Ask a marketer to describe the ideal brand voice, and you’re bound to hear one word: conversational. Judging by our research, that’s causing a problem.
For the record, using clear, colloquial language in your work is good. It makes content accessible and helps audiences understand what you’re trying to convey. But marketers may be conflating conversational and agreeable, which is leading to blander stories that lack in-depth advice. This is especially crucial in financial services where people make life-changing decisions with their money.
Using StoryBook, which integrates Voice and Tone data from IBM Watson, we scored the brand voice and tone of every piece of content in our report across five traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, emotional range, and openness. (Scores range between 0 and 1.) We found a correlation between a low agreeableness score and better-performing content, especially for stories about investing.
The new fintech companies and B2B brands, on average, are more comfortable with this style than the big banks and their consuming-facing content.
We also drilled into the data a bit more, looking at just the top 100 pieces per sector, based on most social shares. On average, the most successful stories in fintech and B2B had even lower agreeableness scores.
In this context, agreeableness refers to a person’s tendency to be compassionate, cooperative, and compromising. It also suggests a dislike of confrontation.
There’s definitely a place for compassion in marketing, but finserv audiences also benefit from hard-hitting, assertive counsel rather than vague or meek recommendations. Think of the contrarian prediction that pays off or the practical assessment that delivers honest advice. These traits are particularly important when talking about investing strategies because companies can ensure their content stands out.
Binance, for instance, pulled this off with “A Beginner’s Guide to Day Trading Cryptocurrency,” which has an agreeableness score of .04 and has been shared over 5,000 times on social media. Of course Binance’s content team hopes people will use their exchange to invest, but the guide doesn’t sugarcoat the details. It breaks down “the highly stressful and very demanding” life of a day trader and recommends follow-up resources people should consult before jumping in.
If marketers want to make their content more approachable, they should instead focus on the reading level of their content and run it through a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level analysis. This reveals what grade level would be most comfortable understanding your work based on factors like the number of words per sentence and syllables per word. (For reference, this report reads at a 9th-grade level, just about where you’d find a Malcolm Gladwell book.)
In general, marketers may have misconceptions about what they sound like and what audiences want. Many popular authors and journalists write at an elementary or middle school reading level. That’s because content written at lower reading levels are generally much more enjoyable to read. It’s also much more trustworthy. An Ohio State University study found that jargon-free content makes consumers much more engaged and eager to learn more about a product or service.
Even if your target audience is more educated, you can still benefit from simplifying your work. One thing that a lot of great content marketing has in common is the ability to make complex topics easy to understand. If the goal is to be conversational, then we should make sure there’s a system in place to have the right conversations with our customers.
Big takeaway: Study your brand voice and tone to see if there’s room to make your content more helpful and commanding.