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Brand Strategy Boosters: 6 Steps to a Verbal Identity that Converts

Words matter. And yet the efforts put into building a verbal identity are often treated as secondary to the visual one.


I've been a writer since I was a kid. I was one of those cool people you went to school with who was always pumped about spelling bees, winning the Halloween poetry contest ("It's Halloween, it's Halloween / the eeriest day I've ever seen..."), and creating (and of course selling, because I was also that kid) tabloid mags for my way-back-in-the-country neighbourhood. (I told you: super cool.)

So words have always mattered to me. Choosing the perfect ones to capture that thought wandering about in my head, searching for bits that had the right resonance and the perfect pitch, and formulating phrases that landed in the precise tempo my ear was listening for - pure bliss. (Swoon.)




Words still matter to me, pretty much more than anything in business. Without them, there is no message to get across. There is no clarity in what you're putting out there. There is no competitive differentiation. There is no ownable market position. There is no brand.

And yet, over the last 20 years, I've observed a lack of legit love for the the written word. As much as builders are happily chatting about the importance of crafting the brand story, crafting a deep verbal identity infrastructure that can be implemented throughout business functions is a road less traveled. (Can't our marketing coordinator do this?) After all, the level of effort, care, and cash put into visual identity elements is a no brainer for most founder-led brands and businesses - of course we're going to have a visual identity, have you ever heard of a brand without a logo?

On the other hand: have you ever heard of a brand without a dictionary? (Lemme guess...)

Well, if your business sells in any way on brand - i.e. you're not a commodity business - and you haven't put this in place, you're missing half of the system. 

Given my obsession with powering up founder-led businesses to play with the biggies
(have you checked out our checklist?  <http://build.jcand.co/business-growth-strategy-acceleration-checklist>), this one's a no-brainer for me. Building a conversion-oriented verbal identity is a vital - vital - step for founder-led businesses. When designed with a serious conversion focus, it gives you a common, efficient, and growth-oriented language system to use across product, sales, marketing, social, PR, advertising, and customer care. It forms the foundation of your playbooks - your whole go to market strategy is improved. It continually delivers a consistent, ownable competitive position, in a sea of same.

So how do you design sales-driving voice-and-message into your brand playbook? 

  1. Clarify your position. Get ultra-sharp on your what / how / who / why of your brand. Get a tight lens on the niche you're trying to fill, without excluding future growth strategy. (If there's language that you use and you love that isn't consistent with where your business is going to be through growth, drop it sooner than later - and figure out how to restate its intent without being misleading.) If you aren't clear here, your ability to drive sales growth over time is going to be stifled.
  2. Know your own house. Get informed by customer conversations, social requests, search data, ad metrics, keyword analysis, backend analytics. Dig all kinds of deep. Read your sales materials, your emails, your press releases, your presentations, and your website. Watch for words that you and your team use over and over again and bucket them into relevant categories. What you're trying to do here is keep an eye out for words and phrases that performed, both in getting across the brand's soul and delivered conversion on the objective, whether that's a new retailer close, a top-of-funnel digital ad that got clicked like crazy, or an email to an editor that got you featured in Refinery29.
  3. Peep your competitors, hard. Check out what the biggies in your arena are doing. Get rid of any terms or phrases in your ownable language that are being used by key players. Don't ever, ever copycat on the customer-facing stuff (no way, no how do you want to be presenting publicly in a fashion that makes you appear remotely knock-off-ish, ugh), but do copycat commonalities you find behind-the-scenes (understanding how the big guys are using language in tech back-ends effectively gives you a fraction of the cash they paid to optimize... for free). The more differentiated your outward voice is, the more easy it is to explain to customers, distributors, retailers, and/or media exactly why they should progress through the funnel you've got them in... but that doesn't need to come at the expense of observable learnings in your competitive set. 
  4. Design your personas. Presumably you have a decent sense of your customers - direct and indirect. Put pen to paper and really get them into writing. You want to hear their voices, find their verbal identifiers, see them come to life - and you want to craft their voices into your own identity.
  5. Build the brand dictionary. Start simple, and flesh it out over time - just as you would with a visual system, or really any process document. You're trying to bring together business strategy, market intel, conversion-focus, and magical creativity in one glorious gem of a document, so give it time, space, and professionalism to come to life. (You didn't get your logo on Fiverr, did you?) Give your document a solid structure by categorizing things - these are words we consistently use to describe feature x; these are words we avoid like the plague because they're used by y, these are phrases we consistently use to clarify differentiator c; these are template responses to problems m. Your goal is to basically operationalize creativity so that your team can execute the brand voice, not in a way that just captures its heart, but in a way that is designed for sales. 
  6. Get your crew on board. You need this to be a document that is founder-led, but team-embraced. Unless you outsource visual identity to a junior, don't outsource verbal identity that way either. Continually update the document as you observe performance, optimize, and learn more about your prospects, but don't make reactive decisions that conflict with your learnings through its development. Empower your team to bring new ideas and suggestions on an ongoing basis, but own the final approvals.

Honestly, if you're a business that sells on brand in any way, it's kind of ridic to not take the time on this piece.

Words sell. End of story.

Image props: Photo by Adam Solomon on Unsplash.

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