HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF IN A TURBULENT TIME
With the arrival of COVID-19 and while people lock themselves away in their homes out of fear for their own personal health and their loved ones, brands are regaining our attention. We are seeing similar initiatives and content emerge and overlap in attempts to tackle a major communication challenge. Never before has it been so easy to speak, and never before could the results have been so costly.
What can your brand do to build a solid commercial and reputational recovery?
In times such as these, we need to remember that our brand is much more than just a logo or simple advertising announcement: it is one of the company’s most important strategic assets, responsible for building emotional relationships with people. Especially now, we yearn for a way to express authenticity and differentiate the brand so the organization’s DNA can be conveyed, and connections built with stakeholders: verbal identity. A tool that employs linguistic and narrative techniques, empowering brands to tell their story and be perceived in a tangible and coherent manner.
Still the least well-known aspect of branding, verbal identity is the key to humanizing the brand and connecting it to its audiences. It is not “only” about doing and saying, but rather about knowing HOW to do it and say it. Because having a communication strategy is as vitally important for dealing with any crisis, as is implementing that strategy while protecting, conveying and strengthening your brand identity.
Has your brand built a verbal identity? If so, has it helped you more effectively respond to the challenges of COVID-19?
“Still the least well-known aspect of branding, verbal identity is the key to humanizing the brand and connecting it to its audiences”
1. VOICE TONE
This is the way in which we express what we want to communicate. It encompasses the verbal, visual and attitudinal aspects of the brand that express what the company is like. It manifests through WHAT IS SAID by the brand (values and personality traits) and through HOW IT IS SAID (words, structures, expressions, idiosyncrasies). A tone of voice guide contains all the linguistic resources needed to express the company’s attitude in any message, in any of the brand’s communication channels and consistently over time.
Can you imagine if Ikea used “Sir” and “Madam” to address you or if the Cirque du Soleil had no music during its performances? Can you imagine if Nike encouraged you to binge watch TV series during this confinement?
A fine example can be found in Lowi a virtual mobile operator of Vodafone in Spain, which has such a strong and recognizable verbal identity that its teams and agencies consider it to be the guiding principle when building brand communications. Lowi’s tone of voice is based on cool, empathy, informal speech and fun, all cross-cutting concepts that are reflected in all its content and that highlight the “customer-centric” strategy implemented by the company. The most interesting thing is that, despite being a virtual brand, it does not only apply its tone of voice to advertising campaigns and its social media but also to all the brand’s points of contact – the welcome letter sent to customers, router, call center guidelines, etc. – to create a coherent and memorable brand experience.
That consistency in the use of its own language is precisely what has enabled it to stand out from other competitors in a market saturated with similar products, where brands become the main distinguishing feature for companies.
The tone of voice of the brand has enabled Lowi to launch campaigns such as this latest one during the COVID-19 situation focused on social media: “If you stay at home, we’ll stay with you”. Why? Because the brand has already built a personality that is perceived by its customers and that enables it to launch initiatives aimed at achieving engagement and strengthening its position without jeopardizing its legitimacy. In the campaign, Lowi identifies the social insights emerging from the crisis, such as sharing, balconies and messages of encouragement, and adapts its tone of voice to each social media.
2. BRAND MANIFESTO
this is a key component because it consists of a public declaration of a company’s intentions and the strategic pillars on which it is based. It is an inspiring, emotional and courageous piece of communication material because it reveals the commitment made to others by the brand (to society and/or its customers). It is a “war cry” through which the brand conveys its vision and seeks to mobilize internal and external audiences to join forces. To develop a brand manifesto, you need to consider the values, personality and attitude of your company and respond to the role it plays in society.
However, a brand manifesto is not enough on its own because it is merely one piece of a larger jigsaw for which it must be a perfect fit. Those brands that have a powerful manifesto are those that have successfully made themselves stand out from their competitors and unequivocally transmit a unique personality with which consumers identify. This is the case of Estrella Galicia a Spanish brand of beers that seeks to be a “Love Brand”: the mostloved brand.
Estrella Galicia has a well-built identity and has successfully identified and consistently held on to its distinguishing characteristics: authenticity, traditionality and Galician quality. A part of its success lies in its ability to distance itself from the inherent standardization in the market and differentiate itself from other strong beer brands. How? By looking after its product and by its vindicating and rowdy attitude. Estrella Galicia has perfectly enshrined this attitude and purpose in its brand manifesto.
