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Web Content Voice, Tone, & Style

You know what your organization looks like, but what does it sound like?

Voice, tone, and style may sound like the same thing, but they’re not. They do work closely together to define your brand. It’s worth your time to develop a voice, tone, and style guide—if you don’t have one—and use it consistently because these elements make a difference in a user’s engagement on your website.

Your organization also will benefit from creating and using a brand voice, tone, and style because it makes it easy for anyone working for your organization—internally and externally—to communicate consistently with your users. These standardized elements will help your team members increase productivity as they find answers to their questions quickly, produce quality communications with fewer drafts, and strengthen your brand through content that engages your audience.

Discover & Use Your Brand Voice

Voice is your health care organization’s brand personality. If you don’t have an established voice, you can start discovering it by examining your brand standards. Don’t have brand standards? Then consider your organization’s mission, values, and key messages. These provide the foundation to guide you and your stakeholders as you create a well-defined voice that connects with your audience.

Hospitals and health care systems often use variations on authoritative, conversational or supportive brand voices.

  • Authoritative – Formal language that carries a sense of professionalism as well as influential and respectful qualities.
  • Benefit Health leads the Midwest in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. You can trust our cardiac and vascular teams—composed of highly trained heart, vascular and thoracic specialists, nurses and technicians—to provide comprehensive, compassionate care.
  • Conversational – Informal language with a more natural, familiar approach that seems caring, informative and respectful.
  • Stay close to home while benefiting from exceptional heart and vascular care. At Benefit Health, you gain access to highly trained specialists and the same advanced treatments available at the nation’s most elite medical centers—all in a caring, comfortable community hospital setting.
  • Supportive – Casual language filled with personality, enthusiasm, and sometimes slang that seems relaxed like talking to a friend.
  • Put your heart in our hands. If you need a heart care doctor, call on Benefit Health’s Heart and Vascular specialists. You’ll have access to the latest technology and an experienced staff who will be with you every step of the way through your heart disease prevention and treatment journey.

Examples of organizations that use these different types of voices in their content include:

  • Mayo Clinic – Uses an authoritative, somewhat formal, matter-of-fact voice in its health information to describe depression. Content functions similarly to an encyclopedia entry. And even though content is written in second person (“you”) it is more serious and projects little personality. The advantage of this type of voice and structured content is that it’s easy to create and update, but the disadvantage is that the voice may seem too clinical and detached for the readers looking for a more personal touch to patient care and health information.
  • WebMD – Reflects a casual magazine-like feel. Depression content is straightforward and respectful, but written in second person for a more conversational and personable voice. The advantage of this type of voice and content is that it is credible, but with a more casual approach that invites the audience to develop a relationship with the organization. The disadvantage is that, to achieve the brand voice, the writing style must maintain a careful balance between communicating information that’s medically accurate and understandable to a patient audience. This consistent balance can be hard to achieve.
  • Health.com – Adopts a supportive voice with sympathetic and friendly content. The depression information is informal, yet courteous, uses jargon-free language, and answers the questions that users have about the condition. The advantage of this type of voice and content is that it is enthusiastic, warm and encourages interaction. The disadvantage is that this voice may sound too casual or unprofessional for some readers who are looking for a more physician-like or authoritative voice.

For many health care brands, a conversational voice written in second person is appropriate because it can convey empathy and respect, and it’s able to be more or less enthusiastic or emotional as needed for the subject. Your organization needs to decide which voice best conveys its personality and then commit to using that voice consistently across all communications.

Your Tone Matters

Tone is a part of your brand voice. Voice, however, stays the same in speech, while tone changes naturally depending on the person or situation. It’s the same principle for written communication—your tone may be different depending on the type of message you want to convey. Tone is more than just words. It communicates the way your organization feels about its brand. And you want those feelings to transfer to your users. If your tone is right, it can influence patients and prospects to feel the same way you do about your organization.

Just how important is tone to creating valuable content? Consider a recent two-part experiment by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), a leading user experience research group. NNG found that “different tones of voice on a website have measurable impacts on users’ perceptions of a brand’s friendliness, trustworthiness, and desirability. Casual, conversational, and moderately enthusiastic tones performed best.”

The experiment’s findings also suggest that those user perceptions “significantly influence users’ willingness to recommend a brand.” That means tone is important.

Put a brand identity together with well-defined voice and tone, and you have a powerful message. Here’s an example of these elements working together:

Benefit Health Brand Messaging:

  1. Together, we’re taking good care of you.
  2. The right care, in the right place, at the right time.
  3. Access to high-quality care close to home.

Voice

  • Approachable clinical expert

Tone

  • Straightforward, warm, welcoming, easy to understand

Sample Copy

As the largest employer in the region and the leading provider of healthcare services, we interact every day with people we know and care deeply about—neighbors, friends and family. The thread of Benefit Health is woven through the entire fabric of eastern Iowa, and many employees have a personal connection to their local communities. Their patients feel the extra compassion and attention that comes from being cared for by a neighbor or friend.

Now that you’ve seen what voice and tone can add to your copy, let’s take a look at style.

Why Do We Need a Writing Style?

Content represents your health care organization best when written with a consistent style. Your brand style guide will help your team create content using your brand voice, tone, and writing and editorial style uniformly across all communication channels. Writing with a consistent voice, tone, and style can aid your organization in becoming an identifiable, credible leader in your health care market.

Your organization may already follow a writing and style manual such as The Associated Press Stylebook or another resource. Your brand style guide should document the style manual to follow and then go on to address your organization’s exceptions and examples and clarify industry or organization-specific terms or uses that come up frequently. It should also function as a guide to the overall voice of your content, as the direction for the appropriate tone to use, and as an agreement about the right way to communicate with users.

Writing for the web style means you need to write for the user and focus on their concerns and emotional needs. Your style guide should reflect writing practices that promote that standard. Writing for the user may be the opposite of what you learned in marketing school, but it really pays off in keeping the user engaged. Here are some tips:

  • Talk to the user—the “you” who’s reading your copy—by actually using the word “you” as your subject.
  • Use active verbs—like discover, register or find—that imply “you” as a subject.
  • Keep your tone informal, but professional. Use “we” and “us” as opposed to “Benefit Hospital is….”
  • Make your website a friendly place by using conversational contractions like “you’ll” instead of “you will.”
  • Avoid clichés, such as world-class, cutting-edge, etc.; use terms like state-of-the-art very selectively, if at all.
  • Refer to people “with X condition” as opposed to patients “suffering from” conditions.

Make sure you’re helping your patients and prospects get to know your organization’s personality, so they feel comfortable getting services from you. Use your voice, tone, and style guide consistently across all communication channels. Or if you need help to set up these key guidelines, contact the writing experts at Geonetric. We’re here to work with you!

Web Content Voice, Tone, & Style