Brand language is one of those terms that we’ve probably all heard at least once or twice, but never really went into great detail with.
As you can imagine, brand language is pretty important for any brand. It helps define your brand and sets your brand apart from all the others.
Defining brand language ensures consistency, and we could all use a little bit of that.
All of your questions will be answered soon. First, let’s start by defining brand language.
What is brand language?
Brand language refers to the words, and even images, a brand uses to define its purpose, brand tone, or reference its products.
When referring to brand language, there are many techniques and strategies out there. Some are more obvious than others, but let’s start with the basics.
When talking about brand language definition, there are two major questions you have to ask:
1. Who is your audience?
This is a question that every brand needs to ask itself to help define its brand voice. After all, without your audience, you don’t have a brand identify.
Let’s go back to when we talked about the different techniques and strategies tied to brand identity.
For the sake of finding your audience, there are a few strategies that have stood the test of time and remained fan favorites.
Let’s discuss two of the most widely used:
Otherwise known as buyer personas, creating user personas has been a go-to method for many brands when it comes to understanding who is using their products or services. This process typically goes a little beyond the average chatbot.
Creating these personas involves asking users a series of questions via surveys and interviews and finding patterns in their answers. Once you have enough interviews and surveys completed, you can begin to create personas to better understand your audience.
It’s not overly complicated, nor does it require any special skills. However, depending on the number of people in your audience, it can take quite a while. It helps tremendously to have a few analytics tools handy during this period.
2. Talk to them
Possibly one of the most effective and straightforward ways brands understand their audiences is just by talking to them. That’s all there is to it. These conversations can manifest in a variety of different ways, but quick emails, phone calls, or face-to-face interactions have always been the most effective ways to get to know your audience.
There are benefits in listening to your customers. Your customers, better than anyone, know how you can improve on your brand.
If anything, this is a great practice to help improve your customer relations. Everyone likes a brand that’s involved.
You may be asking, “What’s the point in all of this?"
Well, I'm glad you asked. The whole point in understanding your audience is to understand their behaviors. To understand what makes them tick when they’re buying from your brand means that you can focus your efforts on marketing your brand identity based on those behaviors.
It's not overly complicated, but this sort of research does wonders for any brand when trying to define brand voice.
2. What does your brand stand for?
It’s fairly obvious to say that in order to understand your brand language, you have to understand what your brand stands for. Each and every brand on the market today has (or should have) a specific image it wants to portray.
So, now that you’ve established who your audience is, there are important questions you have to ask yourself to further define brand voice:
What’s your brand’s culture?
Yes, even brands have cultures. Brand language is similar to culture, as they both help define a brand. But, culture takes a more direct approach.
Think of it like this: Brand culture is the DNA of a brand, and brand language is how the brand organizes itself. Brand language stands for the vibes that the brand puts out into the world. It’s the brand tone.
You can see that these two have a lot to do with each other. Defining your brand language means first defining your brand culture. How do we do that?
First, you have to define your brand values, people, and purpose. Find out what your brand stands for. Then, it’s just a matter of displaying that for everyone to see. Make these values clear, and your culture will be clear too.
What’s your brand’s mission?
This question ties in with the one above, but it’s extremely important to the brand language by itself, so it gets a spot of its own.
Every brand, no matter the industry, has to have a mission. Whether it’s to provide quality shoes or educate people on the importance of green energy, you have to have one. Highlighting this mission plays a key role in defining your brand language.
Now that we’ve gone over the two most important questions any brand can ever ask itself, let’s talk about what we should do with this newly found information.
Create a tone of voice for your visual brand language
You know your culture, and you know your audience. It’s time to channel that into a meaningful and visual brand language.
The easiest way to go about this is to think about how people would perceive your language if it wasn’t paired with your brand’s logo or name. How do you think they’d receive it?
The goal with this exercise is to create a language that is recognizable by customers as yours. Your brand visual language should be as unique as the brand itself, and, therefore, easily recognized.
The three-word technique
Another popular technique for creating your brand language guidelines is coming up with three words that you believe describe your brand.
