01 July 2021

A Guide to Verbal Branding

Imagine your brand as a person. What do they look like? Are they young or old? What kind of clothes are they wearing? If you’re picturing a red-haired clown in a yellow jumpsuit, then you’re probably MacDonald’s. Now, what does your brand character sound like when they speak? Are they formal and knowledgeable? Gentle and insightful? How about warm and playful? This is your verbal branding.

Just as it is with us humans, your verbal identity will come from a combination of what your brand says and the tone in which it speaks. This unique style will guide everything involving words; from your product naming to website copy. It will work in tandem with your visual identity to represent your brand’s personality and engage your customers. Good verbal branding builds trust and familiarity with audiences, because through it, your brand can speak to them as a person. 

But why is this all so important? First and foremost, your verbal branding will create consistency within your overall brand messaging. If one minute you’re fun and irreverent and the next you’re formal and authoritative, your audience might be a little confused as to whom they’re dealing with.

Verbal identity also forms a cornerstone of your brand storytelling, which, if you ask us, is critical. Think of your brand as the main character—the hero of your story, if you will. What you say and how you say it solidifies who your brand is, but you can’t speak authentically until you’ve defined your character.

Verbal branding is a set of tools where character has a chance to shine through. The words you choose, the phrases you impart, the way you articulate—they’re all a reflection of character. This is what will determine the true core of your business and forge deeper connections with your customers, all the while staying on brand.

People think in stories, not statistics, and marketers need to be master storytellers.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post.

At OOB, we’re experts at articulating impactful brand stories and personalities. When a brand speaks in simple, powerful language, in a tone of voice that’s unique to them, they communicate clearly and effectively with the people who matter most. So, where do we begin? Here are our tried and tested tips for a successful verbal branding:

Personality is key

The best way to bring a brand to life is by—that’s right—personality! Nailing this part of your verbal identity through words will ensure your brand is both catered to your target audience and memorable at the same time.

Take Oatly, for example. Whether you’re on their website, opening a carton of their plant-based milk, or admiring one of their billboards, you’ll be greeted with fun, conversational copy that communicates Oatly’s cheeky personality to a tee.

Oatly are bold, sarcastic and irreverent. They speak directly to the audience they are targeting—younger people living a more sustainable lifestyle, who are uninterested in the perceived inauthenticity of traditional advertising. As Oatly’s Creative Director John Schoolcraft has said, “We don’t really think of ourselves as a corporation. We’re real people working together to try to help other people get a good product.”  And we couldn’t agree more. Showcasing the people behind the product is paramount to creating meaningful connections with the people who matter most to you.

The manufacturer who dedicates their advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for their brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.

David Ogilvy

Break it down

List the core traits of your brand personality. This is who you are 100 percent of the time, so having a set of guidelines is essential, especially when telling your story. Summarise your personality into several key traits that form the baseline character of your brand for every audience, medium, and emotional state.

For example, as Our Own Brand, we are warm, approachable, playful and irreverent, yet knowledgeable, insightful, empowering and empathetic. We will travel around this spectrum depending on who we are communicating with, and the subjects on which we are speaking. List each one of your traits as a short header, then write a paragraph about why that trait represents your brand.

Voice vs tone

When approaching verbal branding, it’s important to note the difference between voice and tone.

Voice is an expression of your brand’s personality. It should be unique and recognisable, just like yours, and is how your brand should talk all of the time. For example, if the reasons to support your brand are because you’re warm, personable, and compassionate, then every piece of content you write, from website copy to advertisements on the tube, must be warm, personable, and compassionate.

Tone is the attitude of your voice. Think of it in terms of real life. You adjust your tone according to who you are talking to and what you are talking about, but your voice remains the same. This is no different for brands. Tone is how your brand sounds in specific situations. For example, when you announce exciting news, your tone is upbeat. But when you inform your customers about an error, it is apologetic.

A brand without a voice is like macaroni without cheese — bland, forgettable, and pointless.

Erin Butler Woolf

Know your audience

While you may have one main audience, you will often break them up into primary and secondary audiences. For example, the primary audience for say, Bratz dolls, would be the parents who hold the buying power. The secondary audience is the children who sway the parents into making the purchase. Your tone will vary depending on who you’re talking to, speaking playfully to the children but convincingly to the parents.

Read the room

Consider how your audience is feeling when you speak to them. For example, if you are announcing a delay in shipments, you will want to dial down the humour and adopt a more empathetic tone in order to reassure your customers. If you’re introducing a new product, you will want your audience to share your excitement, so an enthusiastic tone would work here. After all, 44% of consumers endorse products based on emotional criteria.

Where are you?

As well as asking yourself why you are speaking, you will want to think about where you are while you’re doing it. If you’re on Instagram, you can adopt a more personal tone, like having a bit of friendly banter down the pub. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll have to stay brief. If you’re talking to The Sunday Times about carbon emissions and sustainability in your industry, your tone should be professional and engaging.

Whether you’re starting a business or undergoing a re-brand, your verbal identity is a component not to be overlooked. As the old saying goes, ‘you don’t get a second chance at a first impression’ - are you making the right one?

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