How to Create a Brand Identity Through Your Writing
“It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for.” - Roy Spence
Every company has a brand identity and personality. You might not care about it, which will result in a lame one at best, but it's impossible not to have one.
People think of companies much like they think of people. They think of brands as fresh, old-fashioned, elegant, smart, or evil. Accordingly, marketers build their brands’ identities with such personality traits.
The below comic by artist Shoze accurately shows how we ascribe human personalities to companies — in this case browsers.
So, how to create a brand identity and personality? And, preferably, one that's not eating from the glue jar? In improving our brand image, it helps to think about how we judge people.
At first, we judge them on their looks. When seeing a stranger on the street — no matter how unprejudiced you claim to be — you’ll judge him differently based on whether he’s donning a tight italian suit, an Adidas sports outfit, or a ragged fishermans coat covered in bird excrements.
Web design is the online business equivalent of looks and personal hygiene. One glance on your landing page should tell your web visitor that you're a professional company. Most people and companies put in plenty of effort to look their finest. But — as one thing pick up artists did get right — good looks alone aren’t enough to get you in the game.
After the the first sight phase comes the getting to know you phase — which is when most companies (and people) fall short. Instead of the looks, your impression in this second phase is based mostly on your sound.
Do you speak with a confident, friendly, and empathic tone of voice? Or are you rambling on in monotony, delivering sentences with awkward grammar mistakes?
In today’s digital content age, a company’s sound is determined first and foremost by its written content; the texts on its website, blog, tweets, adverts, emails, and chats. Notice that you’re not actually reading this text, it's talking to you. Can you hear the voice?
When you're writing for your customers, you’re actually talking to them. How they will judge your brand, how they will interpret your brand identity, will thus depend greatly on your writing skills.
Content marketing expert Ann Handley urges companies to use the tone of voice in their writing as a differentiator across all customer-focused communications:
“Your website, your mobile updates, and your 404 pages, among other things. But also in your in-store signage, your social presence, and anywhere else you’re communicating with people you’re trying to reach.”
Sadly, most businesses don't put a lot of thought into their texts — missing out on a great opportunity to let their brand identity shine through.
After analyzing the content of 170 global brands, Acrolinx made the following conclusion:
“Of them, less than one-fifth had consistent, high-quality content — the kind that helps them create better customer experiences, which in turn builds trust, credibility, and a great reputation. Everyone else either had inconsistent content, low-quality content, or worst of all both.”
The most charismatic companies very consciously use their writing to create their brand identity. Let’s take a look at how Slack, Siemens, and Charmin do it.
What’s so great about Slack? Sure, they have an amazing product. But what really sets them apart from other tools is their user experience, in which copywriting plays an important role. They've built up an iconic status when it comes to user communication. They speak on eye-level, using the personal “we”, while always talking to “you” as if you were a good friend.
Besides clear communication, their writing reinforces their brand identity. Slack is a tool for intense daily usage, and it talks to you as if it were a buddy sitting next to you on the couch.
The chatty tone is exactly what you’d expect from a relaxed, funny, and helpful friend. They’ve braided the informal, conversational style into everything they write, from software updates to feature explanations, matching their software’s ease of use.
If Slack is your favorite office buddy in Hawaiian shirt, Siemens is the well-groomed expert in tailored suit. When you're buying sophisticated, high-priced machines, you expect some seriousness. That’s why Siemens’ tone of voice communicates authority and confidence. A slight divergence from eye-level communication is in place.
But Siemens is also a tech pioneer, so its language can’t be all antiquated. To combine the best of both worlds, they don’t flinch from the use of technical terms, but instead wrap them in a straightforward, crisp tone.
The right tone of voice can also help companies with low attraction products. Take toilet paper.
The status level of this commodity product equals zero; could things get any less glamorous? Yet Charmin makes it work in its favor. Their social media channels are a collection of never-ending self-ironic sketch parades. Even in their website content, they use a distinct tone that always hovers within an inch of foolishness.
#MoreSpecificDatingSites Tinkle - sponsored by Charmin. Will you swipe right or left?— Charmin (@Charmin) November 12, 2015
Charmin addresses its audience in the most informal language, mostly with a calculated inappropriateness. This disarming candor serves a product that everyone deals with on a daily basis, but no one likes to talk about.
