Marketing Communications Style: Know Your Audience…and Your Company

Marketing Communications Style: Know Your Audience…and Your Company

This is part three of a four-part series on marketing communications style. For more information on the subject, please visit parts one, two, and four.

In the post Is Your Marketing Collateral Tone Deaf?, we talked about keeping a consistent corporate tone in your marketing communications. This post picks up where we left off to discuss marketing communications style. Take another peek at the Dale Carnegie quote we referenced in the previous post:

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”

Amazingly, a lot of companies really don’t know exactly what they do as far as their customers are concerned. Develop security software? No, the company keeps customer data safe. Sell storage systems? No, it markets reliable room for growth. Marketing communications style should organically come from a customer’s needs—not the company’s desire to put itself front and center. Ask the following:

  • What problems and challenges do your customers face?
  • Do these challenges change depending on their job title?
  • Would our company talk to the CEO the same way it would a network administrator?

Customer Personas

If marketing doesn’t have these answers, it needs to nail them down. The best way is to develop customer personas. After all, these are real people your company is talking to—on the Web, at trade shows, in white papers. So it’s best to start, before even one word is written, with a clear picture of the intended audience. Here are some basics for creating these audience-focused customer personas:

  • What is their primary challenge or problem?
  • What information do they really want or need? (Not necessarily what marketing wants to tell them.)
  • How long have they been in the business or in their role? (Don’t talk down to your audience, regardless of how formal or casual.)
  • How would someone in your company talk to them face-to-face? Ask a salesperson.

It’s best to know as much as possible about these personas. Don’t guess—know. Marketers often flesh out these personas with descriptive names. In politics we’ve heard of Soccer Moms, NASCAR Dads, and others. Perhaps a company sells to “Risk-Averse CEOs with Tight Budgets” or “Overworked and Skeptical Engineers.” Speak to them, and their problems, and your marketing communications style is halfway there. The other half is tricky, however. How to modify your style from persona to persona, without losing consistency?

Let’s go back to our corporate dress code analogy. Suppose your company is a suit-and-tie type of organization, and it’s what your customers expect. Aren’t there times of the day when everyone loosens their tie or lets down their hair, just a bit? Formality can come down a notch depending on the form of communication.

Consistent visual appearance

Keep the same look and feel, a consistent sense of address, but vary the word choices and sentence lengths just a touch to address the varied personas organizations must reach. But keep a consistent visual appearance. Visuals are an integral part of your corporate identity and hence marketing communications style. Just take a look at multinational corporations that spend six figures or more to research and develop their logos.

And visuals go far beyond logos. Use of white space, choice of fonts, types of graphics (bold and colorful, or consistent with corporate logo colors?), and other types of visual elements all play into corporate voice and style.

Recently a marketing communications agency developed a somewhat edgy, 3-D animation script for a major client. The product team and agency felt it was different and broke some new ground in their marketspace. Finally, it was circulated to the highest level in the organization. A simple response came back from the CEO: “We don’t do cartoons.” Well, sorry to say, but he was right. Great concept, wonderful content, but wrong visual style and voice. Lesson learned.

Even the choice of font has tone and style

What? versus WHAT? truly does speak volumes. Should collateral use sans serif or serif fonts? Studies show that serif fonts are easier to read, and they convey a touch more formality.

Marketing Communications Style

According to an article by the Educational Technology Collaborative [1], serif fonts can have a greater range of style and perceived motion, while sans serif look more modern and clean. Most Web copy (over 61%) is sans serif, yet many headlines retain the more embellished serifs in both printed and online corporate communications [2].

So how do marketers keep all this straight, especially when addressing multiple audiences through multiple communications channels (email, Web, white papers)?

Marketing communications style guides

Good corporate communicators develop and keep internal style guides that detail the use of everything from typeface to the use (or non-use) of the Oxford comma [3] and acceptable word choices and graphic CMS colors. Marketing communications style guides help writers and marketers stay consistent, stylish, and on track for communicating with a range of audiences with the right information and tone they expect. We know from many years of experience at Hoffman that styles guides—and following them—makes for better copy and shortens the collateral development cycle.

Does your company use style guides? Has marketing developed personas for target audiences? Please share.

Stay in touch as we explore style guides: their pros, cons, and misdemeanors in our next post.


  1. The Perfect Page:
  2. A great study on the use of fonts was conducted by Smashing Magazine, and be found here:
  3. No, the Oxford comma is not a shirt design. It’s using a comma in a series that separates all list elements, including the penultimate item. It got its name from its consistent use by editors at the Oxford University Press. Journalists eschew it, while technical writers rely on it for greater clarity. See this:

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