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It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Well not quite, you cannot say anything and hope that it will be understood by your audience in the way that you want it to be understood.

But once you have defined your audience and formulated your message then the language, the vocabulary and the tone and timbre of voice used to deliver your message will affect its success.

There is rarely just one tone of voice, just one language that is right, but there are many that will be wrong.

No flowers please

Whatever the purpose of your text, the reason for presenting information is to affect someone’s thoughts and actions with the intention that they specify or buy what you are offering.

Good writers use the right words in the right way to make readers think that which the writers wish them to think. Ignore your audience’s needs and you are writing merely to satisfy your vanity.

In a technical environment, flowery descriptions and literary analogies will merely blur understanding.

In a highly focussed sales effort, circumlocatory dialogue will slow and maybe stall the sales process. In a testimonial or case study, imprecise and inaccurate wording will serve to introduce doubts about the honesty of the evidence.

Your company’s voice should be consistent across all your communications. Ideally it will be differentiated from your competitors while employing the language and vocabulary that your audience expects.

With imagination you can develop your voice so that your audience will recognise your company without being put off by a lack of professionalism or an overly jokey approach.

Audience receptivity and thus understanding will be blocked by words that are unfamiliar, vague, uninformative and ambiguous. Which is why precision in language is essential for effective marketing copy.

And as well as helping you sell, using the right language saves you money.

Using the right language means you avoid additional costs when providing technical support because of unclear installation instructions or poorly understood maintenance manuals, and you avoid wasting money on marketing material that is simply not read because it is deemed to be irrelevant.

But you can go too far

A hotel in the US, in Atlanta in fact, decided to change its service culture by changing its vocabulary and the job titles of its workers.

Housekeepers are now called ‘designers’; receptionists are ‘personal hosts’ and there is no longer a check-in process but a ‘welcome ritual’.

One justification for all this was that “when you’re designing, you’re creating a future for somebody, instead of with housekeeping where you’re just cleaning up the past. It gives a different vision for the workers”.

And no doubt a diiferent vision to designers who actually design things and who were thinking of booking that hotel. 

Rick Osman is a partner in Highwire Design, a design and marketing agency that specialises in the construction industry, and one of the team that created as well as being a CIMCIG committee member and a judge for the Construction Marketing Awards. You can find out about construction marketing events at


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