It’s not what you say – It’s how you say it


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A wise man once said… “It’s not what you say – It’s how you say it”.

A recent survey by written communications agency, Stratton Craig, revealed that ‘lack of information’ is the biggest turn-off for users when buying online. It’s a fairly self-explanatory stat that shows that WHAT you say is hugely important and immediately influential, but the subtleties behind HOW you say it can be a significant factor in the decision-making process too.

The importance of a clear and authentic voice

The research also suggests that clarity is crucial, stating that ‘users want to quickly understand content they browse and if it doesn’t cut to the chase, they click elsewhere’. A big part of achieving this clarity relies upon using an appropriate and authentic tone of voice.

But what is an appropriate tone of voice? It sounds complicated but it needn’t be. The language you use should accurately reflect your brand. That means it must uphold your brand values and ensure you stand out from your competition. Often what customers or clients read online will be their first impression of your business, so your tone of voice captures the atmosphere they’d experience if they walked into your shop or office. That means aligning the personality of your copy with the culture of your business. The best place to start is to ask:

What are our key values? What do we stand for and what does that mean to how we behave?
From the point of defining this, you can define a set of core brand values which should guide the personality and tone of voice that your brand communicates with.

The finer details

Once you’ve decided what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, the importance of high-quality writing shouldn’t be underestimated. Online entrepreneur, Charles Duncombe, analysed website figures from to find that a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.
Duncombe commented: “Project these figures across the whole of internet retail, then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes.”

Duncombe certainly isn’t the first to identify the costs of bad spelling either. During NASA’s Mariner 1 mission, a simple spelling error in code caused the vessel to launch with the wrong destination. NASA subsequently had to issue the destruct command on the $80 million spacecraft – costing them millions more in the process.

In 2008, 1.5 million Chilean coins were released with the country’s name spelt incorrectly as ’Chiie’ – a huge error that cost the country and employees at the Chilean mint dearly. And in another spelling story, in Oneida County, NY, 130,000 voter ballots were printed with President Barack Obama’s name misspelled – costing over $75,000 to reprint.

More recently, a typo in the phrase ‘not recommended’ led to severely restricted use of the Obamacare website. Visitors to the site were invited to determine which insurance plans were fit for them, but the minor spelling error led to fewer options, and those that did appear were overpriced. Ultimately, it’s reported that this ultimately led to the already troubled site completely crashing. It was one of reportedly hundreds of issues with the site, but a costly and easily avoidable one nonetheless.

Why does spelling matter so much?

Misspelling can clearly cause costly havoc for organisations of any kind – but why?

Poor grammar immediately raises questions over the credibility of a website or publication, and sometimes it can even lead to misinterpretation of the intended meaning. By ensuring your content is of the highest quality, you can safeguard your business against such risks. After all, research like the above suggests there’s a clear link between this and your bottom line – and that’s something worth protecting. If there is any doubt at all take a look at this, even the BBC agrees.

As the above examples go to show, spelling errors can cause major technical disruption ‘behind the scenes’ too. And when it comes to search engines, although there is some leeway to account for misspellings, you could be losing thousands of valuable impressions due to an easily avoidable mistake. And if your listing does appear plagued by a spelling error, there’s no doubt that your hits will suffer.

High-quality content = a quality investment

Stratton Craig’s infographic on the price of bad content can be found here. It reveals a great deal about how it can be the simple things that make the difference and contains valuable learnings for any company.


Obamacare error:

Charles Duncombe:

NASA, Chilean Mint, Elections:

Caroline Holmes
We're a written communications agency with offices in London and Bristol. We select, craft and polish words to help you communicate with stakeholders in a way that creates lasting, tangible benefits. As language specialists, we offer in-house marketing and communications teams and their creative agencies a wealth of copywriting expertise. Our services include tone of voice development, brand positioning, copywriter training, corporate reporting, digital copy and content strategy.


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