Forming the tone of a start-up

make your writing blow people away

Hello! My name’s Cat and this is my first post for my new content blog. If you have a small business or start-up and are new to the world of online content, I can help. The idea of this blog post is to help you start to create a distinct tone and style without a professional copywriter. Even if you aren’t going to have reams of content, every single word counts and can help you on your journey to success and fortune. So, let’s get started.

Before you even think of writing a single word, you need to think clearly about who your user or customer is and who you are as a business.

Do you want to be a reliable and serious source of knowledge and expertise, or do you want to be a friendly, best friend kind of resource who they look to for advice, a little humour and joviality? Try and picture an actual person or personality in your mind. Where do they live? Who are their friends? What line of work do they do? While this may change as you find out more about your users, it will help you to stay on track and write in a clear and consistent style.

For example, if you have a fashion website aimed at women of around the 40+ age group and you use terms such as cool-girl and trendy, you will automatically, without a doubt, make them feel excluded and could possibly lose a sale. That gorgeous blouse they were just looking at was destined for their shopping cart, until you referred to it as a New York cool-girl essential. You just made them feel old and out of touch and lost that sale all because you didn’t understand your customer well enough.

The same could be said for a discount website that is all about the price. While you still want to make the product you are marketing sound attractive, you don’t want it to sound too luxurious, trendy or unobtainable.  The first thing I always do when working on a new tone of voice for a brand is to draw up a list of vocabulary that will suit and engage with the audience.

Start by doing some research on other websites, magazines, fliers etc and collect together a list of words, phrases, calls to actions and headlines that you like and think represent your business/ brand well. Then, do the complete opposite. Which words/ phrases do not represent your brand well at all? Split these into ‘completely banned’ and ‘use with caution’.

Tip: Create a document with these words and circulate it around your team. This will help them have a clearer understanding of who you want to be and where you’re headed.

Check out these case studies to see how brands maintain and use a strong tone of voice effectively.


The tone of Net-a-Porter is that of your coolest and most stylish best friend but delivered with the style and sophistication of a glossy fashion magazine. They assume you have a certain amount of fashion knowledge so they don’t dumb their content down or patronise, they just advise and entice you. This kind of expertise is trusted by their customer base, and their online magazine and product content still continues to be one of their most valuable forms of marketing.

Net-a-Porter case study

This style of product information informs the customer a little more about the season and collection this piece derives from while justifying the price point and telling you how to style it. All this information is delivered succinctly and stylishly. They understand that the customer wants to know what inspired the design of this blouse and who designed it (if they don’t already know) and it includes all of this information subtly without any hint of the hard sell.

Net-a-Porter magazine

Net-a-Porter’s online magazine is edited by ex-Harper’s Bazaar editor, Lucy Yeoman’s so it has all of the feel and finesse of a high-end fashion magazine.

Their content style isn’t jokey or irreverent, but informative and sophisticated. They’re catering to an international crowd with a very hefty disposable income, so they have to be very careful not to alienate people with colloquial or very British language. They also use US English so as to be as international as possible – something you might want to think about if your user base is global. is a great example of a business taking a pretty boring subject (business cards) and making it highly desirable through great design and content. Their website is really user friendly and the tone is friendly and personable. When I visited Moo for the first time, I felt like I wanted to work there. Why? Because they sell an ideal, a lifestyle and a brand. This kind of passion is communicated really effectively through their content and blog. (A blog is another great way of communicating with your customer, but we’ll go into that more later).

Note the keywords used in this short bit of copy. ‘Your’ makes you feel inclusive, ‘Unique and affordable’ makes you feel like the idea and lifestyle they’re selling is obtainable and ‘having fun’ adds a friendly finishing touch. All of these words are upbeat and positive.

Moo for business

– ‘You and Your business’ is a great way of making this short bit of copy relevant to you.

–  ‘MOO for business could be the right move’ – note the use of ‘could’. Moo is not about the hard sell but the subtle push. It feels like a choice rather than a dead cert.

– ‘Personal service’, ‘makes your life easier’ and ‘saves you time and money’ are all inclusive, friendly and positive.

– Ending with a question is a great move. They’re leaving the final decision with you. There’s no aggressive ‘sign up now!’ or ‘buy here!’ While this works for other companies, it’s not their style and they’re very, very consistent with sticking to it.

–  The ‘Interested? Then Let’s Talk’ button is so inviting you feel like you’re being invited in for a cup of tea. They’ve used very little words but they’ve really made each one count.

When you’ve decided on the general tone and style of your content, you need to think about how you’ll adapt this to each social and content channel.  You’ll soon start to see what your users engage with whether it be a cute picture of a dog or a really informative infographic or article. This is a great way to find out more about your customer and you can then start to subtly tweak your content style if necessary.

For example, I recently did a celebrity ‘Get The Look’ feature for It included individual posts of summer looks worn by Emma Roberts, Kim Kardashian, Katherine Jenkins, Rita Ora and Kate Moss. I posted each individual look throughout the day and Katherine Jenkins and Kim Kardashian received by far the most interaction which showed clearly who our customer base identified with. I’ve since stopped using younger, pop culture references and maintained a more discount-orientated, family friendly tone.

MyVoucherCodes is a good example of one being adapted to suit their social channels. While there isn’t much room for long content on the site, their Facebook character, Walley adds a personal and humorous twist to their offers and affiliate links. The example below got shared 20 times and received 72 likes. The main aim of the post was to direct users to Sports Direct.


Take home tips:

  • Don’t write a thing until you know who your customer is and who you want to be
  • Write up a vocabulary document and make-sure your whole team has it.
  • Take a look into your competitors and see how they communicate with their audience. Which parts do you like and dislike? How will you set yourself apart from them?
  • Do your research. Make sure you regularly look at industry magazines, marketing material and websites to find new vocabulary and inspiration. This should help to keep your content fresh and engaging.

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