I admit to being a bit of an iconoclast at times. It’s not that I am unduly argumentative or that I enjoy pulling things apart, it’s just that some things push my buttons. That is an important point that I want to play as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card right at the beginning of this article. I very clearly said ‘my buttons’ not everyone’s buttons. I wrote it in bold and everything so that it was clear I am talking about me personally. Can everyone please remember that as you read this because I am going to be controversial and maybe upset a few people. Ready?
I dislike motivational posters and sayings
It’s not the message that annoys me, it’s the way they trivialise things. I find them, trite and over-simplistic. That is because they actually are trite and simplistic, often about very complex matters. You know as well as I do that the mug you have that says ‘Why worry – tomorrow you will barely remember today’ isn’t changing anything when you are worried sick about paying the mortgage. Yet they sell these things in their millions. Kittens dangling off clothes lines are encouraged to ‘hang in there, baby’ and apparently, we all ‘got this’, regardless of which particular ‘this’ it is, because it says so on everything from t-shirts to posters.
Part of the reason these annoying little snippets are so prevalent is because of how they appeal. It is not because they are useful in themselves. Nobody expects you to look at that mouse mat you picked up from a trade show in 2012 and be inspired to jump out of your seat and ‘dance like nobody is watching’. They are not meant to be taken practically or even particularly seriously. They are ephemeral moments of pseudo-wisdom. They are supposed to be trite and over-simplistic. In fact, I am wrong for allowing myself to be annoyed by them. I am the aberration. It is me that is at fault. I shouldn’t allow them to get to me. More to the point it doesn’t matter one dingo’s kidney if they annoy me. I am not the target audience. in short, this is not a product for me, so nobody cares what I think. As proof of that I will offer a similar product which was perfect for me. I will tell you about it at the end of this article.
Shut up, unless people want to hear you
When you approach your content, regardless of what sort of content it is, reaching out to the right audience with the right tone of voice should always underpin what you do. That needs to be across all your interactions with them.
Here is where I am going to be the iconoclast, maybe for the second time if you are a lover of ‘reaching for the stars’ motivational stuff.
Who you are and ‘authenticity’ is only a factor in this if it is relevant to your consumer. Your personal ‘why’ for example is only applicable to the people who want to see it, so the tone of your content is better based on what your consumer wants, not in your attempt to build a cult of personality around yourself… unless your customers want to be part of your cult. Be yourself and be authentic only works if it is applicable to the target audience.
If you consider the carefully crafted personalities and language used by some of the top influencers you will see what I am driving at. I would argue that their process is underpinned by the rule of ‘be the crafted personality I created in all the video, written word and audio I produce and people who want to be me or like being addressed that way will follow me’. Which is great and clearly works as they have become the successful persona they created. The result of that though is that the communication they have with their consumers is now fixed. If, for example, they are from the sweary, shouty, kind of influencer stable then they must continue to be the sweary, shouty influencer across all their content. Again, I have no issue with this in principle. They have built a brand that has roots in an approach and that has now become an intrinsic part of their sales and marketing process. It is not the reality of their consumers’ world though; it is an understanding of that world being used to appeal to them. There is a subtle but important difference in those things. To put it another way, if you go to Nandos in Rochdale you get clear brand and tone of voice linked to Portugal and South Africa during your visit. It is everywhere, on menus, on the uniforms, even on the walls, but when you step back outside, it turns out you are still in Rochdale, but the trip to South Africa and Portugal (and the peri-peri fries, I love those) was nice.
So, follow that thought back then and you quickly reach the conclusion that if you want to build a tone of voice and a consistent message across your product, service or business (I am not including personal brand here because if you need one, it is part of your business – you are just a product) then you need to be able to stand back and plan what that tone of voice and approach is.
In short, to say ‘this is what I am so that is what the tone of my <insert as appropriate> will be’ only works if you know the market is there that will accept that tone of voice. If it isn’t then you are approaching your content by shoving a square peg into a round hole and hoping the hole will like it enough to become square. Our shouty, sweary, influencer is selling their brand in a particular way. That way will not work elsewhere. Or as they would put it “I’m ******* selling my ******* passion and my ******* self by saying ******* ever other ******* word. I would be proper ******* terrible and totally ******* useless if I tried selling ******* funeral services this ******* way”.
Believe but accept the truth
The title of this article refers to a very true maxim credited to Manoj Aurora who said that telling consumers something is 99% fat-free will feel healthier than saying it contains 1% fat. While it’s all well and good to keep it ‘real’ it’s often better to keep it the ‘real’ that your consumer wants to hear. Mixing up the difference between 99% fat-free and contains 1% fat yourself means you are not understanding your brand properly. Buy into the 99% fat-free principle if it makes you feel good but understand why it is important to describe it that way. Our sweary influencer knows their brand enough to tone it down when they are picking up their kids from school. Are they being untrue to themselves? are they dishonest? No, of course not. In these circumstances, their brand is ‘a parent’ so they use parent language.
If you want to appeal to your reader, listener, or viewer then the tone you use should be planned. It doesn’t matter if you bumble your way through your videos if the viewer accepts that you are an amateur presenter and that fits with your brand. It really, really does matter that you don’t bumble your way through presenting the news… know the difference though and if bumbling through works then plan it, produce it and develop it. If it doesn’t work, then ‘be yourself and it will be OK’ is really bad advice. It is great to believe in what you do but that must be grounded in reality for you to create successful content.
Remember I said there was a product that appealed to me that was like the motivational posters? Well, you can buy anti-motivational posters that basically steamroll over those trite sayings with a reality dozer. They have pictures of high clouds and sun accompanied by ‘The Eagle may fly high… but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines’ and similar. My particular favourite hangs above my desk and it says ‘Do some work! Nobody is paying you to follow your dreams’. When I am flagging a bit, it inspires me. But then it would, it’s the right tone for me.
- Hang in there and be 99% fat-free – understanding that content is created not grown - September 22, 2021
- The midges that bite – microcopy, omni-microcopy and your message - June 2, 2021
- Who did you say you were again? Exploding the ‘authenticity’ myth - September 28, 2020