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7 steps to crafting a compelling verbal identity

There is a traditional emphasis on a brand’s visual identity – its logo and colours, its typography, its visual system, its ‘look and feel’. An unintended consequence of this focus is that we tend to forget that a brand’s language – its ‘voice and message’- is as much a part of its personality.So when brands like Thomson Reuters and Qualcomm exhibit choice use of language to express their strategy, they stand out.

How can you do the same for your brand?

Here are seven steps you can take to craft a compelling verbal identity:

Sifting and scoping

1. Get under the ‘skin’ of the brand’s strategy
Understanding the brand’s strategy and its implications is where it all begins. It’s like an actor getting under a character’s skin in order to nail his/her delivery when it’s lights-camera-action-time. The creativity the writing demands stems from strategic ground, with words required to meet clear tactical objectives.

2. Do your homework
Effective writing necessitates immersive reading and active listening. We read as much as we can about the brand-at-hand, and listen to people associated with it (the agency team, the client team, the target audience).

Crafting and composing

3. Write
Writers of all shapes and sizes know how this goes. There are good days and bad. The trick that seems to work is keeping at it.

4. Get wiser heads to edit your drafts
Editors exist for a reason, and so, we show our drafts to the others (if you will!), and revise accordingly. We rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite till we glance at the calendar and realize it is deadline day. One last rewrite, anyone?

Presenting and persuading

5. Present contextually
Because language is linked to, amongst other contexts, a visual environment, it helps clients when work is presented in a manner that’s as close to its final resting place (!) as possible. This is why the team schedules time to mock-up and “comp” all our verbal deliverables.

6. Express the logic behind the language
Crafted an uplifting brand narrative based on a statement of relevant differentiation? Illustrate how. Teased out tone-of-voice guidelines from a brand’s values? Bake it into the presentation. Clients like to see the thinking that hides behind the writing. It helps them get a feel of where the work springs from, and in turn, it helps us clarify our thought process. “Why that word?” is a question we must be comfortable with answering.

And last but not the least…

7. Seek to understand the decision-maker and his/her aesthetic sense throughout the length of the project
Understand how the decision-maker in the room thinks, and how well versed (s)he is with verbal identity. This is particularly vital in high-context, relationship-driven markets. Is (s)he aware of the difference between writing and copywriting? Does (s)he favour a logical approach over an emotional riposte? The better you understand a client, the better your first draft will be.

When done well, a brand’s language allows it to become part of our lives and the brands in it (or mecosystems, if you will) in a way that sounds about right.

Nitin Das Rai

Nitin Das Rai is a senior consultant at Interbrand Singapore. He leads the firm’s verbal practice in South-East Asia.