Support’s empathetic writing guide
  29. WRONG tone of voice
  30. Obama campaign’s unsubscribe screen
  31. Romney campaign’s unsubscribe screen
  32. Photojojo’s unsubscribe form
  33. Photojojo’s unsubscribe screen
  34. Tea Muse’s unsubscribe screen
  35. "e consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife."David Ogilvy
  36. Find your voice Speak onto the page Watch your toneKnow when to keep a straight face Be honest
  37. 404Current 404
  38. 404 reject
  39. Woot’s product description
  40. Woot’s contact page
  41. Find your voice Speak onto the page Watch your toneKnow when to keep a straight face Be honest
  42. Warby Parker’s roots
  43. Warby Parker’s library
  44. Warby Parker’s writing guide
  45. Warby Parker’s story page
  46. "I’ve learned that people will forgetwhat you said, people will forgetwhat you did, but people will neverforget how you made them feel."Maya Angelou