By Michelle Barnett
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Verbal identity – you need one

We’re used to thinking of branding in visual terms first, but it’s now easier then ever for customers to speak to organisations. As well as the tradtional phone call, social media and customer service calls have boosted the importance of verbal identity massively. They can ask questions, enter competitions, and even share jokes, all on a very public forum. Yet verbal identity still often ignored in terms of branding.

‘Verbal identity’ covers a lot. It’s the way you talk about yourself and your company and products, any tag lines you use, and the brand’s persona or “tone of voice”. Long-established companies may find that they have naturally developed a verbal identity and want to now make it a deliberate choice to solidify how they are seen. Newer organisations will find that setting a verbal identity early on helps to define the brand for both themselves and their audience. 

Entering the market with a clear idea of who you are and what you will be saying is a great way to have your services stick in people’s minds; they’ll instantly know what to expect from you. And consistency in how you present that identity also suggests that you know your purpose, and so will be dependable in delivering a good service.

Think through different scenarios

Having picked a voice, it’s worth remembering that verbal identity does not mean always speaking to everybody in the same way. You will probably have a lot of different stakeholders and different parts of your company will interact differently. When somebody phones to make a complaint, they will be in a very different mood to someone tweeting their delight at the arrival of their new product. The way you promote a sale to potential clients will be different to how you pitch to potential investors, because their priorities are different. Your front of house staff will use different language to your sales team. 

How does your verbal identity portray sympathy? How does it portray confidence? What kinds of words or key phrases best get that message across?  Charities Cancer Research and Macmillan both tackle the same disease, but have chosen different verbal tones to show their particular focus.

Poster from Cancer Research, reading 'Cancer, We're coming to get you
Poster Macmillan, reading

Consider your audience

Your objective here is to communicate to your audience in a way that they will understand, so that they can decided if they need what you have to offer. This is why using jargon and tired ‘business speak’ is so frustrating to people: “Performance excellence modality” and “Proactive customer services” means nothing to anybody, even the people coming up with the phrases. If anything, being clear is more important for those at the top of the decision-making chain, because if you can’t describe yourself clearly and accurately then how are you going to build a brand around that idea?

This isn’t about stamping out individuality among staff, but rather giving them the tools and framework to show off the business in it’s best light. So keep your language understandable.  Use practical terms and examples that show you really have paid attention to what your customers want from you. Speaking to your audience in a normal human voice gives you the flexibility to choose a very particular and distinct personality to represent you. That’s what will make your brand recognisable and trusted.

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