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Last week we talked about some of the trends in marketing speak that we see brands using on their websites and in their communications materials. In particular, we talked about the things you should consider when deciding which style of writing is the best fit for the audience you’re targeting. Today we’re going to talk about another key thing to consider when you’re writing about your brand: how formal your language should be. That is, should you use casual language (e.g., “Is it really time for you to go? We were just getting to know each other”), or are you better off going formal (e.g., “Please confirm that you wish to unsubscribe from our mailing list”)?

Well, we hate to say this, but it depends. Three key things that it depends on are the product or service your brand offers, your brand’s unique value proposition, and who you’re targeting.

The product or service your brand offers

If you sell all-natural fruit smoothies, you may see yourself as a brand that’s all about making life simple for people by giving them the fruity goodness they need and nothing else (i.e., no preservatives or additives). In this case, casual language may be the best way to go because it fits with your brand’s goal of keeping things simple. The juice company innocent provides a great example of this: “hello, we’re innocent and we’re here to make it easy for people to do themselves some good.”

In comparison, if you sell enterprise software, you may see yourself as a brand that provides powerful, sophisticated, and reliable business solutions that people can trust. In this case, you may find that formal language is the best fit for your brand because it aligns with your goals of providing professional solutions for complex problems. Intuit, a company that provides accounting software, is a great example of this: “Intuit is a leading software provider of business and financial management solutions for small and mid-sized businesses, consumers and accounting professionals.”

Check out this table for examples of products and services and the type of language they may align with best (although exceptions exist):

Formal language

Casual language

Professional services

Entertainment products and services

Luxury goods

Organic and all-natural food retailers

Beauty services

Trendy consumer tech products

Real estate agents and developers

Children’s toys and activities

Electronics

Sports products, services, and excursions

Furniture

Fast food restaurants

Your unique value proposition

Just because two brands offer the same type of product or service doesn’t mean that they should use the same type of language. To illustrate why, let’s compare two skincare companies: Lush and L’Oréal. Both brands sell moisturizers, but they emphasize different features of their products when they describe them. Lush focuses on their commitment to using natural, environmentally friendly ingredients. This focus on keeping the “natural” in beauty aligns well with the simple language Lush uses to describe its moisturizer: “In these little pots is every last ounce of our experience and expertise, along with a world of high quality, natural ingredients.” L’Oréal, on the other hand, plays up the scientific and technological sophistication of its products. This focus on sophistication fits with the brand’s use of more formal language to describe its moisturizer: “Proven science, cutting-edge innovations captured in luxurious textures for a sumptuous skin care experience.”

See the table below for examples of unique value propositions and the type of language they may fit with best:

Formal language

Casual language

Powerful cloud computing solutions

The easiest way to watch TV

Exclusive gowns made from luxurious fabrics

100% vegan and organic

Scientifically advanced skincare formula

The best way to get a ride when you need it

Most experienced home developer

Largest selection of children’s toys

Best audio and video quality

Most action-packed sports adventures

Houses that are built to last

Best burger

Your audience

Of course, the type of language you use in brand communication doesn’t just depend on the product or service you offer and your unique value proposition. It also depends on who you’re targeting. For example, a social media management company that targets fast fashion brands may use casual language in their brand communication because they want to match the youthful and trendy personalities of the companies they target. Compare this with a social media management company that targets luxury design houses. This social media company may use formal language because they want to align themselves with the elegant and sophisticated personalities of their target brands. Similarly, a clothing store that targets teens may use casual language peppered with slang whereas a clothing store that targets middle-aged women may opt for language that’s a bit more formal.

Want to see more examples of the audiences that may gravitate toward formal vs. casual language? Check out this table:

Formal language

Casual language

Business executives

Kids

Doctors

Teens

Wealthy people

Tech startups

Lawyers

Reality TV show audiences

Older adults

Sports fans

Scientists

Ice cream store customers

 Formal language doesn’t need to be complex language

Even if you decide that formal language is a better fit for your brand than casual language, you don’t need to pack your website and marketing materials with long, dense sentences. There’s a way to go formal using simple words and phrases. For example, compare these two sentences:

  • “Gellsten Bank endeavours to ensure that its employees provide customers with services that are characterized by a high degree of professionalism and reliability.”
  • “Gellsten Bank is committed to providing customers with professional and reliable service.”

Both examples contain formal language that portrays the bank as a professional institution. However, the first example sentence is long and cumbersome whereas the second example sentence flows well and is easy to read. Don’t confuse your customers or make their lives difficult by making your brand copy more difficult to read than it needs to be. Instead, make your language accessible regardless of whether you’ve decided to go formal or casual.

Brand language varies across platforms and media

It’s important to keep in mind that although your brand language may have a “baseline” or average value on the formal–casual continuum, it’s important to shift your language in one direction or another depending on the platform or medium you’re writing for. For example, the type of language you use in an annual report will likely be more formal than the type of language you use on your website. Except for your terms of use or privacy policy pages, the language on your website doesn’t need to sound like legalese, even if you’re a law firm. At the same time, your report for investors shouldn’t sound like an extended cut of your last tweet. Be prepared to adjust your language based on the medium you’re writing for.

Moving forward

After reading everything we’ve had to say in this post, you may be left feeling a little less certain about whether you’re always using the best language to represent your brand. We would say that this feeling is a good sign because it means that you’re being thoughtful about the language you’re using in brand communication. The first step toward selecting the best brand language and using it effectively is realizing that you can’t spend five minutes arbitrarily selecting a type of language that seems to sound good. Instead, it’s important to think carefully about what your brand offers, what the key selling points of your product or service are, and who you’re targeting. If you take the time to think about your brand and what it represents, your language may not be the only thing that benefits.

Have questions about using formal vs. casual language in brand communication? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll get in touch. Your question may even inspire one of our upcoming posts!

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Inpression Editing helps businesses, professionals, and students make the best impression possible on customers, investors, hiring managers, and admissions committees. We do this by providing copywriting, editing, and writing coaching services for website copy, blog posts, marketing materials, personal statements, and much more.

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How to decide whether to use formal vs. casual language in brand communication
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