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Brand Language

9 Marketing Facts About Branded Language

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1. Language is one of the most important definers of any brand. The language you choose, the language you don’t choose and the language you choose to replace are a reflection, and in some senses a definition, of your priorities.

2. Language underpins perspective: it not only reveals how an organization feels about a matter, it also signals how that organization might be expected to approach and resolve that matter in the future.

3. Language defines relationships. Your tone reflects how at ease you feel in your own brand skin. Formal brands use formal language, and that formality rubs off into their dealings. Relaxed brands use more informal, chatty language and help their customers feel at ease. If your tone and manner don’t reflect your values and your personality, your communications will always feel awkward.

4. Language is instinctual. You may need rules to start with – but in time you should know whether a communication is “on brand” or not from how it feels. The best brands have language that goes without saying. It is embedded in who they are, and therefore how they express themselves.

5. Language must communicate. Truism, yes – until you look at all the gunk that pours out of brands and realize that too many of them have too little to say of any significance or interest. If you’re not adding to the meaning, say nothing. It means more.

6. Language should be jagged. It should have sharp edges that cut across the normal patter. Here’s an interesting challenge. Run a word-cloud on your website 
like the one that Jason Morrison ran on Obama’s speech to Congress (above) and see what it comes back with. If you spy nothing but the same, safe, predictable language as everyone else, you need to make some changes. Try finding new and exciting ways of talking about what you do. Take your language cues from your values, your worldview, your personality (naturally) and most importantly of all the personas of your customers. Talk with them, not at them about the things they want to hear about. Take your cues for this from your social media results – most searched words, hashtags that people are interested in, most popular categories for you etc.

7. Language is keywords. In addition to re-expressing your brand, look to own a small collection of words in the minds of your customers and your staff. Martin Lindstrom found 74 percent of consumers associate the word “crunch” with Kellogg’s. Another 59 percent consider the word “masculine” and Gillette as one and the same. Disney, he says, owns a whole lexicon built around its kingdom of fantasy, dreams, promises, and magic. over 80 percent of the world’s population directly associates “dreams,” “creativity, “fantasy,” “smiles,” “magic,” and “generation” with Disney. The result is what Lindstrom describes as a “smash-able” brand. You can take any piece of any experience and, even with no visual cues, it is instantly recognizable as Disney. Same with Absolut vodka. In their case, their name is so integral to their language that it functions as a language anchor.


8. Language changes perceptions. As Frank Luntz says it so perfectly, “It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear”. When NGOs talk about what’s wrong in the world, customers hear a brand that is negative. When they talk about what could happen and what they’re aiming to improve, people “hear” a brand that is uplifting. When Oxfam found that their “against poverty” message wasn’t working, they very successfully shifted to a way of talking that was “pro-humanity”. Receptivity surged. That’s because changing the language changes the premise. It redefines/ refreshes/challenges meanings that people feel they know. It requires people not just to rearticulate what they believe but to express that belief in a way that they may well never have thought of before.

9. Language should shift. Or at least it should as you become more familiar with people and they become more familiar with you. The way you talk to a prospect should be noticeably different than the dialogue you have with a loyal buyer. Plotting those transitions is critical.

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7 Comments

Liz Doig
Twitter: KarenSchaffer
on June 16th, 2013 said

At number one on the list, we’d have: Language expresses personality.

That’s what allows it to define relationships, underpin perspectives and change perceptions. And that’s what gives it “keywords” – telltale vocabulary and quirks of speech that identifiably belong to a brand or organisation.

Mark Disomma
Twitter: markdisomma
on June 16th, 2013 said

Liz – excellent idea. I agree. I think it’s there by implication, but you’re right – it should be overt.

Thanks.
Mark.

DBandal on June 16th, 2013 said

Everything you state about language is on target for sure.
Language is “one of the most important definers of any brand” in sync with effective visuals and design. Combined, these are key to creating change in perceptions.

    Mark Disomma
    Twitter: markdisomma
    on June 17th, 2013 said

    That’s the key isn’t it? Not language alone in most communications – but how language works with design to create powerful combinations of visual and verbal message. Thanks for your comment.

Ian Magrisso
Twitter: sporebranding
on June 18th, 2013 said

Excellent post.

So in a sense it all begins with understanding personality or what defines oneself or a brand, What is its purpose? What are the conflicts it has had to overcome? What is the brand story?

Then one must have the ability to tell that story with compelling words and visuals and in a tone that is uniquely its own. Language is our only tool to get what’s inside our head out to the rest of the world.

    Mark Disomma
    Twitter: markdisomma
    on June 18th, 2013 said

    Hi Ian – thanks for your thoughts. For me, a story has two audiences and they can be expressed through one narrative or in slight variations. There is the story that the market hears – and then there is the story that is told internally. The external story explains what the brand intends and why buyers should choose it, and the story it is telling, over other stories. There is also the internal story – the story that a culture tells itself in order to bring the story to life and to help the brand realise its goals. The key, as Liz pointed out above, is that the story is told with personality, singularity and zest.

Heshie Segal
Twitter: HeshieSegal
on September 27th, 2013 said

I so agree that less is more when you have nothing concrete to communicate. Words are confusing when you have
to look for the message!

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