Five more layers of brand language

Integrating your brand language across your business

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While many businesses have woken up to the need to align the language in their marketing comms with their broader brand DNA, they often fail to fully integrate that language into their broader operations.

The power of language lies not just in its ability to communicate, but also in its awesome ability to reflect. In our day to day dealings, we draw implications and insights not just from what people say, but the manner in which the words are spoken. Depending on culture, those tonal and attitudinal signals may be overt or implied. Either way, they telegraph powerful signals stretching from interest or approval to apathy, sincerity or swagger. Extending that idea to brands, how you converse with customers not just through marketing but beyond that says a lot more about your brand’s attitudes and beliefs than many realise.

Here are five places where the opportunities for brand aligned language are often overlooked.

Legal language – why is it that so many brands are chatty and warm until they start laying down the law? Suddenly their way of talking becomes stiff, archaic, draconian even. The challenge for the legal team should be to translate the requirements of legislation, regulation and risk minimisation into terms of reference (which is probably how we should think of terms and conditions from a brand point of view) that align with the spirit of the brand overall. There is such an opportunity here for brands to lay out what’s possible, and what’s not, in ways that customers thank them for.

Transactional language – touchpoints are never far from anyone’s mind these days, yet, once again, the opportunities to extend the brand into business-as-usual conversations with customers are often overlooked. Too many deal with whatever needs doing as process-and-approval rather than seeing it as a chance for the brand to behave in ways that feel powerfully one-to-one. The key to getting these transactions right is thorough consultation with the frontline people so that the operational needs are met but the language is brand-aligned across all channels, including voice, automation, online, and email.

Product/packaging language – packaging is a powerful shopfront; a highly effective environment in which to talk to consumers as they consider a purchase or after they have bought. As the competition to be believed heats up, brands need to not just be true, they also need to sound and look true. Research on food consumers for example has shown that packaging plays a key role in decision making with 50% of shoppers saying they sometimes buy food because of how it is presented. Interesting too to look at the words that most appeal to buyers – fresh, on sale, all natural, organic, locally grown, low sodium, superfood. Language is a crucial part of a branded shopper experience. What could you be doing to your packaging to make your brands feel more rewarding and beneficial? Fluffy stories are no longer enough, nor are vague claims. Consumers want proof. Succinct. Real. Credible. Eye-catching.

Technical language – most brands are guilty of confusing customers with jargon and acronyms. But technical language is a fascinating aspect of communication because it’s nuanced. There’s nothing wrong with using highly technical language for example if you work within a supply chain where those terms are common references, nor if you are talking peer-to-peer where the vocabulary is known, indeed expected. And at some level, especially in business-to-business conversations, customers want the brands they work with to use language that explains what they do in their sector’s vernacular. Government agencies want things framed in ways that sound like government. Farmers want to have rural conversations. Professional investors will expect you to know and use some of the language of the markets. Used carefully and thoughtfully, technical language will gain you acceptance and trust because it proves you are no stranger. Now here’s the tough bit: in order for this to work to your brand’s advantage, you need to integrate the technical language of your customers into your own brand language style, so that you continue to sound like you, whilst talking to them in terms they feel familiar with.

Cultural language – if you accept that powerful brands are built from the inside-out, it absolutely makes sense that you would look to define and integrate brand language into your culture. As Martin Lindstrom has identified, Disney, Kellogg’s and Gillette are three brands that have inculcated branded language into every aspect of their business. In the case of Disney, he says, the brand “welcomes you to its kingdom of fantasy, dreams, promises, and magic. If you’ve stayed at a Disney resort, taken a Disney cruise, or eaten in a Disney restaurant, it doesn’t take long to hear “cast members” greeting guests with, “Have a magical day!” In fact, Lindstrom’s research has shown that 80 percent of people associate the words “dreams,” “creativity, “fantasy,” “smiles,” “magic,” and “generation” with the Disney brand. It’s no coincidence then that these words are also embedded deep in Disney’s culture. Equally, if you want your brand culture to operate around a core, distinctive idea, doing so begins with making specific and ownable language an intrinsic part of how you work, relate and report.

From back office to frontline and front-of-store, the brand language you use drives the mindset that your brand competes in. I say “drives” rather than “reflects” because language, like behaviour, is an attitude-setter. Your language decisions contribute to how you identify as a culture and how consumers identify you as a brand. If your language is siloed, there’s a good chance that your culture is as well, and it’s almost certain that your customers will be experiencing very different ‘sides’ of you along the way. That lack of consistency will impact your brand’s overall effectiveness.

Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title Brand Language Integration Builds Strength.

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