The Art of Microcopy


The Art of Microcopy

Last Updated
27 December 2019

The smallest strings of copy on a website can achieve the greatest impact. 

Collectively referred to as microcopy, I’m talking about the little bits of text that instruct site visitors how to interact with the content while prompting further action and assuaging any ingrained reluctance to convert. They usher users through the sales funnel.

Writing microcopy is a true crossover craft – an exercise in both front-end development and content creation. It’s one of exceptionally few areas in website design that allows lowly copywriters like myself to get their hands dirty turning the nuts and bolts of user experience. It also gives us the chance to inject a few extra doses of tone of voice into a website.

Bus as we’ll see in a moment, playing fast and loose with microcopy tone can macro-backfire. Internet users are a fickle bunch, and they’re sensitive about the way you address them – even in the briefest of messages.

A Brief History of Microcopy

The term ‘microcopy’ (if not the medium itself) was coined by Joshua Porter – a self-described ‘product designer and writer’ with a blog ( on Alexa’s top-100,000 leaderboard. Here’s how he defines it:

“That tiny copy (often shorter than a sentence) that helps clarify, explain, reduce commitment, or otherwise assuage someone performing (or considering) a task.”

In early incarnations, microcopy was mainly used to lead users through the process of navigating a website. It instructed them to ‘click’, ‘enter name’ or – at the most important junctures – to ‘submit’ or ‘purchase’. There were no bells and whistles.

But over time, a glimmer of tone crept in. The garden-variety ‘Click’ became ‘Click Here!’. The humble ‘submit’ button evolved into ‘Sign me up’. These online signposts started sounding more human, even if they weren’t exactly speaking in a branded tone of voice.

Some of the first all-out attempts at putting microcopy in tone happened on 404 pages. A few years ago, clicking on a bad link would strand uses on a page with lifeless notice – ‘404 Not Found’, or something to that effect. But today, just about every well-branded website ha a custom 404 page. In each case, the message remains the same – this page doesn’t exist on our website – but the tone varies.

Here are three examples from prominent 404 pages, running the gamut from matter-of-fact to lightly playful:

  • Google: ‘404: That’s an error.’
  • Airbnb: ‘Oops! We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.’
  • Emirates: ‘Sorry. We’ve travelled the globe, but we can’t seem to find this page.’

The 404 page is the low-hanging fruit of microcopy – the easiest place to begin applying an in-brand voice. In fact, when QUO creates tone of voice guidelines for a brand, we often provide sample 404 copy to give an example of the tone in action. It’s a natural place to start.

A Case Study: Microsoft Microcopy Prompts Macro-derision

Tinkering with tone of voice is a dangerous game, and it’s difficult to get right. One of my favourite examples of out-of-tone microcopy comes courtesy of Microsoft Office. It deals with app microcopy, which is functionally the same as the website variety.

Back in 2013, the latest release of Microsoft Office shipped with a new-and-improved dialogue boxes that included messages such as ‘Spelling and grammar check complete. You’re good to go!’.

They weren’t well received. In fact, the Microsoft Community has an entire thread devoted to the issue. In the mix are several cranky Britons lamenting the introduction of ‘crass Americanisms’ to their spellcheck experience. A few quotes for colour:

  • “Microsoft, you have lowered the tone of your product.”
  • “Bottom line: I don’t want my computer to talk bollocks and sound like it was designed by an illiterate teen.”
  • “This has done more to make me detest Microsoft and everything they stand for than anything else.”
  • “The combination of arrogance, ignorance, and self-satisfied pomposity is a daily irritation. And then they wonder why most of the world hates Americans.”
  • “It pales in comparison to my disdain for the informal Monster energy drink fuelled, sleep deprived, LINUX programmer addition of ‘You’re good to go!’ Really?”

Really, indeed. A string of text that completely succeeded in communication a message that utterly failed to speak to (at least some) users in a tone they could appreciate.

For what it’s worth, Microsoft must have realised they missed the mark. In the version of Word currently running on my desktop, a successful spellcheck results in a blasé notification without any of that Monster-energy-drink-fuelled, sleep-deprived gusto that apparently characterises Linux programmers, illiterate teens and Americans in general.

It simply says, ‘Spelling and grammar check is complete.’ Tone matters. Get it right and you’re good to go.

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The Shape of Experience


The Shape of Experience

Last Updated
25 March 2022

Creative concepts can transform the dullest spaces into remarkable guest journeys, writes QUO Chief Branding Officer Catherine Monthienvichienchai.

