Category Archives: Tone of Voice

Financial Content That Works

While every sector has its own peculiarities, nothing is quite like Financial. Excluding health and family, what’s more important than money? It governs lifestyles and life options; it’s socially and politically charged and essential to every life. All of which makes finance a unique and fascinating area in which to work.

In order to communicate financial content effectively, there are a number of key considerations we must make, before even thinking about putting pen to paper. I’ve listed a few here, but I would be keen to hear if you think I’ve missed anything, so let me know in the comments.

 

Brand personality

Before any company can effectively convey its message, it must have a clear, consistent way of communicating. Getting to know your brand is vital, enabling you to express the values at its core. These are the touchpoints that engage your readers, letting them know what they have in common with the brand.

Getting clarity on who you are is vital.

Pinning down your brand also enables you to define its tone of voice. By tone of voice, I mean the way the brand writes and speaks to its clients. Consider the difference between how two brands, IBM and Innocent Drinks, ‘speak’. The former, is serious and full of gravitas, the latter casual and fun. That is reflected in their words, grammar, verbal rhythm and numerous other decisions.

All of these stylistic choices reflect the personality and voice, and are set down in the guidelines. Just as your visual/brand guidelines tell a designer about your colour palette and how to use your logo, your tone of voice guide ensures your written communications are consistent. This consistency of voice is essential in a world where so much of your client communications are written (on websites, email, blogs and social media).  

 

Back to basics, every time

The process of writing financial content can be intricate, with many different parties involved, large swathes of information to distil and a great deal of complexity to simplify. So, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important, which is why I always recommend getting back to basics.

When you’re planning and executing, always return to ‘marketing 101’. Make sure you’re communicating the essentials and meeting the content objectives. Ask yourself those basic questions. Are you clearly expressing the product/service? Have you covered the key features? How do those benefit the client practically? What are the emotional benefits?

Make sure you’re asking the right questions.

In short, what’s your proposition and why you, rather than a competitor?

These are some of the questions you need to be able to answer and share with anyone who’s writing for the company.

 

Client-centric communications

One of the greatest mistakes financial brands make is thinking clients want to read about their business or even important financial news. That may sound counter-intuitive but the truth is clients want to read about themselves. They want to know about what can benefit them specifically.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t blog about market trends. Rather, it means that your blog should focus on your client and how those trends might affect them. That doesn’t mean doing what you always do and adding a ‘How does this affect you?’ section at the end, although this is very common. It means, putting the client at the very heart of the piece, by thinking about the information from their point of view and making the content about them.

You’ll still be presenting your brand as the authority but you’ll also be showing you care about how it affects your clients. This shows empathy and that you have your clients’ best interests at heart, which creates ongoing engagement.

 

Don’t make assumptions

Once you’ve worked in a sector for a while, you start to get familiar with its verbal quirks, acronyms, abbreviations and the like. To speed up communications, you might slip into jargon, which works fine in the office. However, problems arise when you communicate in the same way with your clients. That’s where we tend to make assumptions. Just because you know APR means Annual Percentage Rate, it doesn’t follow that your readers do, even if they’ve come looking for financial information.

Assuming the wrong level of knowledge is a sure way to put some people off. Jargon can make it hard for readers to grasp what you’re saying, which is a significant barrier to online engagement. Of course, people can just Google it but your brand should care enough about them to make sure they understand. Moreover, it is unhelpful to have users click away from your site.

Don’t leave clients feeling confused.

Sometimes, jargon works

Writing to suit your audience is what counts and in some areas of finance, jargon works. With many B2B audiences, it shows a brand’s level of understanding. For example, a Fund Administrator would, rightly, expect its readers to understand what it means by AUM (assets under management) or AML (anti-money laundering).

Jargon may also be used with B2C audience, for example, to signpost that a certain level of sophistication is required from the reader. Consider an online investment house, with complicated, higher-risk investment vehicles. The use of jargon around these is one of the more subtle ways they warn less experienced investors that these products are not for them.

 

Make the most of Compliance and Legal

For some reason, a lot of marketers and creatives dread working with the legal and compliance teams. However, effective finance sector copywriting is about meeting all the objectives of the project, in a way that readers really value. Of course, the requirements of the marketing team are important but so are those of the Compliance and Legal teams.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve found that problems arise when these teams are excluded from the process until late on. This can create a stressful, difficult sign-off process, with them having to catch up with the project and the marketing/creative team becoming frustrated.

Collaborate early.

