Brands Speak

There is much debate these days about the erosion of the English language, generally attributed to the replacement of traditional print forms by digital media. But actually, words have never been more important.

I'm speaking as a 'brander' here. One of my key pieces of advice to entrepreneurs launching a brand, or anyone who even works for a brand, is that they mind their language! Every word we say about ourselves as a brand counts, and affects the overall impact of a brand identity.

When we launched our company almost three decades ago, we were adamant about the key positioning platform: that our brand is not a 'beauty' brand -- it is a skin health brand. And we used language as a way to convey that message and distinguish ourselves apart. Instead of using the word "esthetician" to describe licensed skin care professionals, we called them "skin therapists." When referring to a "skin analysis", we said "Face Mapping", and instead of using the word "facials", we said "skin treatments". All of our terms were very simple to understand, but made our brand DNA different. And by creating our own language, we built a global Tribe.

A word of caution here: don't go overboard on the company jargon. The point of shaping language appropriately is to connect with your audience and your consumer. And it's crucial that the language used is consistent across all communication platforms whether it be print, online, social media, or even in conversation.

One of my sources of reference on this continues to be Apple. Of course, they've brought the "I" prefix into common usage, so much so that virtually any hand-held personal electronic device is loosely referred to as an iPad, iPhone, etc., regardless of the brand. Ironically, this is a good thing, just as we refer to Q-tips, Kleenex and Xerox as generic shorthand for cotton swabs, facial tissues and photocopies. The proof of a successful branding language is that it becomes ubiquitous, transcending the brand itself, and defining the entire category with just a few well-chosen words.

Remember, too, that this power allows you as a brander to break the rules occasionally. Apple raised the hackles of educators a decade ago when the brand's advertising campaign challenged us to "Think different", substituting an adjective (horrors!) for an adverb. It worked. We did think different, and we still do as the result of that defining campaign.

Twitter is another great example of using language to not only create a brand identity, but to revolutionize the way in which we communicate. Sending "tweets" is more than a daily occurrence and shortening phrases and emotions with the use of a hashtag has seeped into everyday writing, and even at times our common vernacular. Who could have imagined a decade ago the world would be sharing its news, thoughts and feelings in the form of "tweets" consisting of 140 characters or less, or that people would "DM" each other in order to connect privately or "retweet" to express their approval of your message to the world?

When creating a brand language, I think that the most persistent lesson is to keep it simple. Resist the temptation of degrading cleverness into cuteness. Find the words that best convey your brand message without compromising your brand identity. This may require discipline and lots of practice, but isn't this the case when learning any language?