The Linguistics of Branding

My day job (that takes a few nights as well) is helping companies connect to their customers through ‘verbal branding’: that is to say, positioning, messaging, corporate language, and brand voice. It’s somewhat unusual in that to many people, brands are visual constructs, consisting of logos, color schemes, visual vocabulary, and guidelines. However, that’s not the end of the story.

What makes a successful brand is the combination of the visual and verbal: a visual presentation that captures the spirit of what the brand is about, combined with the right messages, crafted in the right tone. Without key messages, a piece of brand communication is a beautiful box with nothing inside.

Positioning is, essentially, the company’s credo, or its belief about the world and how the company helps make it a better place. Whether it’s simple, desirable user experiences that let people get more out of life, a ‘third place’ between work and home where you can enjoy a latte, have a short escape, or be productive, successful companies have a simple, clearly articulated idea about what they do that is bigger than the flagship product offer in any given business cycle.

Brand messaging unpacks the positioning into a set of key ideas. It has to explain three things: what the organization stands for, what the organization offers (not always literally what the organization ‘sells’), and why this matters to the recipient of the message, whether it is customers, employees, or hiring candidates. Successful messaging allows companies to better position themselves in the marketplace, gain more effective product communications, and retain and attract the best people. With messaging, any employee can answer the question “What does your company do?”, and any customer can understand, “What does this company do for me?”.

Brand voice and corporate language are the expression of the verbal brand. Using some classic examples, whether it’s Apple’s famous “Ten thousand songs in your pocket”, or Nike’s “Just do it”, it is the product or company brand put into words that have a spirit and viewpoint.

In short: brands are languages. They have a syntax and semantics, speakers and listeners. You could go even further and say a brand, because it is a language, is also a semiotic system. In other words, that means brands have signs, symbols, and interpretation tools the same way languages and other forms of communication do. By understanding brands as languages, companies can go far in structuring and managing their communications.

Stay tuned for more on this topic, or get in touch.

4 thoughts on “The Linguistics of Branding

  1. Then there’s the hermeneutics of it all–what gets lost in translation. If the wording is not well clarified, entirely different levels of meaning might be conveyed rather than what was intended.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: