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Conversational vs formal tone: Striking the right balance

In my last blog, I discussed the power of writing in a conversational tone to engage readers and create a connection. Using simple language and rhetorical questions and injecting a friendly, one-on-one feel into your writing can work wonders for B2B content.  


But a conversational style isn't always the right approach.


Open notebook on a desk with B2B Tone Conversational? and Formal? written across two pages. There is a pen to the outside edge of each page


There are some instances when you need a more formal, professional tone and when your audience expects and prefers it. The key is striking the right balance and understanding when to switch between the two styles.


When should you use a conversational tone?


Generally speaking, a conversational, informal tone is best when you want your audience to see your company or brand as approachable, friendly, understanding and human. It's perfect for most marketing materials when you want to engage and connect with potential customers. 

 

Company blogs and websites are great examples. Have a look at Innocent Drinks (OK, not B2B, but its copywriters smash it) or accounting software company FreeAgent - they have a distinctly casual, amusing tone that resonates with their audiences.


Social media and email marketing also lend themselves to a more conversational writing style.

 

Taking FreeAgent as an example, it uses a friendly, conversational voice in its blogs while covering topics that many may find rather tedious - accounting, taxes, and business finance.


For example, a recent post started:

"You've defined your big idea, nailed down your business plan, and now you're raring to go. But when is a good time of year to start a new business?"

 

This casual, relatable opening draws the reader in before diving into the more complex subject matter. Throughout the post, FreeAgent uses contractions, simple language, and even some gentle humour to make managing taxes feel more manageable rather than dull and intimidating.

 

Its conversational tone translates well to social media, too. FreeAgent's posts on X often pose questions to their audience in an engaging, non-robotic way despite covering traditional accounting topics. It makes their software solution feel more human and approachable. 


 

Social Media post by FreeAgent on X It has a drawing of a yellow blue and red rubix cube with APR 5 on it to signify the tax year

When is formal writing more appropriate?


But not all writing works in a conversational tone. There are instances when a more formal, professional tone is expected and even required. Take technical documents, whitepapers, official reports, and other highly technical or financial content. With these, you need to project expertise, precision, and credibility. A casual, chatty tone doesn't work for this formal material. It can make them sound unprofessional.

 

The same applies to legal content like stakeholder reports, terms and conditions, policies, etc. The language used in these needs to be clear, unambiguous, and, depending on the content, legally binding – not conversational.

 

Some forms of writing, such as scientific, academic and medical, have strict style guidelines, layout and formatting requirements that dictate a formal tone. Writing a research paper or technical piece in a conversational tone will undermine its credibility and authority.



set of scales on a desk with stones on them. One side is heavier than the other

Finding the right balance


However, deciding on the tone isn't always straightforward. Sometimes, you may want to mix the two styles.  

 

For example, a website's "About Us" page could start with a friendly introduction written in a conversational tone that gives a warm introduction and some personality to the brand. 

 

"We may be a relatively small company, but behind the door to our modest office in Blackfriars, London, lies a wealth of experience and knowledge. 

 

Meridian Infrastructure Solutions was founded in 2008 by Frank Richardson and Michael Patel. After years of experience in civil engineering, they saw an opportunity to create a different kind of company – one dedicated to innovative infrastructure design that improves communities."

 

But you then may adopt a more formal tone for staff bios and when introducing the leadership team. 

 

"Frank Richardson, Co-founder and CEO

Frank is a Chartered Structural and Civil Engineer with over 15 years of experience managing large-scale infrastructure projects ranging from transportation to utilities....."

 

Using a more professional, fact-based tone reinforces the expertise and capabilities of the individuals behind the company.

 

So, on this "About Us" page, the approach blends conversational and formal writing styles. This makes a personable connection and then establishes authority and credibility. 

 

Mastering the balance


Knowing when to be conversational and formal in your B2B writing boils down to understanding your audience and the situation. A conversational tone can create a comfortable, engaging experience for your readers. But there are also times when you need a more formal approach to establish authority.

 

Most brands will have clearly defined tone and style guidelines about when to use conversational tone versus formal language. However, as a writer, you will need to be flexible and adapt your tone based on what you're writing about.

 

Don't worry, though. With practice, you'll get the hang of it. Ask for feedback, refine your approach and hone your skills and soon matching your tone to your message and audience will become second nature.


Do you need help writing B2B content in the right tone for your business and audience? As an experienced writer, I understand the nuances of formal versus conversational styles and when to employ each approach. So get in touch and let’s talk; I’m here to help.



 


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