In this case let’s use the following words:
Next, we’re going to throw them into a columned chart, and work out some more details:
We’ve gained the trust of every client we’ve served with our quality and professionalism.
We’re very persistent at obtaining our goals. We don’t let any obstacle stop us.
We work hard at our jobs because we love what we do.
Now that you have your words, you can begin to structure your brand language guidelines based on what you believe best describes your brand.
With a chart like this, you’ve basically given yourself a roadmap, just in case anyone gets lost along the way.
Remember that these words should be agreed upon as the best words to describe your brand. They will be the words that help define your brand language, so it’s pretty important that they’re accurate.
Start working on your brand language
How do you work on your brand language? To be honest, it might take some trial and error. Brand language is often something that’s developed over time. That being said, you should take the proper steps to make sure you’re prepared.
Remember, your brand language is how you present your brand. This most often manifests itself in the form of online content.
Content marketing is one of the most effective marketing strategies out there, so it’s important that you try your best to nail it. Again, this is something that will most likely develop over time. Some people have a knack for it, but practice makes perfect.
If you search online for copywriting tips, you’ll find a lot of generic tips. Most of them end up giving one conclusion: practice a lot. To streamline this whole practice phase and make it easier for you, here are some of the most helpful brand language guidelines that I’ve come across that actually help:
Write on a variety of topics
Nothing really tests your skills like writing about things you’re unfamiliar with. As far as developing a brand language goes, this is a very helpful method. Trying to carry the same tone and language over multiple different topics isn’t easy, but it’ll help you hone in on your brand language.
Put the audience first
Is your content easy to read? Does it register with the target audience? Does it properly portray your brand language and culture? These are all questions you have to ask yourself.
While you want to make sure your brand is represented, you also have to keep the reader in mind. Your content can perfectly represent your brand, but if it doesn’t make sense to the reader, then there’s no point.
One of the best tips I’ve ever gotten in content marketing is to take everything you learned in high school and college while writing, and throw it out the window.
In school, we’re taught to write very specifically. All of our writing ended up using a slightly different language, but it all looked mostly the same. This becomes a problem in content marketing. The whole idea behind establishing a brand language is to be different.
So, how do we do that? Again, think of the readers. We’re not talking about some essay that you have to write for a grade. We’re talking about a piece of content that people not only want to read, but specifically search after to do so.
Keep it short and sweet, and make sure the reader enjoys it and takes something away from the reading.
Be a perfectionist
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Nobody likes a perfectionist”? Well, in some cases that may be true, but this isn’t one of those cases.
Be picky! Read your content over and over again to make sure that it’s perfect.
You’ll notice that as you venture farther and farther into these practices, you’ll start to develop your own technique. This is a good thing, as you’re already starting to branch out and create your own brand language.
Be open to change
Change. This isn’t a word that a lot of people like to hear, but it’s an important one when developing a brand language.
Unfortunately, change is inevitable. You will absolutely need to be open to changing your brand language.
The idea is to create a brand language that portrays your brand, sits well with your customers, and helps customers – new and returning – identify your brand easily. If your language isn’t accomplishing all of those things, it’s time to change it up a little.
As we all know, change isn’t always easy, but it is possible. There will be obstacles every step of the way, but it’s how you overcome those obstacles that matters.
For most companies, they call this rebranding, and it usually involves much more than a simple change in tone. It involves new strategies, identities, and goals. It’s not always a success story, either.
Brand language examples
There are quite a few good examples of success with brand language. Most of the time, it just takes a single phrase or even a simple word to instantly make us think of a brand.
Here are a few brands that are doing it right:
BMW visual brand language is one of the most recognizable in the automotive world. Regardless of social status, professional training, or whether one is a fan of the brand or not, people recognize BMW cars not only by the logos, but by specific design elements that made history.
A small glimpse of one of the brand's cars is often all it takes for someone to recognize one of its creations, and it has much to do with its visual brand language.
If you take a look at any BMW, modern or not, you’ll notice many design cues that it has been implementing over the years. A good example of one would be the front grills on the cars – they are part of the brand identity, elements easily recognizable by everybody.