We believe it makes more sense to involve Compliance and Legal from the outset, to find out what you must say and can’t say early on, so you can build that into your planning. It’s also worth getting to know the people themselves, to help you understand their approach. There are always grey areas and knowing the real red lines, as early possible, can only ever be helpful.

These teams also come at problems from different angles. That means they can offer solutions that the writer alone may not have considered. They may also know about additional relevant research that could enrich your content, adding value for readers. In short, there is a great deal to be gained from close collaboration with Compliance and Legal, and considering them part of the creative team.

 

Choosing the right content partner

As you might expect, I would be delighted if everyone who read this worked with us. Realistically, there are many choices for outsourcing your financial copywriting and there is a great deal to consider.

Most importantly, of course, you must work with writers who know the financial sector, can make complex content easy to consume and who understand it’s a regulated environment. However, please don’t just pick a writer based on experience. Make sure they care about fast, clear client communications.

There are thousands of great wordsmiths but writers who work without ego and prioritise listening to their clients are harder to find, and it makes all the difference; trust me.

What do you think are the priorities for financial content? How do you make yours stand out? Could you make your content work harder?

If you would like to discuss working with us, please drop us a line at: hello@alexgenncopywriting.co.uk



SEO v Brand: Beware the spiders

Trigger warning: Spiders etc

A gentle summer breeze flutters the curtains as you sleep soundly in your bed. All is peace, everything is fine… except, it isn’t; something is wrong, very, very wrong.

Thick, oppressive heat fills the room. Shadowy corners turn an inky, unknowable black that absorbs all light and joy, leaving in place only cold, hungry fear.

A small, spindly shadow crawls up the duvet along the line of your leg. Moving in short, jagged scuttles the blood-red spider is already past your thigh. It pauses for a moment before its needle feet prick their way higher, tip-toing toward your waist.

You shake your head, you murmur, unconscious but aware that something isn’t right.  

Eight black, unblinking eyes move up your chest to the edge of the duvet. It waits, an inch from your exposed skin. Your breathing quickens as it crawls slowly but with unmistakable intent onto your vulnerable throat.

You know you must wake up. Neurons fire, blood pumps, muscles tighten but then, nothing; you lay still, paralysed by fear.

Now, it is time. Dark mandibles unfurl; each a tiny, jagged butcher’s saw. The spider begins its work…

Seconds, or perhaps hours later you shake yourself awake, screaming. The spider is gone. But your scream is silent. You shout. But your shouting is a weightless, empty nothing.

The spider has stolen your voice.

…Of course this is not really how it happens (to most freelance copywriters). And I’m not really talking about eight-legged spiders. I do, of course, mean web spiders. Those clever little algorithms that use web content keywords and general good SEO (search engine optimisation) to decide who soars high in the search rankings.

Check your ears for Brie

Unless you’ve been keeping cheese in your ears for the last 15+ years you’ll have heard (relentlessly) from copywriters, your content agency and everyone else about the importance of keywords and SEO. It’s impossible to ignore. And, of course, as a provider of online content, I’m not going to disagree or tell you they’re not important. But I do think your web content should be about more than SEO.

Take off the objective blinkers

If your aim is solely to drive page rankings, surely SEO is the most important thing? Well, yes and no. You’ve got to remember your brand. That ephemeral, hard-to-pin-down thing; the bridge you’ve built to your customers. And no matter how strong it is, like any bridge, it is fragile; one small crack and the damage can be irreparable.

What’s your brand got to do with SEO rankings?

Well, everything. Because, whatever you write online is there for your customer and potential customers to discover. They can love it and share it or be bored and totally put off by it. SEO content won’t affect any of that. But how you use your brand voice absolutely will.

So how does it go right, and wrong?

The client wants to be on the first page of Google search. The team does some keyword research. And before you know it the website is full of keyword-driven content, which the web spiders love. Then, over time, assuming all the other good stuff is in place (dynamic site, fast loading, correct keyword density etc.) it works, and the page moves up the rankings – cue much whooping and slapping of backs. But, um, what happens when someone actually reads it?

“I am fluent in over six million forms of communication and…”

If you’re only thinking about keywords without considering the brand, you’ll end up with unnaturally repetitious, robotic content that sounds like C3PO having a nervous breakdown. That sort of hard-to-read content is (fingers crossed) way off brand. “Good Heavens!” indeed. And whether you’re a copywriter in London or a plumber in Cardiff manager that won’t do.

Off-brand is not OK

Just like your logo and design guide, your brand voice is an integral part of the brand. Hopefully you’ve put as much thought into your verbal identity as you have the visual side. Because no matter how beautiful the design, if your copywriting and/or content isn’t engaging, people will lose interest fast. The same goes for all the SEO; it doesn’t matter how high your Google rank if no-one cares about your online content.

