What is your brand saying about you?

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Speaking with one voice…

Guest editor Simon Goodall from OPX explores the nature of verbal identity and provides some useful guidance in developing a successful brand strategy for your business.

What’s the most tangible element of your brand?

For many people the answer would be their logo. They might stretch that to include other visual elements like colours, fonts and images, but the focus would be around how things look.

Whilst this is clearly important – look at the effort companies like Vitra and ERCO put into making their sales and marketing material look great – it’s not the whole story. We increasingly find forward-thinking businesses looking at their brand identity in terms of their written and spoken communications too.

This aspect of branding comes under the heading ‘verbal identity’ and it covers two things:

• Key messagesthe things you want everyone to know about your business.
Tone-of-voicehow you ‘speak’ as a business, both verbally and in writing.

When you start considering this, you can quickly see it’s a big subject.
It potentially covers everything from emails and websites to presentations, proposals and more.

As a starting point, here are a few pointers we’ve found useful.

Key messages:

  • Start with your ambition as a business. What are you trying to   achieve? Agree this at a senior management level (with input from all levels of the company) and use that as the cornerstone of what you want to say.
  • Don’t try to say too much. Five or six key messages are enough. Any more and your own people (never mind external audiences) will struggle to remember any of it.
  • Be true to yourselves. A little bit of aspiration is fine but messages should be credible and based in reality. ‘Talk is cheap’ and the messages will only resonate if they are backed by actions.

Tone-of-voice:

  • Look at the world in which your communications will be heard and read. How do your competitors speak and write? Are they clear, consistent and engaging or dull, complex and boring? Improving what you do is a real opportunity to stand out.
  • Try to keep the language simple, direct and active. That means using lots of active verbs like ‘listening’, building’ or ‘delivering’. Active verbs will help to make what you say more energetic. Try re-editing a paragraph or two applying this approach and you’ll see a real difference.
  • Keep sentences short. 30 words maximum is a good benchmark.
  • Focus what you say around ‘you’ and ‘your’. Most of what we write or say as a business is all about ourselves. It’s full of ‘we’ and ‘our’. If you use ‘you or your’ more often, you will automatically make what you are saying more relevant to your audience.

Verbal identity covers much more than this, but the points above are a good start. The key question is how much it really matters to your business objectives and your organisation as a whole?

Think of it like this: you could let everyone in your business create their own logo, and choose their own colours and fonts. You’d still produce communications, but you’d have no control over the impression they created. A clear verbal identity provides a framework that helps you manage that impression. And why leave something to chance when it’s a real opportunity to shape people’s perception of your brand?

Guest post from Simon Goodall, Client Director/Partner at OPX

OPX is a London-based studio that helps businesses of all kinds develop their brands and improve the effectiveness of their communications. Work includes brand strategy, visual identity design, verbal identity programmes, and communications implementation across printed, digital and environmental media.

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