I’m a huge believer in stress-testing the expression limits of brands. And as a general rule, I’ve learnt that you can push language a long way – often further than you imagined – providing you demonstrate humanity, insight, humility and fun, and you connect in ways that people identify with and find refreshing.
People can be very scared of showing humanity, candour or opinion. But brands with character hook people in and make them loyal as hell. Rohit Bhargava has written an excellent book on the business case for authenticity, Personality Not Included. It’s a great read, and there are some telling case studies.
Here are my five best tips on how to nudge your language to the borderline:
1. Look at how your competitors speak – if they’re all talking foo-foo, don’t add your brand to that clamour. Instead, find a way of relating to people that makes you the most interesting voice in the marketplace.
2. Stay on brand – your voice should reflect who you are. If you’re a fun brand, be cheeky. If you’re a sentimental brand, speak warmly. If you’re a challenger brand, be indignant. Take your cues from your story, your purpose and your values.
3. Base how you speak on how they speak – I wish more writers would get out and listen, really listen, to the speech patterns of the people they are trying to reach. People talk in so many different ways, in so many situations. And our role as expressionists is to know how to speak, when to speak, where to speak and what to say. The first writer I was apprenticed to gave me a piece of advice that I’ve always treasured: talk to them like they were sitting next to you. So much writing fails to establish “I”-contact …
4. Calibrate the doseage – reveal more of your brand personality as people get to know you. Start out as distinctive, and in the course of the sales funnel, talk in ways that make your customers feel more involved and included. Pull them into the tribe. Introduce a ‘dialect’ that becomes more apparent, and feels more exclusive, over time.
5. Look forward to a fight with legal – be warned. The compliers and the legal team are going to hate this apparent sudden outburst of character. To them, saying what you really think as a brand feels like a mighty great risk. And it feels that way because they are trained to write in a specific style and within particular terms of reference. For many of them, language is about tying things down and having indisputable points of reference, and those guidelines clash with having a brand that expresses itself openly, candidly and without (excessive) qualification. Fight for your brand’s freedom of speech.
Image of “RAF Firefighter”, taken by UK Ministry of Defence, sourced from Flickr