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How to drive response with the right messaging tone

Posted by Michelle Keefe on July 29, 2014

Marketers have the ability to drive response by employing a certain tone to support their objective. Often, the product or service being sold determines the tone. A billboard featuring an energy drink will likely communicate its message in a spirited tone, while a PSA might take on a more serious one.

Over the years, Jacobs & Clevenger has worked with clients as different as night and day. We’ve developed campaigns for beauty products, renewable energy, the automotive industry, pyrotechnics and more, and we know how essential the right tone is to achieving optimal results.

When developing a campaign, it’s important to review your company’s style guide if one exists. Sometimes, something as simple as an exclamation point might be considered too loud, and certain words might also be off limits. This article examines how tone can influence the impact of your communications and compares two very different campaigns to illustrate the ways you can emphasize a point and drive response.

An exercise in urgency: NOKIA’s “hands on the wheel” campaign for Ford
NOKIA, a leader in navigation technology, wanted a campaign that would compel Ford owners to update their in-vehicle map while alerting them to the features that help prevent distracted driving. This topic demands a clear level of urgency in the tone because it deals with the safekeeping of vehicle owners and their families.

The consequences of distracted driving are not to be taken lightly, so the campaign employed a frank, assertive tone that reinforced the importance of awareness on the road: “It only takes a few seconds of distracted driving to lose everything.”

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation substantiate this claim.1 An increase in mobile phone usage tops the list for leading causes of automobile accidents. The tone serves as a gentle warning but also bridges the gap between marketer and customer by getting personal.

According to a 2014 Deloitte study, consumers identify “family needs”—that is, the ability for other family members and dependents to use the vehicle—as a top trigger in the purchase process.2 In fact, it’s eight times more important as a trigger than brand image. This only makes the case for an urgent, direct tone stronger.

The campaign also combined two distinct tones to achieve its goal. It used the Ford brand voice to create an immediate connection with the target. Ford owners learned about the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of map updates in an informative and educational way. Ford reassured these important customers that “We want you to help you drive safely.”

The campaign also leveraged a response-oriented tone to motivate the target into action. This tone was direct and active, informing the target how and why to respond with powerful, pointed messaging. It also leveraged an expiration date to create a true sense of urgency.

By marrying the Ford brand voice with a response-oriented tone, the campaign achieved an overall tone that was both informative and imperative.

Getting personal and relevant is a foundation in direct marketing. A marketer can drive response by getting personal and touching upon something that really hits home with the customer. When you accomplish that, you leave a lasting impression.

To learn more about this NOKIA campaign for Ford, please visit our portfolio case study.

A referral approach: FirstEnergy Solutions’ Friends and Family Program
Think of the last good thing that happened to you. Did you keep it to yourself or share the news with a loved one? Chances are, you shared the news.

FirstEnergy Solutions, an electric generation supplier, wanted to spread the word about an employee referral program that offered exclusive savings to friends and family members of existing customers. This built-in relationship allowed us to use a light, conversational tone to share the news about great savings.

Using a “pass it on” motif, we put together the following: “With Friends and Family, the savings go on and on…” and “When you get savings this good, you pass them on.”

Note the relaxed, informal tone. Though a far cry from the urgency in NOKIA’s campaign, the messaging still encourages customers to take action. The difference lies in the approach. Instead of using a public service tone to drive response, we instead give the impression of a friend pulling aside another friend and saying, “Hey, here’s how you can save a few bucks.”

Tone does not limit your ability to persuade a target if it aligns with the spirit of the campaign. You can still convey the right ideas and persuade the target to act when tone, whether strong or subdued, is implemented correctly.

The referral method is a great way to establish new customer relationships and nurture existing ones. Along with the friendly, inclusive tone, we implemented a number of direct mail best practices. The campaign engaged with customers across multiple channels in order to ensure that our message reached a broad market. We created a brochure and signage for in-office distribution, designed a landing page specifically for Friends and Family enrollees and sent out an email to existing customers encouraging them to spread the news about the savings.

New webinar. Techniques to optimize your communications to drive action. Sign up now. You can see the Friends and Family campaign for yourself in our portfolio case study.

To learn more about direct mail best practices and how to drive response in your marketing communications, be sure to sign up for the personalized webinar Improving Performance and Optimizing Your Communications. It’s free, and you’ll come away with some great insights.


1. U.S. Department of Transportation
2. Deloitte, Driving Through the Consumer’s Mind: Considerations for Car Purchase, February 2014.

Topics: Direct Marketing

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