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How to sound as luxury as you look

Wayne McMaster

6 August 2015

Tone of Voice Part-2

It’s no good getting ‘all dressed up’ if you ruin it the moment you speak. For luxury brands, getting your tone of voice right cultivates an impression of exclusivity and mystique. Get it wrong and you can easily devalue your brand.

Luxury has 1000 voices

As everyone knows, the right tone of voice helps you connect to your audience and make you stand out from the crowd. But finding an authentic tone of voice for a luxury brand is more complex than simply appearing ‘posh’ or exclusive. The way you speak to your target audience needs to be finely nuanced. Ideally, your tone of voice should convey that you understand them and their lifestyle – making your audience feel they’ve found a soulmate.

Formal vs Informal

Trends in tone of voice just now are veering strongly towards the informal, together with simple language. That means the complicated and Latinate style which luxury brands have traditionally cultivated can sound too formal or even clunky. General trends matter because they’ll affect the general mind-set with which your reader approaches your copy. That said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be more formal, providing it’s authentic for your brand, and your copy is carefully crafted to engage them.

How to find your luxury brand tone of voice

Finding your true voice

– an authentic tone that resonates with your target audience – involves detective work. It’s already there, but you have to discover it. Ask yourself the following questions…

  • Who is your audience? What are their personality traits and values?
  • What are they looking for e.g. reassurance, status, a little flattery, exclusivity…? What do they read?
  • How do they speak to one another? How would you speak to them face-to-face?
  • Ask them how they’d describe you – and investigate further. So if they say your brand is ‘elegant’, do they mean chic, graceful or sophisticated?
  • What kind of luxury are you? Modern? Traditional? Heritage? Boutique? Premium? Prestige? Mass Luxury (‘Masstige')?
  • Who are you and where have you come from? Many luxury brands have an enviable history of success or great brand stories. Remembering these will tell you a lot about how you should sound.
  • What are your brand values? More than that, what is your brand belief?
  • How do you speak to each other inside the company? Your tone of voice has to stay true to this or you’ll come off like someone ‘putting on a posh voice’.

Once you’ve come up with three or four adjectives which define your brand, hone your definitions further. Work out what you mean by each of them AND more importantly, what you don’t. So for instance with a luxury brand, ‘funny’ might mean ‘witty’ but preclude ‘coarse humour’. Or you might sound ‘young’ – meaning ‘fresh’ but not ‘immature’.

The biggest luxury brand tone of voice pitfalls

Unfortunately luxury brand tone of voice pitfalls abound, and if you simply aim to sound grand it’s all too easy to fall foul of them:

  • Relying on clichés – We all think we know how a luxury brand ‘should’ sound and it’s easy to get lazy. Work harder at making your reader actually feel what you’re talking about, rather than simply telling them. And avoid overused words such as ‘stunning’, ‘breath-taking’ or ‘world-class’. Find a new way to get the message across
  • Passive voice – This does make you sound grander but unfortunately it doesn’t engage the reader. In fact if you use it regularly, it gives the impression that you think you’re better than they are, or that you’re resting on your laurels.
  • Being old fashioned – An old brand doesn’t have to sound old. If it’s boutique for instance, it could sound quirky or charmingly eccentric.

 

Taking the time to find your unique tone of voice pays dividends. It can invest your brand with a ‘rightness’ and customer loyalty that nobody can take from you.

Article kindly written by James Wareham who is co-founder and head copywriter at The Copysmith Ltd. He has over 18 years' experience on a vast range of multinational brands including most automobile brands, Dyson, Waitrose, Nestlé, Cadbury, and several leading hotel groups. James has created many Tone of Voice guideline documents for large companies here and in the Middle East, and in this blog he shares his insights on writing for premium brands.

 

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