Google Maps told me I’d arrived, but I wasn’t so sure. In front of me was a store, long since closed for the day. Beyond that, a dimly lit street with barely a person in sight. A flicker of light catches my eye. A hint of life behind the shuttered windows of the second floor. Maybe I was in the right place after all. Up a small spiral staircase lay an incredible hidden space. An unassuming shophouse transformed into a Japanese bar, a speakeasy of sorts, that would be more at home in the winding alleys of Kyoto than the humid streets of downtown Bangkok.

The hidden nature of the space was just the start. Inside, a series of carefully curated rituals unfolded. Spirits served in your choice of beautiful crystal tumblers; beer decanted into stainless-steel cups; individual wooden bowls of savoury snacks. Every item meticulously placed in front of you, its relative position on the table considered with almost mathematical precision. It was simple, yet executed with unbelievable attention to detail. An experience that will surely lead me to return.

In cities where space is becoming increasingly scarce, operators are learning the value of even the tiniest, most secluded spots. Putting use to unusual, under-utilised spaces, they lure customers by promising an experience, even if that experience is as simple as searching out the place itself.

How we think about space, interact with it, deconstruct it, plan and distribute it, is at the heart of many of today’s most successful hospitality brands. Smaller guest rooms, bigger public spaces, social spaces, co-working spaces, dynamic, multi-functional spaces. All buzzwords amongst the plethora of lifestyle brands flooding the hotel world in recent years.

Yet it is more than just cleverly used space that surprises and inspires. Whether it is 20sqm or 200sqm, integrated or closed, it is impossible to win any loyalty or create much of a buzz if it doesn’t come with an experience customers will remember.

Brands such as Aman leave nothing to chance with the arrival experience, creating incredible spaces that bring to life the brand’s core DNA as a ‘place of peace’ – the meaning of the word ‘Aman’. Even in the midst of downtown Tokyo, home of the brand’s first urban retreat, it stays true to this commitment.

After being whisked up to the 33rd floor of the Otemachi Tower, guests emerge into a spectacular space, where the upper walls and 26-metre-high ceiling are lined with translucent washi paper to give the effect of being inside a vast paper lantern. At the centre lies a zen garden, with a pool that rises out of a seasonally changing ikebana flower arrangement, and beyond that, two meditative rock gardens. An intense and remarkable space that is as dramatic as it is calming.

Few brands can match the extraordinary efforts of Aman to create this type of space and experience, but nor should they. Guest experience doesn’t have to be spectacular to make an impression. It does, however, need to be relevant and meaningful; connected to your brand’s core values and identified guest needs. For years Sofitel Hotels & Resorts has simply greeted guests with a distinctive ‘Bonjour’ on arrival at their hotels, wherever you are in the world. Love it or hate it, with that one word your understanding of the brand’s roots is confirmed – Sofitel is unashamedly French.

Hyatt’s Andaz, meanwhile, promises to immerse guests in the ever-changing, native cultures of their spaces through a combination of design, food and service. Merging themes of London’s financial area with the “gritty quirkiness” of nearby Shoreditch, guestrooms at the Andaz London Liverpool Street combine pinstripe patterns with tattoo art and local photography.

A similar attention to local culture is brought to the fore at the Andaz Singapore, one of the newest additions to the brand. As the first non-Hyatt brand from the Hyatt portfolio, it set the bar for many of the lifestyle/local neighbourhood brands that have since followed.

Andaz was not the first to create unique experiences within the spaces it occupies. Over a decade before, the late Alex Calderwood and friends turned an old halfway house in Seattle into a desirable destination with reclaimed furniture and contemporary art. The resulting hotel marked the birth of Ace Hotel, now a 10-property strong brand with hotels across the US, as well as in London and Panama City, with Kyoto in the pipeline.

Ace Hotel has always set itself apart from other brands with its unorthodox approach to hotel spaces. Described as “place whisperers” or “the neighbourhood foragers”, Ace sees the potential of both under-utilised buildings and the under-rated neighbourhoods in which they’re located. In each destination, the brand spends time connecting with local creatives, entrepreneurs, real-estate developers and small retail brands. The idea is not to simply “drop into a place and throw open the doors”, but to become an integral part of the community; a gathering point in neighbourhoods that don’t have one.

Done right, brand experience is neither fast nor easy, but, as Ace has proven, it’s more than worth the effort. Building a strategic, insights-based approach helps to channel creative thought. The world’s most innovative minds still need a starting point, even if the ideas they eventually come up with take an altogether different direction.

Each concept must be considered against a range of key criteria: does it fit the brand and differentiate us from our competitors? Does it meet the needs of our target guest? Is it operationally viable? Will it generate ROI?

