No, this isn’t one of those “blame everyone else because my marketing isn’t working” rant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As marketers, we tend to forget one of the most fundamental rules in delivering our message – tone of voice.

A friend of ours has been taking her dog to obedience classes  and is quite proud of the progress they’ve made together. Yet there is one significant factor that is not allowing that success to translate to the pup’s behaviour at home – at least not all the time – our friend’s partner speaks with a relatively raw Scottish accent. So, when our friend commands the dog to, “Lie down!” everything works out just fine. But when her partner tries the same with her guttural treatment of vowels and slightly different emphasis of constants, the resulting, “Lah duuunne!” causes the dog to tilt his head sideways and whimper in confusion. As dogs are, he’s desperate to please, but just doesn’t understand these two simple words because the tone of voice is simply wrong to his trained ear.

As consumers, we are not so different than our friend’s dog. We too are often desperate to please (even if only ourselves). This desperation has trained us to search for purchases in our continual attempts to satiate our need to be happier, healthier, faster, busier, smarter, more attractive, bigger, smaller, more fulfilled people, spouses, friends, parents, children, employees, managers, sisters, brothers, teams, leaders and masters of our own destiny. Yet, we often avoid brands that might offer exactly what we’re looking for simply because we didn’t understand the message. Our brains reject the marketer’s effort to reach out and connect with us if we’ve don’t hear the right or expected tone of voice – the words are never processed and the information that the marketer wanted us to know is never absorbed.

Sometimes it’s because copy proofers have reworked a sentence so many times that it has lost all the personality that the copywriter originally intended. Or we’ve “scaled it back a bit” because we haven’t given the client enough credit as being open to pushing boundaries and exploring new approaches. In this digital age, it’s often because we tend to be so focused on the functional applications of our interactive elements that we forget that they are actually communication channels first. Or that the 140 characters we’re limited to force us to abbreviate every word we want to use, eliminating any chance for nuance and context. OMG LOL.

Whatever the reason, no matter how sophisticated the strategy is or how innovative the implementation is, the effort is for naught if the “ear” of the audience isn’t understood well enough throughout the planning and creative processes to ensure we speak to them in a tonal language they understand.

So remember our friend’s poor dog as you develop your next marketing effort, and remember that it’s not necessarily the words you choose that will carry the day as much as it is the tone in which you deliver them.