Now imagine for a moment Charmin’s tone of voice on Siemen’s website, or vice versa. “Let’s talk Siemens!”, or “Charmin’s toilet paper solutions make excretion more enjoyable, efficient, and complete.” Just doesn’t sound right, does it?
7 Tips for Creating a Brand Identity Through Your Writing
It’s your turn now. Not many companies put conscious effort into building their brand identity through their writing, so there’s a huge opportunity here. Our 7 tips:
1Define your brand identity
To get your writing to build and support your brand identity, you must first define the brand identity you’re aiming for. You can’t be all chatty Slack on one page and corporate Siemens on the other. Not without sacrificing consistency and credibility.
You need to zero in on your core values, what you stand for, and your greater purpose as a organization. From there you can adopt a fitting tone of voice. Your brand identity should connect to your audience, for which the development of buyer persona is helpful.
Make a selection of four to five fitting descriptions. Word lists like enchanted learning’s “Adjectives Describing People and Personal Qualities” or Macmillan Dictionary’s “List of Words Used to Describe Writing or Speech Style” may give you inspiration as to what describes your company best. Narrow down on some striking, comprehensive adjectives.
Your list should focus on words that you and your staff will later be able to convert into actual writing. “Old-fashioned” or “cheeky” are proper actionable terms, while writing in an “impulsive” or “honest” style will be hard to put in practice, even when they accurately describe your company.
2Put an editor in charge
Consistency goes above all else if your writing is to actually shape your brand’s identity. Not everyone in your team will have the time or expertise to deal with the details as laid out in this post. Also, too many cooks spoil the broth.
Put one editor in charge with a clear vision and understanding of your tone of voice. That’s how Slack does it with their ‘editorial soul’ Anna Pickard. Any text that reaches the general public should touch your editor’s desk, even if it forces you to redesign text creation processes in different departments.
3Follow best practices in writing
There’s no one right way to write, but there are plenty of ways one should never write. Few people stop to think about writing skills, but with the right techniques and best practices you can make giant leaps in your communication.
In the often fiddly writing process, one must consider factors like grammar, formality, punctuation, use of jargon, length of sentences, and rhythm, to name but a few. Then there’s the more abstract level, including the narrating perspective, positioning of the customer and yourself, humor and technicality.
Covering the spectrum of frequencies at which voice strings are brought to vibrate would certainly go beyond the constraints of this post. We’ll just cover the most important principles instead and recommend some excellent resources that’ll make you a better writer:
- The classic with unbroken relevance: Gary Provost - “100 Ways To Improve Your Writing”
- The content-specific creative well: Ann Handley - “Everybody Writes”
- The ultimate nonfiction-guide for writers: William Zinsser - “On Writing Well"
4Write with clarity
The greatest thinkers are remembered because of their ability to get ingenious ideas across in a simple way. Clarity is the feat of communicating ideas in the easiest way possible.
Even the highest intellectuals don’t enjoy pushing their brains to peak performance just to understand what you're talking about.
Any language that’s complicated and unclear will in the long run create an image of self-worship. Stick to Jane Austen as one to always ground you: “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
Even if you're writing for a tech-savvy audience, it's easy to overestimate the overall knowledge level. Also milder technicality should never undermine clarity. I recommend avoiding jargon altogether, simply because I’ve seen little to no good examples. If anything, it worked to make fun of the use of jargon.
6Keep your voice, adjust your tone
Not all parts of your website are suited for the same tone of voice. FAQs are for quick help — a funny joke will only annoy a user if it holds up an answer. On Facebook, on the other hand, recipients are looking for entertainment instead of dry discours. Think about your recipient’s state of mind when they’re on a certain page.
As Ann Handley states in "Everybody Writes": “Voice doesn’t change, but your tone should, depending on the feeling you are trying to convey.”
7Set up a tone guide for your team
Your editor can't be going over each and every email or tweet your company sends out. That’s why your whole team should be made aware of the tone of voice. Pour your defined tone into a slim and handy guide for your team to follow during their usual workflow.
The guide should include information on how closely the tone should be implemented where. Create a tone of voice guide similar to this draft that in itself features your new direction, offering your colleagues of different departments examples that are more practical than a theoretical lecture.
At its best, the guide will be a motivator that’ll even make writing a payment reminder a slightly more enjoyable task. Pass the guide on to every employee in your company, preferably in a handy print version, nailing it in bullet points and simple examples.