Fragment from the Estrella Galicia Manifesto
Through its manifesto, the brand addresses those consumers who share its lifestyle philosophy. Unlike other companies that speak to everyone while running the risk of not mattering to anyone, Estrella Galicia takes courageous decisions. As the saying goes, “strategy is the art of sacrifice” and sacrifice is essential in a brand manifesto in order to make safe bets.
“Those brands that have a powerful manifesto are those that have successfully made themselves stand out from their competitors and transmit a unique personality with which consumers identify”
3. MESSAGING MATRIX
It will be key to illustrate the messages that the company should send with examples, guaranteeing communication that is in line with the brand identity and that generates recognition in the market. This matrix consists of standard messages aimed at training other people at the company and agencies to generate content while guaranteeing consistent communication. The success of any messaging matrix lies in knowing how to adapt tone of voice concepts to each communication channel and stakeholder group, because your brand should be flexible and capable of adapting itself to different audiences without losing its essence.
As an example of a brand whose global recognition can be largely attributed to its strong verbal identity, we have chosen Dove. In every country where it operates, this brand launches consistent messages centered around its concept of beauty: real beauty.
Dove’s voice is one of a brand that encourages women to create a world in which beauty is a symbol of confidence, not frustration or concern. One of the keys to its success is based on the ability to consistently apply its unique and recognizable tone of voice regardless of the specific circumstances in question. The content and form of the messages used by the brand are undoubtedly the brand’s insignia: uniform, positive, encouraging and focused on real beauty.
The fact that Dove not only has a well-built identity but also actively operates its brand in line with that identity has enabled it to achieve an indisputable market position. The brand has taken decisions, such as to stop using models in its campaigns and commit to training in order to improve the self-esteem of women and girls, that only further bolster its image.
Amid this Coronavirus crisis, Dove has launched its “Courage is beautiful” campaign to pay tribute to healthcare workers. This campaign seeks to stress that courage is beautiful and to continue challenging the aesthetic standards created by the media. Only a brand like Dove, which has built credibility and a unique space through its verbal identity, can launch such a campaign without seeming to be opportunistic.
“The success of any messaging matrix lies in knowing how to adapt tone of voice concepts to each communication channel and stakeholder group, because your brand should be flexible and capable of adapting itself to different audiences without losing its essence”
4. NAMINGS SYSTEMS
The set of names used for your brands, products, services, campaigns, hashtags, etc. says a lot about you to internal and external audiences. Have you ever thought about the ecosystem of your brand’s naming system? Does it enhance your value promise? Is it coherent across the board? You will most likely find naming systems in different languages, classifications and appealing to different semantic territories. This merely distorts your brand image. Creating any naming system involves a strategic-creative exercise that considers multiple aspects and is so profoundly important that we will dedicate an entire paper to correctly cover this topic and explain the benefits of having guidelines on the creation of names
What good is building a verbal identity?
The same examples we used before help us understand that only those brands that have built up a verbal identity over time can emerge stronger from moments of crisis.
A verbal identity will help us:
- Position the company in the market through consistent stories that unequivocally give life to the brand promise.
- Attract, impact, convince and sell. The way and manner in which the company addresses others is fundamental to creating an impact, being believable and connecting with others.
- Create rules and guidelines to enable and help teams generate content while guaranteeing brand coherence.
Everything described above are stimuli that will impact externally and, as a whole, will either strengthen the brand position or otherwise generate confusion and noise. Defining a verbal identity guide will help you ensure your brand is perceived in the way you want, in line with its identity.
Nonetheless, in spite of the good examples, we are seeing many brands during COVID-19 forget about their personality when venturing away from their usual communication environments. Their opportunity lies in the opposite, in highlighting the value of the brand. Because a generic, incomplete or inconsistent brand identity makes it very easy for consumers to miss the message or confuse it with the messages from other companies. As is the case with people, if we cease to convey what defines us as brands, we will cease to have any impact on others.
In conclusion, if, after what you have read here, you would like to know whether your verbal identity is correctly defined, follow these three steps:
- Conduct a review of recent actions and campaigns. Can you identify your brand’s personality in them?
- Look at the content of your online assets and replace the brand’s visual components (logo, font, colors, etc.) with those of a competitor. Would anyone notice the difference between the two brands?
- Conduct a small survey to reveal the health of your tone of voice. Does the perception expressed by the public about your brand match its personality?
If you have answered “NO” to any of these questions, you have a branding challenge ahead that will become an opportunity to strengthen your brand position once you have successfully dealt with it
“If we cease to convey what defines us as brands, we will cease to have any impact on other”
This article has been drafted in collaboration with Valeria Rey, Estudio Creativo Junior Consultor at LLYC.