THE BLOG
12/01/2014 06:01 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

Learning From Shakespeare: Harnessing The Power of Brand Language in an Overvisualized World

There's only one Shakespeare, but that doesn't mean we all can't play with language.

Today's overvisualized world trends toward companies that communicate stories using imagery instead of text. With such a rich database of visuals at their fingertips, many brands often neglect the significance of developing unique brand language.

As humans, we can't fully experience something until we have the language to express it - and we aren't lacking in words to do so. According to the Global Language Monitor, there are 1,025,109 words in the English language. New words appear each day and shape our understanding. But when it comes to powerful verbal branding, it's not simply the words that are used but how we use them that uniquely communicate the brand.

A verbal identity is the expression of what a brand stands for and how it's different from competitors. This includes unique words and phrases and a distinctive voice and tone. A good verbal identity is one in which you can take away all the visual elements of the brand and still recognize the brand.

As we grow towards a competitive future filled with infinite brands and choices, creating a unique voice and tone is imperative. Shakespeare was a master of language and invented over 1,700 words and phrases, including words like eyeball, silliness, and uncomfortable. "Love is blind," "all's well that ends well," and "dead as a door nail" are phrases he coined that are still used today.

Today, thousands of companies are essentially selling the same thing, using the exact same language. Take bottled water, for example. There are over 700 different brands selling bottled water in the U.S. alone. Each of them touts their refreshing taste, pure source, and high quality. The difference, for the most part, isn't the water. It's the branding.

Like Shakespeare, brands need to evolve and invent unique ways of communicating with audiences. Language remains the key communication tool and foundation upon which a brand is built. It's a vehicle for change and understanding. Yet the process of evolving language can be challenging. Below are a few tips to create powerful and unique verbal brand language.

Tips on Creating a Powerful Verbal Brand

Write like a human, not like a robot.
If your brand were a person, what would it sound like? Would it be quirky, with a sense of humor? Or confident and serious? Whatever it is, make sure it's authentic. Creating a unique voice and tone starts with discovery. Perform exercises with your core team to define adjectives that best describe what makes your brand unique. Create definitions around what those adjectives symbolize. For a great example, check out Mail Chimp's voice and tone.

Employ transparency.
Think like Pinocchio. One of the most underutilized opportunities for brands is honesty and transparency. Brands that truly resonate with customers tell their story in a way that is honest and real. For example, don't simply tout your best testimonials. Showcase the poor ones and describe what you learned and how you are changing. Patagonia is a great example of a brand that employs transparency, and honestly reveals what products need reworking.

Embrace your inner brand prowess.
You must be willing to believe in your brand and take risks. While some brands might not have the personality to be irreverent and whimsical in their voice and tone, they don't need to be boring. Have the courage to embrace your true voice, and express it consistently. Look at Hello Flo and Cards Against Humanity.

Train to stay fit.
After you've crafted your voice and tone, create guidelines and train your team on how to implement and, just as importantly, how to evolve them over time. The best guidelines are practicable and accessible but also flexible. We live in a dynamic world, and brands need to modulate their voice and tone in order to stay relevant. Ideally the brand guidelines provide the tools and the inspiration necessary to do so successfully.

By inventing a new and consistent way of speaking, you can connect with your customers in a human way that makes them look forward to interacting with you - a key to driving brand engagement and loyalty.