Have you noticed how every automated business email now starts with Hi [your first name]?
..how chat-bots welcome to you websites with cute greetings like ‘hey there!’?
..or how businesses now send you super-casual SMS messages like ‘hooray, your order’s on the way’?
Marketing has become dramatically more personal in recent years, and technology is clearly driving this shift. But businesses of all sizes have also made a conscious decision to adopt a friendlier, more intimate writing style.
It’s called conversational copywriting.
What is conversational copywriting?
Conversational copywriting is a writing style that emulates how people talk in real life. It addresses the reader in a direct, personal, relaxed way—just like an acquaintance or friendly salesperson would.
Its tone is naturally informal, with the degree of informality depending on the audience. For example, B2C brand Innocent Drinks is famous for writing in the jokey way that a close friend might talk.
Meanwhile, B2B tech businesses like Zendesk and Mailchimp are less playful, but still have a relaxed feel.
Why is conversational copywriting helpful?
Consumers today expect personal interactions with businesses. In a 2018 Salesforce survey, 84% of respondents said being treated like a person is very important to winning their business.
Accordingly, communicating in a personal way can help brands achieve their marketing goals. For example, NextAfter reported a 145% conversion lift after switching to a personal tone in emails.
Haptik tested out chatbots with three different personality types (transactional, prosocial and friendly) and found that users were far more likely to re-interact with the friendly type.
When it comes to technology, conversational copy reminds us that there are real people behind the gadgets we use. And in competitive marketplaces, that goes a long way towards winning customer loyalty.
Dave Gerhart, CEO of Drift, seems to agree:
“Marketing today is all about trust. Whoever makes it easier to buy is going to win. And the way to make it easier to buy upfront is by letting people trust you. There’s so much noise in the market, there’s so much information out there, if you can build trust, you can do anything. And the easiest way to build trust is copywriting and being personal.”
How to make your copy conversational
1. Speak directly to the reader
Many businesses make the mistake of not addressing their readers directly. When describing what they offer, they will say things like ‘we get results for our clients’ or ‘we give our customers a money back guarantee’.
Most of the time, what they should be saying is ‘we offer you a money back guarantee’. After all, this is how people talk in real life, right? Talking directly to the reader makes the copy feel like a dialogue instead of a monologue.
2. Use contractions
Even if you don’t know what a contraction is, you probably use them all the time when you speak. They’re the bread and butter of conversational copy.
A contraction is when two words are joined together to make one of them shorter, usually with the missing letters replaced by an apostrophe. For example:
You are = you’re
She will = she’ll
Are not = aren’t
They are = they’re
There are also informal contractions, which don’t have an apostrophe. They’re rarely found in dictionaries but are used in informal spoken English:
Kind of = kinda
Going to = gonna
Let me = lemme
Not only is it good to use contractions, but it can actually hurt you if you never use them. Copy without any contractions often sounds robotic.
However, be careful with informal contractions.They’re very laid back and best saved for when you want to be super casual with your audience.
3. Use short, incomplete sentences
To write conversationally, we have to be looser when it comes to grammar. Real conversations are rarely 100% grammatically correct, because they include short, incomplete sentences (also known as sentence fragments).
Technically speaking, sentences are considered incomplete when they don’t contain at least a subject and a verb. More noticeably, they don’t make sense out of context.
Here’s an example of a complete sentence:
“Real pirates know how to swim and bury treasure.”
Here’s how you might say the same thing with incomplete sentences:
“Real pirates know how to swim. And bury treasure.”
The sentence ‘and bury treasure’ wouldn’t mean anything on its own, so technically it’s incomplete. But sentences like this reflect how people talk in real conversations.
What’s more, sentences are often short in real conversation because people frequently pause to think. Throwing a few short, incomplete sentences into your copy keeps it both punchy and conversational.
'All of it' is an incomplete sentence. Phrasing the copy this way adds just the right emphasis to the message, while also sounding conversational.
4. Start sentences in unconventional ways.
In real conversations, people start sentences with ‘and’ and other joining words all the time. They say things like:
· “So what are we doing tonight?”
· “And another thing!”
· “But the death star won’t be ready by then!”
· “Whatever; I’m still going whether you’re coming with me or not”.
