Thought leadership with a neutral tone is most engaging

Published: 19 July 2018

New evidence suggests we prefer a neutral tone of voice in thought leadership content

If firms are serious about using thought leadership content to drive engagement and debate, they need to consider using more writing traits identified as typically female or adopt a neutral gender approach to meet their goals.

The latest piece of Linstock research looking at tone of voice in thought leadership is underway. And the early results are eye-opening. The majority of respondents thus far have selected a clear preference for content that has a ‘neutral’ tone – combining what academia has unearthed as typically male and female writing characteristics.

We know from research we conducted last year that the purpose of thought leadership is changing. While many businesses have previously used thought leadership primarily to build brand awareness, there is a growing desire for it to boost opportunities for collaboration with target audiences. Nearly one in three (29%) firms told us that boosting collaboration will be a primary purpose of their thought leadership content over the next 5-10 years.

However, analysis of thought leadership content found that most firms use a typically male tone in their writing. Forceful, assertive and direct, it is less likely to encourage collaboration than writing which combines this style with the more descriptive female tone. Combining our analysis with existing academic literature, our view is that if firms are serious about using thought leadership content to drive engagement and debate, they need to consider using more writing traits identified as typically female or adopt a neutral gender approach to meet their goals.

Are we right? Our new research puts this to the test. And early results suggests that using a male tone of voice could be hampering firms even more than we first suspected.

We have asked communications professionals to respond to a sample excerpt from a piece of thought leadership content written in two ways; one in a male tone and one in a neutral tone. So far we’ve found almost a 2:1 preference for the neutral tone.

  • The neutral copy scores noticeably higher as more thoughtful and more likely to encourage collaboration.
  • It is also rated as being more engaging and more persuasive – and surprisingly, even as narrowly more authoritative.

Significantly, the majority of respondents so far have been male. This does away with the idea that the prevalence of the male tone in thought leadership content may reflect that men prefer it.

The takeaways if these findings hold are significant. What is taken for good business copy may need to be rethought. A male tone could actually be putting readers off, and not even be all that effective at persuading them or demonstrating authority. Instead, a neutral tone looks a far better bet for achieving your thought leadership goals.

We would love to know what you think. Click here to take part in our research. We’ll report the full findings soon.

Tyron Wilson

Consultant

More from linstock

This month, Linstock ran a workshop with leading organisations that put thought leadership content at the heart of their communications.

Given the purpose of thought leadership is increasingly about driving collaboration, companies need to seriously consider the tone of their content.

Tyron supports a variety of clients, such as Canada Life, Bovill and Decision Technology, to deliver thought leadership and PR.

There is a growing appetite for using thought leadership as a business development tool, to engage and build meaningful relationships.

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