The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. In design, this maxim often proves right and ultimately determines the success of many products. However, when it comes to brands, the speech is of great importance.
For a branding project to be complete, it is necessary to create a visual identity as well as a verbal identity, which will set the brand’s tone of voice. This is nothing but the emotional utterance of what the brand represents and has to offer to the world, said and expressed in its own words. Put like that, it sounds simple.
In effect, the path to this construction is long and begins with the strategic positioning, when the questions to be answered are: why does the brand exist? what values guide its actions? – and consequently – what is its personality? Then, the story to be told becomes clear, and the first significant verbal expression that normally arises is the brand manifesto.
A few years ago, this was considered internal and confidential content, but now brands have realized that this information has to reach everyone. The brand’s manifesto makes everything, or almost everything, become evident. Here is a ‘classic’ and well-known example that shows what I mean: while The North Face positions itself as a brand for people who are passionate about outdoor adventures, its competitor Patagonia defends socio-environmental responsibility (going as far as making an anti-consumption announcement, in 2011). Both brands are in the same category, targeting the same consumers, but they have different beliefs and stories. The question is, what brand does each person identify with?
A great challenge when creating a verbal identity is to connect the speech not only to the brand purpose, but also to the people that work with the brand and, of course, to the target consumer. And it is this practical expression, carried on daily, that makes it real. It is not just about creating attributes, it is necessary to reflect the brand’s human traits and dig deeper, thinking about the words that should be used and the ones that should not. The brand needs to be real, authentic and honest, in the first place.
As a result of social networks, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, relationship building is highly valued, and increasingly human interactions are expected. It becomes clear that verbal identity does not refer only to written text. It is the speech that counts, which can have different formats and sizes – video, audio, or a demonstration of support for some everyday topic. And then we face another sensitive issue for any brand: the decision on whether (or when) to speak out on topics, defend causes or highlight a position, which can sometimes be controversial. The answer will depend on each brand, and obviously, it is also a strategic decision. Oftentimes being neutral, or not taking a stand, can be worse. Not taking a position can be seen as a stance. Tough, huh? I suggest reading this text, about activism and branding, that clarifies ideas and lists good practices on cause engagement and positive impact.
In a society in constant change and with social ruptures like the one we live in, it is key to have all brand stakeholders aligned. Brand books and guidelines are important but even more relevant is to inspire people, internal and external teams; you have to be consistent, but also flexible. After all, although it is the brand’s voice, it does not speak alone.
Ricardo Oliveira, Creative Director at CBA B+G