As consumers who are exposed to advertising, we can’t help but notice that some brands have an immediately recognisable tone of voice. Nike is inspirational. Apple is direct and at times smug. Dove is friendly and supportive. These three brands have such well-defined personalities they even have their own unique way of talking to us. “It’s tough out there”, the iPhone 11 ad tells us. A Samsung or Motorola ad could never feature such a phrase, could it?
But brands don’t just communicate through advertising spots. They communicate through other channels too – brochures, social media and their website. And while business-to-consumer companies like Nike, Apple and Unilever speak to the people who buy their products, business-to-business companies tend to speak to their clients, who are other companies, rather than the end consumers. And when it comes to B2B communications there is the risk of falling back on those clichés we’ve heard hundreds of times before: quality and reliability, market leader and turnkey service.
Thankfully, enlightened B2B companies do exist. There are B2B companies that take their brand identity and tone of voice seriously in just the same way a B2C company does. One compelling example is that of Technoform, a company that produces hybrid plastic spacers for insulating glass. The company chose an engaging communicative style that was anything but predictable. If you haven’t already, take a look at its brochure that I adapted from English to Italian.
This time, however, I want to tell you about another noteworthy example: Emmi Dessert Italia’s website, for which I wrote the original Italian copy.
B2B copy case study: Emmi Dessert Italia’s website
Emmi Dessert Italia, Swiss multinational Emmi’s Italian subsidiary, operates mainly within the business-to-business arena. It produces chilled speciality desserts for big retailers. I say “mainly” because it also operates within the business-to-consumer market, selling under the brand names Bontà Divina and Rachelli. I wrote the copy for Emmi Dessert Italia’s corporate website.
First step: who are we speaking to?
My project with Emmi Dessert Italia – EDITA – began with a barrage of questions. For example:
- Why do we exist?
- What do we do?
- Where are we going?
- What do we believe in?
For instance, here are EDITA’s values. In this example, I transcreated Emmi Group’s values, which already appeared in English on the parent company’s website, into Italian.
If a company isn’t able to clearly answer these questions, then it will struggle to communicate in a distinctive way. And that’s because tone of voice is a company’s personality come to life. But introspection isn’t enough. A company also needs to look outside itself. To really connect with its audience, the company must get to know it inside out. To do this, it could ask itself questions like:
- Who are we speaking to?
- How do the people we are speaking to feel?
- What do they want from us?
If a company is too busy to pay attention to the people it is speaking to, then the message just won’t get through. To really communicate, communication needs to go both ways. First of all, we have to take the trouble of putting ourselves in our audience’s shoes and find out what they are really interested in. Then, we begin speaking (which is certainly easier said than done: “How do I put myself in my audience’s shoes if I’m speaking about my products or services?”, I hear you ask. And that’s where professional copywriters come in. We are not merely pens-for-hire, but experts that can guide you through the initial stages of analysis). In EDITA’s case, the website’s target audience was quite broad. Not only did it include clients, but end consumers and potential employees who were interested in working at the company too.
To briefly recap:
- EDITA is an Italian company that produces goods in Italy but is also part of a multinational group
- it is a B2B company, but always keeps one eye on the end consumer
- its website targets clients, end consumers, and potential employees.
A rather complex copywriting project, I think you’ll agree.
Second step: how do we say it?
In addition to what emerged during my long briefing session with Emmi Dessert Italia, looking at its values revealed that this was a company that was certainly ambitious, but one that didn’t take anything for granted and was constantly striving for improvement. Moreover, EDITA is well aware that its people are its most important asset. With such a personality, EDITA could never speak to its audience in an aloof or arrogant way. On the other hand, an excessively “chummy” tone wouldn’t reflect the company’s brand identity either. Even before we delved into the content, EDITA’s communication style needed to express its expertise, determination, and enthusiasm.
And this is precisely what defining a company tone of voice entails: identifying a communication style that is consistent with the company’s personality but also reflects the feelings and expectations of its target audience. And so, before I started writing the website copy, I created a document that EDITA could use internally. It summarised EDITA’s personality and tone of voice, with the intention of guiding the company’s communication.
Third step: what do we say?
Writing is just the final step in creating an online presence. I was only able to get stuck into writing the website copy and content once the brand identity and tone of voice had been defined. Here are some examples.
The website includes a section which shares news and stories about EDITA. Below, for example, you’ll see an excerpt of the page which talks about Talent Program, the company’s new professional apprenticeship initiative. The copy in this section is perhaps more informative than blatantly promotional, but the tone of voice doesn’t change. That’s because, in order to establish a strong relationship of trust with an audience, tone of voice must be consistent. A company is not an abstract entity, but rather a person that we have a relationship with. Just like a person, a company has its own personality and its own unique way of expressing itself. And it can only be taken seriously if it speaks authentically, in its own voice..
Fourth step: let’s say it in English
Once Emmi Dessert Italia approved my texts, my copywriting project was complete. But another important piece of the puzzle was missing. EDITA is an Italian company that exports chilled speciality desserts all around the world, so its website would also need an English version. As an Italian translator and copywriter, I do not translate the written word into English (although in certain situations I do write directly in English, which I obviously ask a mother tongue colleague to proofread!). Therefore, I didn’t translate my own copy into English. And rather than a simple translation, this step would need to involve transcreation, a combination of translation and copywriting carried out by a professional skilled in both.
My English counterpart, London-based copywriter and translator Fuschia Hutton, whom I know personally and often collaborate with, adapted my copy into English. After sharing EDITA’s tone of voice document with her, I sent her the copy along with my comments on various aspects that I considered culturally or linguistically sensitive. I also made myself available for any questions. Last but not least, I shot a series of short videos in the supermarket to provide her with as complete a briefing as possible (risking getting in trouble because from what I gather you’re not supposed to film or take photos there…). I wanted to show her the difference between the chilled dessert and bakery aisles so that she could gain a better insight into this aspect of the Italian market. This is a great example of best practice: when the copywriter who has written the Italian copy and the Italian to English transcreation specialist work in synch, then quality is inevitable.