What tone does your writing take?  Are you the all-knowing sage of product advice, or the trendy counter-culture revolutionary introducing a new idea?  What does the tone of your marketing copy say about your brand?

Most of us publish marketing collateral without a second thought as to the tone with which our message is conveyed.  We count the number of words used, not the number of emotions conveyed.  It’s a simple tactic that helps us reach the necessary end of our task – a “well-written” piece of material talking about our product.  At the same time, though, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot.

In high school, like many of you, I was lucky enough to read James Joyce’s The Dead. Among other things, it taught me the very important lesson that whatever intention with which we pen words, they can often be misunderstood.  In my class, the opening line of the book was one of the heaviest points of contention of the entire story:

Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet.

We all know that “run off her feet” is a metaphor, so to write that Lily was literally run off her feet is either a glaring mistake, or a clever show of Joyce’s writing style.  Unfortunately for Joyce, many of my fellow students thought it was a mistake.  Really, though, he was just tapping in to Lily’s voice while writing the segment about her, delving into a level of tonal control that most modern writers and readers clearly lack.

A brilliant way to write, true, but it was lost on the majority of my high school class.  Similarly, thoughtful anecdotes in user guides and jokes in television commercials can be misconstrued.  A particular TV commercial running in the area urges men to give “the woman in your life the best gift possible.  Schedule her PAP smear.”

I understand the intention behind the ad, but “honey, I scheduled you an intimate physical appointment for Christmas.  I know you wanted a diamond bracelet, but this is so much more meaningful” doesn’t scream holiday cheer.  Instead it reeks of opportunistic marketing, a well-meaning organization trying to piggyback on the season of giving.

Then again, that’s just one person’s opinion.  Like I said, the voice with which you market can and will be heard a million different ways by your potential customers.  So try to make a conscious effort to control your voice and speak a message you truly want to convey, not just one that’s convenient.