Why is Verbal Identity seen as the poor relation to Visual Identity?

When did you last consider your brand’s verbal identity? Yesterday? Last month? Never? How much effort, or indeed investment, have you put into the language you use in your business’s communications?

According to language consultancy Lingua Brand, brands globally spend $13bn (£8.7bn) a year on visual identity and just $2bn (£1.3bn)on verbal identity.

“Language is less obvious than visual identity in determining someone’s reaction to a brand”, says Just Us Agency MD David Merrifield. “It is something most consumers simply don’t recognise as being important in shaping how they feel about a particular brand, but it is quite the opposite”, he says. It is vital, and is something we at Just Us have been banging on about for years.

Most businesses have no real understanding of what their tone of voice is – or isn’t – achieving for them. According to senior manager of customer experience at Nationwide, Caroline Hobbs, “Customers don’t comment or complain about language, so you have to find out for yourself”, usually simply by trying something out and testing an audience’s reaction. Nationwide has recently produced a set of guidelines to be used by anyone producing written communications within the company.

Just Us Agency’s Merrifield has written similar tone of voice guidelines documents for the likes of Orange, Lloyds TSB, 3 and others, helping their marketing teams and other agencies to adopt the most appropriate language to support the promise of their brands.

Individual words to use. And not to use

Language can shape someone’s reaction to a brand. Adopting the right tone and mood is obviously important, but a tone of voice guidelines document can be as detailed as specifying the right words to use, and the ones not to use. These need to be fully understood by those who are communicating your brand messages.

The Wunderman agency recently spoke with 2,000 UK and US consumers and found that 85% of British consumers say there are only a handful of brands that set the standard for excellence across the market – a standard by which they judge all brands. 8 out of 10 say they prefer to buy from companies that are widely known as the ‘best’ brands – and more than half of UK consumers prefer these brands because their products and services exceed expectations.

No surprises there, you might say, but the Wunderman research found that one of the ways brands can earn the right to be considered among the best, is through ‘brand descriptors’ – the often short tagline that might accompany a logo or sit as a full-stop to a piece of communication.

Brand descriptors have more power than you might think

For 67% of UK consumers, the phrase “tried and tested” contributes greatly to a brand being seen as the best. This is followed by “consistent” (59%) and “innovative” (37%). Words such as “non-traditional” (2%), “trendy” (5%) and “ground breaking” (7%) are less likely to make consumers think of a brand as the best.

“The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” was a line very much in the public’s consciousness back in the 90s when Orange first launched, and it reflected the innovative, progressive values of the Orange brand. Today, its successor EE has lost much of the distinctiveness given to Orange, and no brand descriptor springs to mind… which is a shame.

Brand-Descriptors

John Lewis has for many years adopted the tagline “Never knowingly undersold”, which is as strong a brand descriptor as you are ever likely to come across. Similarly, Nike’s “Just do it” conveys the brand’s attitude as immediately as if it were shouted in your face. When Apple developed their “Think Different” tagline, it was no accident, and it has remained as powerful a brand descriptor as Mr Jobs et al could have ever wished for.

Ignore verbal identity at your peril

If you want your brand to be perceived to be among the best, and if you want your customers’ to view it above those of your competitors who don’t consider verbal identity to be worth the investment, speak to a tone of voice expert now. And steal an advantage over your competitors.