Not every experience needs to tick every box, but a balance must be struck. A radical lobby concept may require huge capex, but if it is a defining feature of the brand and will guarantee immediate differentiation, then it could be worth the investment. Similarly, a small welcome gift costs money and has negligible ROI, but if done well, the feeling the gesture generates for the guest is priceless.

Even the best ideas on paper don’t always work out, which is why testing and piloting is key. Operational restrictions rear their ugly heads, unexpected costs get in the way, or maybe the concept just doesn’t resonate with guests as anticipated. Then it’s time to modify, adjust, or possibly throw out the concept entirely.

It can take a year or more from idea to full implementation; longer for a more complex concept across a larger network of hotels. But it’s worth the wait. Hotels are no longer simply places for sleep. Each space is a stage upon which a series of experiences is waiting to be played out.

The story you tell, the actors you employ, the props you use all serve a purpose in bringing your brand to life, making that abstract construct of who you are into a living, breathing reality.

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Outperforming the OTAs: Harness the Power of Digital


Outperforming the OTAs: Harness the Power of Digital

Last Updated
27 December 2019

Imagine a world where your ideal customers leave your property thrilled, return home and recommend you to all their friends and who thinks of you immediately when it’s time to book their next vacation. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. 

Give your customers what they want online, make them feel important, leave a great impression of your brand, and they’ll spread the word to friends and family.

Your website is more than a pretty place to drop your logo and testimonials – at least, it should be. It has the potential to be your primary business development channel. Stay with me and I’ll share how you can take your site from place-filler to place-to-be.

First, a hard, cold dose of reality: more than half of website visits are made by bots, and a third of the money you pump into online ads goes to fraudulent companies lying about their statistics. Furthermore, half of online ad impressions in 2016 were never seen by human eyes, and – despite all this proven data – Expedia and Priceline still spend over US$8 billion a year in advertising.

Are you scandalised yet?

How are you supposed to develop your online business in these circumstances? The answer is that you need a trusted guide to navigate the myriad challenges and complex landscape of digital.

Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to reduce the complexity and realise the full potential of your website. The first, and most basic, is to make sure you and your visitors are secure from hackers by installing an SSL if you haven’t already. An SSL certificate ensures the safety of your most important asset – your guests. Without one, don’t even think about asking for the personal details or credit card information you need to maximise the potential of your site as a sales portal.

Second, your most important asset, after your guests, are your website visitors. They are already interested in your brand, but are you doing everything in your power to capture their direct engagement and convert them? My second suggestion is a strong conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, plan to get the most from your site visitors – ultimately turning them into guests and long-term advocates.

The third, and perhaps most important, thing is reading, understanding and harnessing the power of your own statistics and numbers. Accurate reporting of the right data is critical to pinpointing performance flaws and identifying opportunities.

Lastly is something that many business owners don’t like to hear: you must consider high-quality SEO services as a long-term strategic investment. If it helps, think of SEO and PPC as two equal line items in your traffic budget, one ushers in traffic organically while the other delivers traffic you’ve paid for with each click. In the end, SEO may prove the better investment, you pay for it once and the impact is long term. In the long-run, this expenditure will pay off for your business.

Playing with the big boys

Online travel agencies, or OTAs, are here to stay and have become the singular selling strategy for many brands. The services they offer to consumers are indisputable: a wide array of options, convenience, brand recognition, and competitive prices are among them. But they don’t have to own the guest experience.

By building a direct relationship with your guests – one that gives them a monetary and emotional reason to go to your site directly – you can bypass the big boys.

Begin by offering a best-price guarantee or other benefit for direct booking. Depending on the personality of your property, that could be an upgraded breakfast, a bottle of wine in the room on arrival, or a free 30-minute cooking course. Offer them rewards for coming directly to you rather than one of the big-name booking sites.

Next, develop a customer-relationship management, or CRM, strategy that starts the  moment one of the internet’s 4.2 billion users lands on your site. Do you have a game plan for mobilising engagement through your site; a way of ensuring the visitor experience is positive; and a plan for developing a long-term relationship with your new visitor? Without these, you can’t maximise the monetary potential of your site.

Finally, once you’ve pulled your site visitor in via your website and they’ve tried your property, incentivise future bookings from guests’ friends and family through your site via post-visit contact. Offer a future free night for a referral or discounted packages for birthdays and anniversaries – anything that works for your property.

In the long-term, your marketing and revenue teams will need to learn and develop new skills to manage and maximise the ever-changing and growing online travel market.

But you probably also need expert help in the fields of SEO, CRM, CRO, and data analysis. What are the most challenging parts of your online business? Drop me a line at and I’ll see how we can help you. You can also give me a call on +66 2260 9494 ext. 128.

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