Another really good example of BMW’s brand visual language is its famous M stripes. These colors, regardless of whether or not they're on a BMW, are almost instantly seen as the BMW M series.
The point is, BMW is very aware of what makes a BMW a BMW. It has developed its brand strategy over the years and knows how to perfectly execute it. It will always be a matter of quality, reliability, a lot of viability, and trust among BMW car owners. Its marketing strategy, however, goes way beyond these technical details and helped build a brand that is almost iconic.
Groove is a great example of how brand language changes over time. As its user base increased, so did the need for a change in brand strategy.
The brand's mission was to make its user experience as clean as possible, but still maintain that “groovy” feeling.
Groove did this brand identity revamp in the right way: by taking user feedback. Every feature, every design, and every single aspect of the new identity was based on what the users wanted. Needless to say, it has worked out quite well for the brand, as its feedback now is incredible.
What did Groove change? To put it simply, everything. To start, it redesigned its most important visual asset: the company logo. The old rainbow was ditched and replaced with a simple smiley “G” logo.
Other than that, it basically rebuilt every branded asset from the ground-up. It put together a style guide applicable across all its apps and websites, applying a new modern and clean look to the brand – which led to a new and improved user experience. The groovy feeling, however, was successfully maintained, as the new designs featured playful elements, elegant new fonts, and fresh colors.
All the elements were designed and placed according to a branded approach to efficiency and user experience. Its offer has always included easy-to-use products, but, now, it has managed to transmit this information visually as well – through rebranding and redesign.
Around the world, Whirlpool owns roughly 28 sub-brands. Each one of these brands promotes products that all have strikingly similar designs, but it wasn’t always that way.
As we know it now, Whirlpool is probably the biggest supplier of household appliances. It and its sub-brands, like KitchenAid, make just about any appliance you could think of – and probably some that you can’t.
Back in the 1990s, Whirlpool conducted research that proved the lack of brand loyalty. In fact, two-thirds of the customers that entered a store looking for a new appliance had no idea what brand they were looking for.
Fast forward a little bit, and Whirlpool decided to bring designer Chuck Jones on board as chief designer. Together, with the help of design teams all over the world, they created Whirlpool’s brand visual language that we recognize today. They created a simple brand language style guide to keep the brand on track.
Using a unique design template, Whirlpool was able to unify its brand tone, and its product sales have never been higher.
How much can you save with Geico? How long does it take? Exactly. In your head, you just answered those questions flawlessly.
Geico has done an amazing job at maintaining its culture and language for years. Whether it’s the brand's catchphrase or the British gecko, it’s instantly recognizable.
Its brand strategy is simple: familiarize people with the brand by using a funny gecko. It’s a character that we’ve all grown to know and love – even if it is the mascot for an insurance commercial.
Geico took something so simple and mediocre and turned it into a super famous brand, all by including a tiny gecko into the brand language style guide.
This is a great approach toward marketing and advertising, as the most simple designs and elements are the easiest to remember, adopt, and associate with a company. A complicated design, on the other hand, would have been less effective.
Another great example of a brand that has mastered brand language is Disney.
Disney has quickly won its way into the hearts and minds of just about everyone because of the image that it has put out.
Disney is known for its customer service in its amusement parks and the heartfelt stories it tell in its movies.
You see, it’s all calculated based on its brand language. Everyone sees Disney as the happiest place on Earth because the brand has developed its brand language perfectly.
It has always been associated with a positive attitude, happiness, and success. All its elements, all its beloved characters, and all its stories contribute to this positive image; and, we all know how important is such an image association in customers’ minds. Disney knew it as well. Hence, its world renowned success.
There we have it – the importance of brand language.
The most important detail to take away from this is to make your brand’s voice heard. Make it unique and make it stand for something.
Next time you send a newsletter, update content, run an ad, or even produce a product or provide a service, think about the message you’re putting out into the world. If that message doesn’t scream your brand’s language, it’s time you started developing a new tone of voice.
Ready to learn more about brand language in 2019? Learn how to build a brand that people love.