I, we or they? Finding your voice in copywriting

I’m often asked about the right “voice” for business communications? There is no absolute answer. It all depends.

Whether you’re writing for email, your website, print marketing collateral or your blog, choosing the appropriate voice for your piece depends on your objective, your audience and your business.

Connect and emote with “I”

The first person “I” is the most personal and connective of the pronouns. It puts you, your reputation and (sometimes) your heart on the line. It’s a bit brave and a tad risky, but “I” makes the strongest emotional link to your audience. It says you’re human and you care. It’s particularly potent for female audiences.

If you’re building a personal brand based on your own expertise, skills and/or personality, the “I” voice may be the most effective for you. Your audience wants to know your personal perspectives and feel privileged that you share with them on an individual level. It’s as if you’re speaking directly to them.

The “I” voice provides a sense of confidence and authenticity to risk-averse prospects who fear the anonymity of the online marketplace.

Impress and amplify with “we”

If you’re growing a business brand and seeking to emphasise your capacity, the “we” voice is not so wee.

Even if you’re a soloist spinning smoke and mirrors about your team (existing or not), communicating in a plural voice can help convey a sense of strength and capability.

When you say “we” your audience may fill in the gaps and assume you have an army of professionals poised ready to deliver services or products, or that you have access to a pool of wisdom that will help solve their problem or need. It’s a hefty value proposition … if you have the resources to back it up when needed.

Beat your chest with “they”

In the late 1990s, it was rare for businesses to communicate in first person “I” or “we” voices – it was simply considered unprofessional. Corporate-speak and wordiness were enjoying their heyday.

Over the last decade or so we’ve seen some (perhaps most) of the biggies move towards a first person voice in most of their communications, most of the time. Why? Because in the digital age, credibility and authenticity are key, both for big brands and littlies.

Still, there are times when a third person “they” voice comes in handy for business communications. When your business has something big to brag about, talking as if you are a third party gives you more license to boast, thump your chest and tell the world what a great job you’ve done. Think of it as the testimonial voice, the one you use to brag about the things you’re too humble to say using the “I” voice. The tone is reportage, like a press release.

So, how do you choose? Put yourself in the shoes of your target customer group – do they see you as an I, we or they? Then ask yourself this question: how do I want them to perceive me/my business?

Still stuck? Ask a friendly copywriter. We don’t bite.

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