The Apple Voice

February 2, 2012 holman

Most startups don’t have the luxury of meeting every one of their customers. They can’t explain the case for their product in-person.

Instead, we market our product with words. We craft those words with our voice.

The Apple Voice

Apple commands their words exceedingly well. They aren’t the originator — or even the owner — of their particular voice, but they are the most visible.

Mechanically, The Apple Voice is characterized by short, declarative sentences that are informally and personally delivered to you with a hint of smugness.

Our most amazing iPhone yet. 10,000 songs in your pocket. We think you’ll like it.

For Apple, this voicing evokes two feelings:

As a consumer company, those feelings are appropriate for Apple. The Apple Voice is a far cry from Oracle’s voice or Kaiser Permanente’s voice, which both target very different markets.

The Apple Voice, however, has a lot of crossover to most startups.

The Apple Voice in startups

This voice is all over. Each put their own spin on it, but companies like 37signals, Square, and Simple use similar voicing in their copy. Square and Simple both use their words to mitigate often heavy-handed financial terminology. 37signals aims to assure us that our company’s data is safe in their high-quality, simple product.

The feelings Apple targets dovetail with the feelings many startups target. It’s a good, complimentary voice to select for your startup.

And you should select a voice

This stuff is important. You should really think through what voicing is appropriate for your company’s copy, for your announcements, and for your tweets. It impacts you in subtle ways. A well-written post is more likely to be tweeted and linked to. Good copy could encourage more people to buy. Comforting your customers’ fears encourages them to remain customers.

Maintaining a standard voicing is hard for even one person. As your company grows, though, it becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain a consistent voice as each person contributing to your copy dilutes your initial vision.

Pick gold standards

The best way to combat this is to select gold standards of work: the pieces written by your founders or executives that can stand as examples of how each employee can target their writing.

Steve Jobs was — to put it lightly — a fairly controlling personality. He certainly had a lot of control over marketing copy, with the classic “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” ad spot edited and written in part by Jobs himself. This crossed over to product announcements, too. Take a look at the recent Apple launch of iBooks 2. As a new employee to the Keynote stage, Roger Rosner almost certainly watched a number of Jobs introductions as he fairly successfully emulated Steve’s way of demoing a new product.

Tim Cook hasn’t yet issued any informal press releases, but when he does it wouldn’t be surprising to see him emulate the writing style Jobs created in the original Thoughts on Music anti-DRM post. It’s an expanded form of their ad copy: informal, persuasive, and data-heavy.

GitHub’s gold standards

On GitHub’s blog, the main posts are either technical or announcement-related. There are two specific gold standard GitHub pieces that have directly influenced most other GitHub blog posts.

Tom Preston-Werner’s 2009 post on How We Made GitHub Fast characterized GitHub’s technical posts. Extremely detailed and formally written, it conveys an appropriate sheen of consummate professionalism. This directly impacted how later technical posts were written, particularly in regard towards downtime. When the site goes down, it’s important to plainly state the case, explain what happened, and detail what is changing to prevent this in the future.

Chris Wanstrath writes great launch posts. (His CodeConf announcement post, for example, is just impressively ballsy.) He collaborated with Kyle Neath on the post for the launch of Organizations in 2010, and that style of post led directly to the Issues 2.0 launch post and the Enterprise launch post. Most GitHub feature launches now employ this point-by-point, graphical, partially technical writing style.

GitHub encourages employees to write their feature and announcement posts themselves. As more employees are hired, these posts can be pointed towards as gold standards in order to help get everyone on the same page.

It’s important to identify your company’s voice. It’s important to decide who is in charge of different aspects of your voice, and how you can keep that voicing consistent even as you grow larger and larger.

Apple does a great job, and if their perspective is relevant to your own, take a look at emulating them and putting your own spin on their voice. Consistent, clear copy helps craft your experience.

So go craft one.