For a long time, design and visual identities have been an integral part of any brand, with the tone of voice and messaging taking a supporting role. Now, with more channels than ever before for brands to communicate with their audience, having a consistent tone of voice and messaging will determine whether your brand stands out or flops dramatically. That’s what Mike Reed (Co-founder) and Sam Russell (Creative Lead) of Reed Words think – a team of strategic brand writers, working with clients around the world to build their brands through language. They have worked with the likes of Heinz, Formula 1, National Theatre and many more iconic brands. We were lucky enough to chat with them about all the working parts of brand language.
Here are some of the insightful highlights from our conversation:
MR: Brand language is a term we use to describe what we work with as Brand writers, rather than for example, copywriting or tone of voice because they tend to be parts of the puzzle rather than the whole thing. When people hear copywriting, for example, they think of the very practical business of writing sentences, the craft of writing which is critical but not the whole process. Equally, the tone of voice is a very popular phrase to describe how a brand speaks to its audience – we see tone as half of that story. The tone is the character of your voice, how you sound, and the personality that’s coming across. Then the other half of the story is what are you saying – the content of your messaging. Ultimately, these elements add up to brand language.
SR: The reason why brand language matters, why an agency like ours can exist is because brands are using language more ways than ever before. 50 years ago, brands had ads, direct mail, packaging and that was it. Now we have so many different channels, different moments where language can stand out or can go wrong. Therefore, brands have to work harder and think harder about how they write consistently, which is where an agency like ours comes in, and where a course such as Building A Brand Language comes in.
MR: That’s a very good question. One of the big jobs, when we work with a brand, is to make sure that their voice is consistent across everything they do. That is often where brands fall down for all sorts of reasons, partly because consistency itself is very difficult to both define and implement. We do not want every person writing and speaking for a brand in a robotically identical way. Ideally, they would all reflect the same central personality and message of that brand. Helping brands to develop the tools and understanding they need to do this on their own is a really key part of our job as brand writers.
SR: Language is a slippery tool and is difficult to manage. When I think of how a visual identity works, once you have figured out your new identity; the look and feel, colour palettes, typography and logo, it is easier to see when you have gone off-brand. Language is much harder to identify because we all have different interpretations of what a word like ‘human’ or ‘bold’ means. Therefore, the internal discussion of a brand’s messaging and tone of voice can be a long one.
FLA: We totally understand what you mean – there is so much emphasis on brand identity guidelines, design systems that help companies maintain how they are perceived through different channels. Language has yet to be fully understood and recognised as part of these systems, even though brands communicate with their audience all the time – it is not just about visuals.
MR: Apple is quite an interesting example – as you can imagine they come up a lot in workshops – but why I think they are so interesting is because they can communicate effectively in simple, really short sentences but each sentence has that extra bit of charm which is very much like Apple. They could just say, ‘ask the community’ but instead they say ‘ask everyone’ – there is a friendliness and a little touch of warmth in their approach – I think that balance is very distinctive.
SR: We create different directions for a brand’s tone of voice, then test them out in different touch points, whether it’s a social media post or a newsletter. By doing this, we really unpick what the words mean and when we present these directions to the client, it helps their team gain a shared understanding of their tone of voice.
SR: Write in first person when you are talking to your customers. I think it is the single quickest way of making yourself sound more human because you are human and you’re writing to another human.