Boost your brand by using the right words

Everyone knows that striking visuals are vital to building a brand, but when it comes to communicating a message, the words you choose to use can have an equal impact on your image. John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant specialising in just that – using the right words to boost your brand.

He's also a speaker at our Impact Conference, where he'll be considering the role of verbal brand communications in the FMCG sector. We caught up with him to hear his thoughts, and get a sneak peek of he'll be discussing when he takes to the stage on 6 March.

Tell us a little bit about what you do and why you do it...

When I was at Interbrand, back in the 1990s, I started asking, "How do brands communicate if they don't use words?" The answer of course is that every brand uses words, but our understanding of brands is primarily about visual aspects such as the logo, colours, typefaces, photography. All vital - but what about the words? So I set up the Verbal Identity team at Interbrand. The title was chosen to show that the team sits alongside Visual Identity as a natural and interlocked partner.

I worked with clients of all sizes and from different sectors, including UK retailer M&S and industrial multinational Air Products. I've set out my thinking in many books – initially We, Me, Them & It, more recently 26 Ways of Looking at a Blackberry and Room 121 – and I train people in the brand and business world to write more effectively, primarily through a programme called Dark Angels.

I do this because I love it, and I think it's important because a brand's language still receives less attention than its imagery. My real passion is words. I'm happiest when I'm writing, and I enjoy helping others to experience that joy.

From your experience working at Interbrand, what role do you think words and communication play in branding?

We all use words, and obviously brands do too. We could all use words more effectively – for me that also means creatively. I don't think Plain English takes us very far in branding terms; it simply makes your communications a little clearer (which is good), but not that different from everybody else. I want brands to use language well, and to stand out for their use of language.

In setting up the Verbal Identity team, we put together a small group of creative writers I'd formed at Newell and Sorrell with Interbrand's naming team when we merged in 1998. Our challenge was to be more than copywriters, we needed to forge a link between playful language and the frankly deadly-dull words used by management and brand consultancy.

Which brands do you think are using their tone of voice in an inspiring way to boost their business?

Innocent remains the obvious example – I think they still do it well. I still like Lush for its words. Every brand of the last decade has been influenced by Innocent –, Leon, and so on. But Innocent was influenced by Ben & Jerry's, who still make me smile while selling lots of ice cream.

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