Ranking v. Engagement?

It’s not one or the other. It’s both and that comes via your brand. I don’t think I’m telling anyone anything new here or at least I hope not. It’s more of a reminder. Google rank is important. But don’t forget the vital role your brand voice plays in creating engagement. As with all things, it’s a balancing act. You can’t do away with keywords; but forget about your brand voice and what’s it all for?

So, by all means feed the spiders but don’t let them take your voice.

…Of course this is not really how it happens. And I’m not really talking about eight-legged spiders. I do, of course, mean web spiders. Those clever little algorithms that use keywords and general good SEO (search engine optimisation) to decide who soars high in the search rankings.

Check your ears for Brie

Unless you’ve been keeping cheese in your ears for the last 15+ years you’ll have heard (relentlessly) about the importance of keywords and SEO. It’s impossible to ignore.And I’m not going to disagree or tell you they’re not important. But I do think your content should be about more than SEO.

Take off the objective blinkers

If your aim is solely to drive page rankings, surely SEO is the most important thing? Well, yes and no. You’ve got to remember your brand. That ephemeral, hard-to-pin-down thing; the bridge you’ve built to your customers. And no matter how strong it is, like any bridge, it is fragile; one small crack and the damage can be irreparable.

What’s your brand got to do with SEO rankings?

Well, everything. Because, whatever you put online is there for your customer and potential customers to discover. They can love it and share it or be bored and totally put off by it. SEO won’t affect any of that. But how you use your brand voice absolutely will.

So how does it go right, and wrong?

The client wants to be on the first page of Google search. The team does some keyword research. And before you know it the website is full of keyword-driven content, which the web spiders love. Then, over time, assuming all the other good stuff is in place (dynamic site, fast loading, correct keyword density etc.) it works, and the page moves up the rankings – cue much whooping and slapping of backs. But, um, what happens when someone actually reads it?

“I am fluent in over six million forms of communication and…”

If you’re only thinking about keywords without considering the brand, you’ll end up with unnaturally repetitious, robotic content that sounds like C3PO having a nervous breakdown. And that sort of hard-to-read content is (fingers crossed) way off brand. “Good Heavens!” indeed.

Off-brand is not OK

Just like your logo and design guide, your brand voice is an integral part of the brand. Hopefully you’ve put as much thought into your verbal identity as you have the visual side. Because no matter how beautiful the design, if your content isn’t engaging, people will lose interest fast. The same goes for all the SEO; it doesn’t matter how high your Google rank if no-one cares about your content.

Ranking v. Engagement?

It’s not one or the other. It’s both and that comes via your brand. I don’t think I’m telling anyone anything new here or at least I hope not. It’s more of a reminder. Google rank is important. But don’t forget the vital role your brand voice plays into creating engagement. As with all things, it’s a balancing act. You can’t do away with keywords; but forget about your brand voice and what’s it all for?

So, by all means feed the spiders but don’t let them take your voice.



The world is changing. Keep up to stay connected to your audience.

Male? Female? Or…?
I was shopping at the weekend. My wife was in the changing room. So, my 4-year-old daughter and I were outside entertaining the shop assistant, ‘Raz’ who was (of course), far younger and cooler than me. About 6 feet tall, with a broad, typically masculine figure, long dark hair and purple nail varnish, so not someone easy to place as male or female. I don’t know. I didn’t ask, it was and is after all, not my business. But I was about to get involved, like it or not.

Grabbing the baton
I was away for a few minutes and on my return I took over a story my wife had started, to entertain our little one. It was about a monster and a brave warrior who, my daughter had decided, should be our new friend Raz. Usually that’s a fun situation for a copywriter that doesn’t take too much effort. But this time it was different.

Our star and extra audience member was listening and possibly wondering what they might end up doing. As a professional writer I felt an added responsibility in how I described Raz. If they were non-binary (didn’t identify as one particular gender), what I say might make them feel validated and acknowledged or potentially ignored and hurt. And of course, everything you do as a parent is lesson to your child. No pressure, then!

Making grey matter, matter
So, I engaged my freelance copywriter brain and made small changes throughout the story. Just tiny things really, saying ‘they’ and ‘their’, rather than ‘he/she’ and his/her’. “As Raz mounted their horse, they felt ready to take on the monster.” That sort of thing. It’s slightly tricky at first but you get used to it quickly. I think that’s always the way with something new. But it’s amazing how fast it becomes second nature, especially when you’re offering copywriting services.

