We are inherently motivated by ‘loss aversion’ rather than ‘potential gains’. Which is unfortunate because it paves the way for excessive scaremongering, where companies are trying to encourage their customers to buy based on fear.

In the world of IT and tech, it’s particularly prevalent in the realm of cybersecurity. Within storytelling technique you’re taught that you always need a ‘villain’ – and what better villain is there then some unscrupulous cybercriminal lurking in the shadows just waiting for the opportune moment to hack into your estate and steal your most precious assets and sell them on the dark web?

Yes, there’s all sorts of beautiful emotion-evoking language that you can use to paint that fearful picture of the worst-case scenario…

But do you really want your customers buying based on fear?

Are we not supposed to help our customers?

And in the process make them feel better about themselves?

Turn negative language into positives

Yes, the cybercriminals are out there.

Yes, organisations are always one step away from a breach.

Yes, we all need to strengthen our security posture to ensure we’re protected.


What does that strong security posture enable you to do?

For example, I suffered a breach back in December, which scared me senseless. Knowing I’ve strengthened my security posture means I don’t need to feel scared day-to-day.

So what can I do now I’m not feeling scared?

Well rather than double checking everything, I have more time to get on with my actual job. And without the constant niggle of doubt, my mind is free to focus on the work at hand.

And because I have more time and better focus, what does that mean?

It means my clients are getting better quality work because I’m free to focus on the areas where I add value…

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about cybersecurity or something else, the principle is the same – keep digging, keep questioning. Eventually you hit upon the positive thing that addressing the negative thing enables the company to do – and it’s this that is going to resonate more and show your customers that you really understand their situation.

Who are you?

Scaremongering is always the easy option because usually your product/service exists to help alleviate a pain that your customer is feeling. But take a moment to consciously decide how you want to talk to your customers.

For example:

  • Are you an authority on the subject matter?
  • Do you speak to people as a friend?
  • Are you full of anecdotes and tell stories to get your point across?
  • Do you live in the world of the possible – even if you don’t have all the facts to hand?
  • Are you out to constantly challenge the status quo?
  • Do you prefer to keep things simple?

Once you’ve defined your tone of voice, it becomes much easier to tell a story that resonates with your audience.

Yes, we still need to highlight the ‘villain’ that’s causing them that pain, but we know how to frame it in the right way.

For example:

As an ‘authority’ on the subject you might present yourself a bit like a doctor, factually stating the problem, the potential long-term impact if your customer does nothing, presenting different options and evidence of how effective those options are.

As a ‘friend’ your tone will be much warmer, making your customer feel like you’re holding their hand and guiding them through the process because you understand and empathise with their situation, and most importantly can help them get out of it.

If you’re taking more of a ‘fun’ stance, your language is more conversational. It’s probably less about what the research and data is saying (although this is still important to back you up and give you credibility) and more about sharing real-life examples to showcase your experience.

When it comes to tone of voice, there is not right or wrong way to go, it’s completely personal to you and your company. But it’s important that whatever you choose, it’s a conscious decision. When you actively decide to communicate with your audience in a certain way, it forms an important element of your brand, ensuring that whenever your audience comes into contact with you, they enjoy the same experience.

Tone of voice in action

I work with an incredible technology company called Exonar, which specialises in data discovery software. Clearly, it would be simple for them to head down the path towards fear, but they haven’t. Instead, they made a conscious decision to demonstrate their personality and positivity. Therefore, rather than pushing how data is always a business liability, they encourage their audience to see it as an asset.

The following case study talks about the thought leadership content that Exonar has been producing, and the impact it’s had on the business…