Why brands need a clear language and how the tone of voice can help.
How can brands make themselves heard without having to shout? Visual identity alone is not enough. The brand language has to be incorporated into the development process. It encompasses all of the verbal elements of a brand, from the product name to the press release. The tone of voice is part of the brand language. At Stan Hema, we use it as a strategic tool to define our language.
April 19, 2021
Why brand language?
Language defines how people see a brand. Chris West is the founder of the British consultancy firm Verbal Identity and knows how important it is for brands to be human and authentic: “We’re living in a world where clients, consumers and public stakeholders actually want to be in a conversation, two-way dialogue with the brand and the companies that they like.” He sees language as mechanical magic as it follows grammatical rules and yet is enchanting. The brand language has to do the same. It defines an attitude, represents the values of a company and always focuses on what is essential. Simple spoken language and short, concise sentences make sure that information arrives and content is read. Netflix, for example, has attracted 200 million customers with a landing page containing just 26 words.
How does a brand sound?
Clear language creates a clear identity. We use tone of voice as a strategic instrument to achieve this. We connect to the people this way, never deviating from the position and personality of each brand in the process. The more distinct this personality is, the more recognisable the brand language. Our approach to this process is interdisciplinary and holistic. It is not enough for us to rework customer magazines without a thought for the website. Language must be homogeneous both internally and externally and must retain the same tone on all channels. Be it in print, on social media, in e-mails, newsletters or in dialogue with customers. Language and design go hand in hand. A strong visual language cannot deprive headlines of the space they need to work. Both must be in dialogue and strengthen one another.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” (Albert Einstein)
Only by knowing yourself and your company can you know how it sounds. So how do you develop a clear tone that is both consistent and flexible? Brand language is often too complex and experts lose themselves in long sentences and technical jargon. Does the brand have an exciting history? If yes, then talk about it – by the people, for the people. Only emotional images in the mind and heart can breathe life into a brand.
If the brand were a person, what personality would it have?
In the case of the WDR Innovation Hub, we asked ourselves this question in order to distil their values into a unique language. How did we manage this? At Stan Hema, we organise ourselves into interdisciplinary teams. Strategists are in close contact with designers and us – the communication consultants. When we set to work finding the right words, the strategists have already done their job. The brand identity has been defined and we know the brand guidelines including the purpose, target group, promise and philosophy of the WDR Innovation Hub. Together, we carve out the core of the history and its fundamental values. We transform these values into language and abstract ideas materialise into personal, living words. Attributes like friendly, appreciative, authentic and confident fly to and fro across the room. Brainstorming and the transformation of values into words are followed by text analysis. We improve current samples of text and derive our language framework from them. How do we speak and what should we avoid? Are we active and understandable? How many technical terms are necessary? How can we pick up the target group? Once everything has been set down in words, we have the guiding tone of voice. It has to inspire and evolve dynamically.
Dynamic language – dynamic tone of voice
“Languages, of course, are living things, things that we can hone and change to suit our needs.” The American cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky expressed this concept at a TED Women Talk . She sees language as a means of communication that is constantly evolving: “The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is. Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000 – there are 7,000 languages spoken around the world. Our tone of voice has to be as flexible as our linguistic diversity is dynamic. It inspires and encourages authors to stay true to their own tones. Most importantly, however, it offers guidance with one clear objective: less empty verbiage and more clarity. We believe that language is more effective than many a logo and should be part of every brand process.