· “Or we could just go to the pub instead of working today”
(That last one is a personal favourite of mine)
When you want to sound conversational, get in the habit of starting sentences with ‘and’, ‘so’, or anything else that people say when they speak.
Notice that as well as the sentence starting with 'so', this copy also uses short, incomplete sentences and rhetorical questions. Speaking of which..
5. Ask (rhetorical) questions
Throwing the occasional question into your copy is a great way to make it feel like a dialogue.
Of course, you need to be careful which type of questions you ask. A genuine request for information only makes sense if you’re giving the reader a way to respond.
However, you can also ask rhetorical questions just to make a point—or to show that you understand what a reader is thinking.
Notice that the questions above sound even more casual because they don't say 'do you remember' or 'is it worth the wait?'. Removing the verbs do/have/are from the start of questions is a great why to sound informal and conversational when perfect grammar isn't the priority.
6. Give commands
Copywriters are used to writing commands, and they’re usually calls-to-action with a very specific outcome:
However, in real conversation, commands aren’t always genuine instructions. They can often be used in other ways, for example:
· Expressing care or affection, e.g. “Have a good flight!”
· Expressing amazement or adulation, e.g. “You won again? Get outta here!”
· Making a point, e.g “Show me a man who’s more proud to be married than Charlie. I’ll wait!”
· Casually giving advice, e.g. “Use the self-service checkout, it’s faster”.
This means you can use commands to make body copy conversational. Commands are also more personal, because they bring the topic of discussion back to something the reader is doing (or thinking about doing).
As an added bonus, they often make copy punchier and tighter.
Notice that this isn't giving you a literal instruction—'enjoy the read' is simply a nice pleasantry.
Command-like phrasing is also helpful in tech copywriting when we’re explaining a product or services's capabilities, as you see here:
Bonus technique 1: Use street language, slang, and swear words
OK, this is a ‘bonus’ technique because it’s not something I would generally advise for tech copywriting. Slang terms are often regional, or used by specific age groups, so they usually won’t be a good fit for broad/international audiences.
On the other hand, with audiences from a specific age group or region, street language can make you more relatable. And while swearing in copy might sound f***ing crazy, it’s effective in certain contexts. (This includes almost swearing by using asterisks, like I just did.)
The reason swearing can work is because it’s a little risky. By doing something audacious, you are effectively saying to the audience “I know you, and I know you’ll be ok with this, because you’re cool.” For the right audience, it’s a bold yet endearing move.
The copy is from Metal Marvels, an ecommerce brand that targets rebellious women. Swear words are an integral part of the company's voice, appearing on its products as well as its marketing copy.
Gym Box targets young, cosmopolitan Londoners and is often bold in its advertising campaigns.
The 'thank you' copy from UK hot sauce retailer Tubby Tom's uses a fun mix of UK and US slang. It also uses onomatopiec spelling, which we'll discuss....now!
Bonus technique 2: Include onomatopoeic words
Another conversational technique that copywriters use involves intentionally changing the spelling of words. The idea is to create an onomatopoeic effect that reflects the exaggerated ways people pronounce particular words in conversation. For example, the 'nah' here represents how people often say 'no':
Aussie is a great brand to check out if you're looking for conversational copy inspiration, as they use this technique (and others) a lot:
Again, this is more advanced, and something I would generally avoid in tech copywriting. However, if you’re in a different industry and serving a niche that responds well to a playful, personal brand voice, it can be very effective.
Bonus technique 3: Make a joke
People make jokes and witty remarks all the time while chatting in real life. Inserting them sparingly into your copy can dial up the conversational feel, while also making you more likeable.
However, be careful when making jokes. Humour is subjective, and even though you might find something funny, the next person may not.
If in doubt, don’t take the risk. You probably won’t lose any points with your readers for not cracking a joke, but you will lose points for trying and failing to be funny.
You can use these techniques to get super chatty with your copy, whether you’re writing emails, chat-bots or angry letters to your landlord.
However, there are two things to keep in mind.
First, copywriting tone shouldn’t take priority over the content or delivery of your message. All style with no substance won’t get you far, and if being conversational is weakening your UX, it’s time for a rethink.
Second, it’s important to be sure that this style is actually appropriate for your audience and industry.
Conversational copywriting might not be the right choice in more formal or functional contexts. But using it to deliver the right message, at the right time, with a style your audience relates to? That’s dynamite.