By Sarah Jordan of The William Agency
If we were to ask you now what three words define your brand what would your answer be?
Perhaps ‘handcrafted, quality, beauty’ or maybe ‘unique, striking, contemporary’? Of course, these are all valid words to describe a jewellery brand, but ask yourself, how many of my competitors are also using these exact words to describe their brands?
Brand language is about more than throwaway phrases and convenient choices; it’s difficult to come up with words that truly encapsulate what makes you unique in a market where ‘uniqueness’ isn’t always easy to find.
A simple Google search offers up a useful summary of brand language – it’s the body of words, phrases and terms that an organisation or business to describe its purpose or in reference to its products.
For the sceptical among you, it is perhaps easier to see the power of brand language in action. Disney, for example, has used certain words and phrases so consistently that they seem to conjure an image of Mickey Mouse almost instantly. ‘The most magical place on earth’, ‘experience the magic’, ‘where dreams come true’, ‘celebrate the magic’, ‘where magic happens’, ‘the magical place to be’.
If you’re spotting a pattern with the words ‘magic’ and ‘magical’ this certainly isn’t a happy accident. This type of language is a tool used by Disney to foster the right kind of reaction and emotion in its audience; whether they’re reading an online blog post, visiting a theme park or shopping in the Disney Store.
‘Magic’ isn’t a proprietary word. Disney doesn’t have the monopoly on ‘magic’. Yet its expertly constructed brand language – its own vernacular – has allowed it to stand out from the crowd. Crucially, it can also back up this word with impressive real-life experiences. After all, there would be no point using the word ‘magic’ if visitors to its theme parks came away feeling miserable.
With this in mind, when you associate the word ‘handcrafted’ with your brand, can you honestly say it is handcrafted? Could you back this up with behind-the-scenes imagery, blog posts, videos and customer experiences?
The purpose of developing a brand language style guide is twofold: firstly it allows you to be clear on your brand identity and, secondly, it ensures you remain consistent when the need for speed can see brand values slip further down the pecking order.
How to Determine Your Brand Language
Step One: Set time aside
This isn’t something that is going to take 10 minutes. In fact, ask you staff what words they would associate with your brand… do they match the words you would have chosen? Set aside time for brainstorming sessions to decide what you want your brand to be known for and what words will help you achieve that.
Step Two: Research your nearest competitors
Spend time analysing what language your competitors are using. Your choice of words should explain WHY your brand exists, not what it does or how you do it.
Step Three: Be as original as possible
Avoid falling into the trap of generic, unoriginal words. If your website, visuals and marketing collateral is of a high quality, consumers will presume quality without you having to constantly repeat the word.
Step Four: Don’t go overboard
A small selection of words and phrases are a good place to start – you don’t need to generate a whole dictionary worth of ideas which could dilute the effectiveness of your message.
Step Five: Use them wisely
Your keywords and phrases should be the essential building blocks of your strapline and mission statement, but they should also be wisely peppered throughout your blog posts, image captions, social media posts and lookbooks. This should feel natural and not forced – customers are savvy enough to see through excessive branding attempts.
Step Six: Package your brand language in an easy-access format
A simple word document style guide is the easiest way to ensure your brand language is used consistently by current and future members of staff. Instil a culture where employees are regularly encouraged to refer to a style guide packed full of words, phrases and best practice guides; whether they work in sales, marketing or at the bench. This sense of identity will eventually permeate not only the outward image of your business, but your internal culture.
Step Seven: Be prepared to adapt… but not too much
As a general rule, consumers don’t tend to like it when their favourite brands make big changes. When High Street fashion company Gap changed its logo in 2010, it caused such consumer backlash that the company reverted to its original logo in a week! Mastercard also had similar issues in 2006. What’s interesting is that these examples saw consumers react to a change in visual brand identity, but how would they react if a brand changed its ethos overnight?
As your chosen words and phrases are linked to the core emotions at the heart of your brand, changing them could potentially alienate your customers. Be prepared to adapt as your business naturally changes over time, but consider what is core before ruthlessly chopping at things your customers may hold dear.