When we ask people to tell us about brands they reply with words.
Even when we give them pens and encourage a bit of drawing they like to start with words. It’s not surprising, as we have all been conditioned to work this way since childhood – “tell me what it was like”, “describe her”, “tell me a story”.
We will talk about the power of visuals and the “body language” of brands in a different post, but here we are focusing on those words. What people talk about when they talk about brands.
They usually start, and finish, by describing the tangible elements of the thing they buy – literally what it is. In most cases this is not the brand, but it highlights an important point: on the whole, people buy products (and services or experiences), not brands.
It seems to us that one of the things that helps define a weak brand is that people, even pretty creative people, struggle to describe it beyond the product. This is a problem, because branding is the hidden reason they feel something about these products, the unspoken or possibly whispered prompt to their decision making. If they can only describe the product it is probably vulnerable to switching or replacement.
So it is perhaps useful to consider the other side of the conversation – how brands talk, how they get their messages across and into the subconscious of potential buyers. This matters, because getting the language, tone and style right is a crucial element to achieving success in any conversation.
In qualitative research we use projectives to help understand how people perceive brands. We might ask people what sort of character the brand has, how they would behave at a party, how they sound. The most well defined brands have the clearest character in people’s minds (not always identical to everyone else’s view, but more often than not consistent and complementary) and whilst some of this may have come from residual TV advertising recall, a lot of it comes from a whole range of written brand stimuli – including online, on pack, and in some cases, direct contact.
When Innocent originally launched their smoothies one of the most common things people talked to us about was their use of language in their consumer communications, and particularly on the packaging. It was different. It was humorous, friendly, informal, quite often self-effacing, and always brief and to the point. In short it was human.
Bringing a brand alive through its language, tone and style isn’t a new thing; as well as Innocent, our good friends at Abel & Cole have been doing it for years with spectacular success. And you will no doubt have dozens of other great examples.
However, whilst it’s not new, it seems to us that it is still hugely undervalued. You, like us, will know that people don’t generally read the copy on your packs, in your point of sale material or on your Facebook page. Perhaps they aren’t listening because you are not speaking their language?
So next time you relaunch, reposition or just update your brand, how about putting the way your brand speaks at the heart of a relaunch or repositioning? Look at Gumtree for inspiration.