George Washington never said ‘OMG!’
As society evolves, so does language (just ask someone from 1925 what a ‘selfie’ is). So, we can choose to ignore it, because change can feel hard (even when it’s not) or we can adapt, to communicate more successfully. I think it’s a simple choice.

As freelance copywriters, my team and I spend every day working hard to make people click, swipe, buy and, sometimes, even think differently. We know how hard it is to pick the right words, whether that’s for blogging, website content or script writing. But we also know that doing so means we’ll continue to be mindful, empathise and stay connected to our audience; whoever ‘they’ are.

 



10 Grammar Rules It’s OK to Break

Whether or not you’re a professional copywriter, you’ve probably had to choose whether to follow the grammar rules we all learned in school or go a bit rogue. It’s something we get asked about a lot in the world of copywriting; so how do you decide?

With language constantly evolving, many grammar rules have fallen by the wayside or can at least be ignored to suit the context. That isn’t to say they don’t still have a place within copywriting, but sticking rigidly to them can actually harm website copy and other SEO content, such as blogs. So how can you change it up?

 

Good. Old. Evolution

The way we speak has evolved (how many people said ‘selfie’ in 1926?) and online content needs to reflect this. Look at the work of anyone offering content writing services – they try to engage and appeal to the audience by echoing how they speak, rather than using the dusty grammar manuals of bygone years.

As most of those rules were developed over a century ago, they tend to formalise language, so are a teensy bit outdated. This is especially true in the digital space, such as mobile apps, SEO website content and blogging, which tend to be more colloquial and informal.

 

Go on you rebel BREAK SOME RULES

So, let’s get our professional writer hats on, and look at some rules it’s OK to break.

1. Don’t start a sentence with ‘And’. One of the first grammar rules we all learn is not to start a sentence with a conjunction such as ‘and’. But (there’s another!) this is often ignored in good copywriting. You’ll see most copywriters using ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the beginning of the sentence, as it’s a good way to break a long sentence and can also add impact. Breaking this rule is a great way to make sure you’re writing effective website copy and making blogs easier to read.

2. Don’t us slang. With formal writing, it’s best to avoid colloquial language and slang terms wherever possible. But, good copywriting connects with the audience by ‘speaking’ as they do. Slang is one of the best ways to connect to readers in a friendly and natural way. A great example of this is Barlcays Bank renaming the ‘Cashpoint’ the ‘Hole in the wall’.

3. Avoid one-sentence paragraphs. When writing for a digital audience, you’ll want your SEO content to be easy to read. Audiences often skim-read for quick answers and important  information. One-sentence paragraphs are a useful way to make key points stand out in your copywriting, especially in SEO content.

4. Don’t miss out, ‘that’. Missing out words in your copywriting isn’t going to work if no one knows what you’re talking about. But sometimes it’s useful, especially in website content or blogging, where shorter sentences are better. It’s perfectly acceptable to miss out words if the meaning of the sentence remains the same. For example: ‘Ann was sure that she’d win…’ works just as well as, ‘Ann was sure she’d win…’.

5. Use commas ‘properly’. Most of us, freelance copywriters included, were taught to use commas sparingly and in specific circumstances, such as to create lists or join clauses. But it’s fine to break this rule by using commas more often. As a copywriter, using commas is a way to set the flow and interpretation of a sentence. Here’s an example, a comma can dictate a pause.

6. Never split infinitives. We all know not to split infinitives right? Wrong. This is another grammar ‘don’t’ freelance copywriters often ignore. But it’s not about making a hard and fast rule about whether it’s okay to make like a banana and split, especially in their website content or blogs. Most copywriters look at the sentence structure and decide based on what sounds best in each case.

7. Don’t swap ‘whom’ for ‘who’. Knowing whether to choose ‘whom’ or ‘who’ has baffled even some professional writers for years. These days it’s more common to swap ‘whom’ for ‘who’, though ‘whom’ is still used in formal writing. A lot of freelance copywriters use ‘who’ instead’, depending on the audience, the tone of voice and of course subject matter. A good copywriter is led by context, rather than pre-conceived rules and ideas.

8. Don’t finish with a preposition. Allowing yourself to end on a proposition will help avoid awkward, overlong sentence structure, so freelance copywriters often break this rule. Instead of focusing on whether or not a sentence ends with a preposition, think like a copywriter – about how the sentence reads. This is far more important when it comes to engaging readers and creating a tone of voice, key concerns for SEO website content and blogging.

