We’re clever, but not forced.
Customers take their finances seriously, and we do too. We mean business when we’re working with them. But we know it’s a good bet they’d rather be doing something else, and we want them to enjoy the time they spend with us. So when we have the chance to use a phrase that could add a little delight to their day and maybe make them crack a smile, we take it. We call this “clever,” but it’s not about being sarcastic, witty, smart-assy, or any of the other negative stuff that may come to mind. Often it’s just about putting digital interactions in everyday, person-to-person terms.


What it is

Good-humored. We look for a half smile, not a laugh or guffaw. When we’re clever, it’s understated — a wink, not a slap on the back.

Playful, amusing. We’re software, and we interact with customers through technology, not face-to-face. But we’re thoughtful, and we like to imagine our interactions in real-life terms. That lets us turn a technical message into something engaging and delightful.

Restrained. We’re mindful of the context, and we choose our moments carefully. We never, ever overdo it.


What it isn’t

Superficial, desperate. We’re not the frat-house prankster or the jokester who needs a laugh. We’re just thoughtful, and we go beyond the obvious, expected phrase when the opportunity presents itself and the timing is right.

Whimsical, childlike. Our readers are grown-ups, and we meet them on their level. It’s not the teenage daydreamer who is unequipped to deal with the ups and downs of the real world.

Funny, facetious, sarcastic. We know you need to hear these tones to pull them off, so we don’t try them for a text-only scenario. Besides, our sensibility is earnest and genuine. We find a smile in a well-turned phrase, not a sarcastic joke. We’re not a comedian.

Raunchy, flippant, intrusive. We don’t want to offend readers or make them do gymnastics to get around a joke. We’re especially not a bad or vulgar comedian.

Joke-oriented, self-deprecating. Being weird for the sake of it practically begs for confusion. And we never put ourselves down or call our credibility into question just to try and get a laugh.

Be clever when your reader is feeling…

Ready to work
A greeting, an annoying but must-do task

Deserving of a reward
A completed task

Curious or excited
Describing/marketing a new feature and the pain points it can relieve

Bored or waiting for something
Loading screens, zero states, Snap articles

Don’t be clever when your reader is feeling…

Confused or scared
Tax time

In the middle of a tedious workflow

Angry or annoyed
Something isn’t going right (beyond a connection error) or their bill is out of whack

How to get started

Don’t try to be funny. Shoot instead for delightfully surprising. Think of ways to embed a smile, not a knee-slap.

Be sensitive to the time of year. Is it winter? Halloween? The Feast of Fabulous Wild Men? Brainstorm about the time of year, and see if you can come up with a seasonal way to relate to your reader. This works great for server downtime messages.

Thesaurus exercise: Take a piece of text you already have, and try swapping out one word with a synonym. Consult your thesaurus; verbs are great places to start. This could produce great copy by itself, or it could jog your brain in a different direction. See where it gets you.

Think about a real-life scenario. Try to identify a good analogy for the kind of message you need to deliver. Think about everyday interactions with friends, for instance. How would you say it if you were talking to them?

Try stating the obvious. Describe absurdities or ironies in a situation in an illuminating way to complement the reader’s journey. What is silly about this? How can you make it more delightful and less threatening?

Stay classy. Don’t slap the reader in the face with your joke. Keep it subtle, something customers might not even notice if they skim, but will reward them with sheer delight when they read it.

Imagine going through the experience and laughing about it a week later. If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself about dealing with that experience?

Rewrite—10, 25, 50 times. One of those revs is bound to be a gold mine.

Consult our gurus of clever — Sarah Smart, Jennifer Johnson, or Angela Browne — before you ship it. You can also ask questions about cleverness on the #sbg-xd-voice-and-tone Slack channel.

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