What's in a word?
by The Brand Language Studio
We’ve written a new book.
It’s called the A-Z of better brand language.
In it, our founder Rob Self-Pierson explores what makes language effective, especially in the world of business and brand.
With the 26 letters of the English alphabet his muses, Rob shares insight from more than a decade of writing for and advising the world’s most influential brands. From Creativity to Play, Feeling to Surprises, the A-Z shares trade secrets, shatters myths, and is guaranteed to inspire anybody who writes.
In build-up to publication (in time for Christmas gift-giving, don’t worry), we’re sharing the five letters that make up 'BRAND', a word so close to many of our hearts.
B is for Belief
Language has the power to transform an organisation. We believe that from our writing fingers to our toes. You need to believe it too.
Studies show that language affects how people make decisions. Behavioural science has even put numbers to it. But mostly you’ll be taking, and encouraging others to take author Rory Sutherland’s ‘creative leap of faith’. You’ll be asking business people – with their right/wrong and profit/loss – to invest in something creative, with its, “Maybe we could try…” When you do, you need to believe so wholeheartedly in what you say that your enthusiasm persuades others.
Keep in mind the words of the late HRH Prince Philip, here talking about The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award: “When you start something, you don’t really know if it’s going to work or not.” Often, all you have is your strength of belief.
Give it a go
When things are going well, write a positive message to yourself. Something to encourage you at tougher times, and to remind you of all the wonderful possibilities of language. Which words do you use to capture what you believe so deeply?
R is for Ruthlessness
The best writing advice we know was offered to us by communications consultant Tim Rich: “To be kind to your reader, be ruthless in your edits.”
Masters of brand language tend to be ruthless editors. Reading their own or others’ work, they spot where to cut unnecessary words. They remove or reinvent clichés. They refine metaphors, making sure each is original and arresting. To check their edits are improving their writing, they read it out loud. Does it flow? Could it be simpler to say, more satisfying to follow? Like a sculptor, the best writers continue until their work is smooth and elegant.
Read your own writing out loud. If you stumble, even just a little, chip and gouge and rasp and polish until your words flow. If you’re getting ready to publish, don’t be satisfied with ‘it’s probably ok’. Remember: to be kind to your reader, be ruthless in your edits.
Give it a go
Get a first draft down quickly. Fine if you feel it’s a jagged block of stone. Now step away, ideally for a day though a few hours is ok. Return to edit ruthlessly, aiming to reduce the word count by 20%. How has a focused edit improved your writing?
A is for Audience
Why write at all if not to move another person to think, to feel, to act, or most often in the world of brand language to buy or believe?
You’d be amazed by how often the words you speak and write change the way other people live their lives. To move a consumer or client or perhaps an investor to buy or believe, your writing will need to connect with them. At an emotional level. To do that, you first need to get close to their experience. Who are they? What do they do? How are they feeling today? The more you know, or work hard to imagine, the easier you’ll find it to write for your audience – not just for yourself, which is easily done.
Think of it like this. You’re keen to show a friend, relative or loved one you care for them. That they’re the most important person in your life. Do you cook their favourite dish or your own?
Give it a go
Do a pencil sketch of your reader. Give them a name, age, some life experiences. Note their loves, hates, passions and pains. What they’re doing today, how they’re feeling. Now write for them. How does getting to know your audience affect your words?
N is for Nomadic
Airbnb’s ‘Belong Anywhere’ slogan helps people feel like a local wherever they travel. To improve as a writer, we feel it’s better to belong nowhere.
That way you remain an outsider, looking into the brand world of others with innocent eyes. You see things they don’t, in language uncharted. Immerse yourself in subjects, of course, but come up for air. If a client invites you to drinks to help you feel you belong, be there but aware. Remember you are a nomad, excited to visit but reluctant to become too at home. Design consultant Michael Wolff once told us: “Experience leads to comfort, my biggest enemy. It fools me into thinking I know what I’m doing.”
You can encourage clients to embrace the nomadic approach. We prefer to run workshops in a venue far from their comfort zone. They’re often amazed at the language they discover away from home.
Give it a go
Next creative meeting with your team or client, pick an unexpected venue. A local record shop for a global bank, street market for a tech start-up. Each exercise, encourage people to be outside looking in. How does it influence the words people choose?
D is for Decisiveness
Decisiveness isn’t about getting things right. It’s about being bold enough to make decisions because you think, feel or sense it’s for the best.
Brand language can suffer from what one of our clients calls the ‘washing machine effect’. A piece of writing goes around and around, from draft to draft, department to department, until it loses all its shape, colour and personality. Nobody, not even the creator of the brief, is bold enough to sign it off. We understand why it happens – because writing’s tough, and knowing what’s ‘right’ isn’t much easier. But an endless spin will harm the project.
Brand language requires strong decisions. Like in a brand story, which character to focus on. In a brand purpose, the key reason to exist. In a sentence, which word to begin with. Always remember: one strong decision will inspire the next.
Give it a go
In your next meeting, when you sense the washing machine door closing, be the person to make the decision. Be honest: say it feels right, you can’t be sure, but “let’s try it and make it work”. How does being decisive affect the people around you?
And there we have it. More to Brand than you thought? The A-Z of better brand language will be available to order from the beginning of December 2021. We'll share the link once it's printed and ready to add to your collection.