9. Always use ‘correct’ personal pronouns. He. She. Him. Her. For a long time these were all you needed. But with more people identifying as neither male or female and a wider awareness of gender fluidity, we need another term. So, if you’re writing about someone who’d rather not be classified or who you’re unsure about, the best approach is to use ‘they’. For example, “Sam is a pilot, they’ve always loved flying.” See? Easy.

10. Do not use contractions. Though it’s best to avoid them in formal writing, it’s okay to use contractions with an informal audience. Generally, people want to read stuff that sounds like they speak. And most people don’t speak formally (lawyers, the Queen and her corgis aside). Most writing, including SEO content such as websites and blogging works best when it sounds natural and engaging, and contractions really help.

 

Breaking grammar rules, rather than landing you on the naughty step, can make a step change in the effectiveness of your copywriting. Using your judgement, based on context, will help make sure your tone of voice suits the brand and subject – as well as creating that all-important connection with your audience. So, whether you’re a freelance copywriter who wants to make their work more effective or another professional keen to write better, remember, some rules were made to be broken.



Squeak. Squeak. ROAR. That’s the sound of copywriter having an idea

Sometimes copywriting is about crafting the right words. Sometimes it’s about shuffling the old grey matter, to create ideas. Sometimes copywriting is about bring it all together, for the greater good – or search engine rankings.

 

Tiny = Enormous. Really.

Everyone keeps telling you to make an impact on social media. But who has something interesting to say, week-in-week-out? Something that doesn’t make you sound desperate? That’s where a good copywriter can help, with some awesome ideas. Ideas are great. They’re small. But powerful. Tiny little things with enormous consequences, especially on social media.

 

It’s easy to be hard to ignore

A good copywriter can create a content calendar of ideas for industry/area-specific subjects write about on social media. And of course a good freelance copywriter will be able to write those smart Facebook posts and super-snappy tweets, which pique interest and get you the shares you need.

 

Look left. Look right. What’s coming?

But when you’re looking for copywriting services, you want to make sure your copywriter or copywriting team is the full package, and can give you everything you need. That’s why Alex Genn Copywriting isn’t just about ideas. We know social must drive web traffic, and that’s our focus. Our content calendars are also blog calendars. And our copywriting team is expert in writing original, search engine optimised (SEO) blogs that help push your site up the search page rankings. This turns the copywriting we do for social posts into perky little teasers that link to the blogs. Original, interesting and fully SEO blogs that people love to read – and share.

 

Beyond blogs

Of course once you get people onto your site, through your blog, you’ll want to direct them through your sales journey. And a good copywriter will have you covered there too. Not in a gun fight sort of way though. More in a, making the language work to move people through, with clever, short sentences, snappy little paragraphs headings, and punchy calls to action, sort of a way. A good copywriter can review the whole site, from content strategy to tone of voice, to terminology and even images. Clever huh?



We’re not all superheroes with odd backstories. And that’s good. Obviously.

Usually, copywriting and tone of voice are things entrepreneurs don’t think about until after the company is established. That makes sense, you’re far too busy making the business work. But talking to a freelance copywriter sooner can help you establish who your brand is early, so all your marketing is consistent. Which means you won’t be spending money re-writing your website, mobile app or offline communications later. It might not seem like it, but when it comes to starting up your company there’s little more important than getting your copywriting right; your website, social or blog are the first place most customers will meet your company and your words are their first experience of your brand.

Consistency counts; BIGTIME

A good freelance copywriter can take the content and copy of your blogs, website or social and make it really connect with your audience. It’s not just finding the right words or getting the grammar right. It’s about creating a consistent tone of voice that establishes the brand as something the reader can trust. It’s that word ‘consistent’; that’s what counts. By making sure the language (or tone of voice as your clever-clogs copywriter will call it) is consistent all over the website and your other communications, your customers will always recognise your brand.

So who are we?

It can be great fun working out who your business is and how it talks (and so how it writes). Authoritarian expert? A chatty mate in the pub? Or a superhero with an odd back story? All companies have a different brand personality and need a different tone of voice. Of course, no one knows your company better than you. So our copywriters work with you to help define the brand personality of the business.

How do we decide?

We can help through onsite sessions or remote surveys, whatever’s easiest for you but you’re a key part of the process. And of course once it’s all locked down, expert copywriting brings it all together in consistent collateral. From the words you use, to the length or your sentences, to the frequency of your communications, a good freelance copywriter will help make sure your brand is ‘someone’ your customers really relate to, who’s always reliable and consistent, just like your products.

Whether you’re writing web content to push yourself up the search page rankings, creating fascinating blogs that give you something interesting to talk about on social media or developing a killer app, your copywriter will make sure that what you say is made even more powerful by how you say it.