May 24, 2019

First comes the word!

Why are words so important to brands? And why are they so neglected?

Why are words so important to brands? And why are they so neglected?

In the past, brands were mainly perceived as “something” visual. But nowadays, there is a different understanding. Brands need to be thought strategically and verbally way before the “design” stage begins.

So why are there so many brands doing it the wrong way? Why hustle to the design process?

Maybe there is a lack of knowledge about the whole process. Or lack of skills.

Setting up a strategy and a narrative is much more than just drop a few lines justifying the visual concept when presenting it to the client. Strategy and narrative walk hand in hand, and are the brands’ foundations. They are the first things to think about. They set direction and give meaning to the brand.

We all know brands whose verbal identity became a central part of their existence.

And we can easily think about two famous straplines: “Just do it” (from Nike) and “Think Different” (from Apple). They are important not because they are catchy. They are important because they sum-up the brand’s idea. Straplines are one of the elements of verbal identity.

But words can work at many levels: the name people know your brand by, the manifesto that brings like-minded people together, etc.. Words can make your brand memorable, understandable, relatable and human.

Many brands may argue that they already have a narrative.

They probably think they have a voice.

But all they have is a list of product attributes: resistance, accuracy, on-time delivery, and so on.

Yet, moreover clients are looking for emotional, self-expressive and social benefits.

Intimately related with feelings and reflections.

The way the brand makes them feel. The way the brand makes them consider themselves. The way the brand “allows” them to be part of a community.


Consider Levi’s.

At the beginning, the brand’s communication (and its unique selling proposition) was focused on the product attributes. An invention for the America worker. The cut, the materials, the copper rivets. Claiming for authenticity and resistance. The claim used to be: “It’s no use, they cant’t be ripped”. This was graphically represented, in the logo, by the two horses pulling a pair of jeans.

A demonstrations of the product’s extraordinary strength.

But things have changed.


In the words of the brand itself: “Worn by miners, cowboys, rebels, rock stars, presidents and everyday men and women, these functional pieces were the clothes people not only worked in—they lived their lives in, too.” Since its foundation, in 1853, the brand created the definitive jeans worn by successive generations of young people and help give them confidence to break new ground, again and again. Levi’s is the purest wearable form of authentic self-expression. The brand accompanies its customers throughout their lives. Encouraging their dreams, celebrating their achievements, sharing their memories. This is what “Live in Levi’s” means.

Nowadays the brand emphasizes its brand ideal.

The brand wants more and more people to feel that they can do and be anything.

If you analyze one the most recent campaigns you will realize that the narrative is based on emotional aspects related to belonging, self-esteem and self-improvement. Not functional traits.

This is precisely what brands must define in addition to the functional characteristics.

The brand voice is about what you say and how you say it.

Whatever you’ll define for your brand voice will tell your audience about your personality.

Your set of values and beliefs as a brand. Style and substance will define how you are perceived.

Tone and content need to be balanced in a unique equation.

You can choose to have your brand defined by your customers or you define it yourself. The latter is too risky.

Brands extend themselves across multiple channels and touchpoints: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, TV spots, posters, print media, website, packaging, point of sale advertisement, amongst many others. A consistent and coherent brand voice is needed to reinforce the brand.

The words you choose to use are extremely important.

They will guide your brand’s behavior. And they determine what your audiences think and feel about your brand. 

It’s fundamental to define a structure for the brand language.

Brands need to find their authentic voice.

One that customers will recognize and believe. One that will interact with their beliefs and influence their behaviors.


By João Gilsanz Magalhães, Partner and Strategy Director