Watch Your Language: Picking the Right Words for Your Brand

We’re not always mindful of the words that we use.

Frequently, we cause offense, or have to clarify something we’ve said.

Brands are no exception.

There are plenty of instances where they’ve said the wrong thing, alienated audience members, and damaged hard won reputations.

From Gap’s questionable ethics:


To Kenneth Cole’s shameless cash in on Arab Spring protests:enhanced-buzz-11606-1368050251-32

It seems that many major brands have made major mistakes on social media channels.

But lessons can be learned, reputations can be rebuilt, and time (apparently) heals all wounds. Think of how long American Apparel survived amidst accusations of sexism. Their products became an afterthought, and their adverts are the most memorable thing they ever created.

Of course, American Apparel is a distinct example. Their branding called for sexualised imagery, but the premise still stands: what your brand says matters, because the words and images you use will define its legacy.

And sometimes, American Apparel took it too far – even with their branding in mind.

So, how does your brand speak in a distinctive, personable, and above all human voice, without making human errors?

By creating the illusion of conversation, and by selecting the words you use carefully.

As we’ve discussed before, branding matters, and it extends beyond your overt corporate slogans, or your expensive business logo.

It resonates throughout everything you say and do.

Commercial Contexts

First off, it’s worth considering the commercial contexts your business exists within. You have products and services that you sell, and an audience that buys them.

But defining who you are isn’t quite so simple.

Branding, marketing, advertising – a trilogy of responsibilities that many business owners could do without.

From social media, to an overall web presence, businesses need to hone and define who they are, so that consumers remember them, and come back for more.

You have to sell more than a product; you have to sell an image.

But the language, the words, and the identity you craft has to come from a deep well of research and knowledge. If it doesn’t, you’ll flounder, and your designers and creatives won’t know how to advertise your unique identity.

It isn’t an easy task. As Fiona Humberstone points out:

“Either, (brands) have so many words that they struggle to create any clarity or they have a very neat and matter of fact collection of five or six words that whilst useful, often leaves them (and their designer) cold. There is a middle ground where you can use the process of identifying your brand values to inspire and motivate you whilst at the same time creating a crystal clear vision that lifts you head and shoulders above your competitors.”

Fiona identifies that if you have a clearly defined voice, you’ll stand out from your competitors. If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it. And they’re not.

So, here is a strong and actionable approach for your brand to explore. It’s all about standing out, standing for something, and being refreshing, unique, and memorable.

The social media fails we mentioned above are not easily forgotten. But for the wrong reasons.

Think about the things that makes your business unique, consider what you do differently. There are plenty of businesses in your niche, and each one will have a brand whether they like it or not.

That’s the irony. If you don’t brand your business effectively, your audience will – and they aren’t likely to see things how you want them to.

So, shape their opinions. Craft their responses. And create a brand that stands out with startling clarity.

Who Are You? What Do You Want To be Remembered For?

Let’s personify your brand. Imagine it died, then imagine opening the newspaper and reading its obituary.

What does it say?

What is its legacy?

Can you sum up its achievements, its goals, its aspirations?

Can you do so easily?

Really, what I’m asking is this:

What happens when you put your brand into words?

What we say matters, and how we’re defined is important, too.

Duct Tape Marketing says:

“Most of us keep our brands in mind as we develop product packaging or choose color schemes for websites. However, all too often, we arbitrarily pick words when writing marketing copy and content without so much as a thought about branding. Generic word choices fail to evoke an emotional connection and attachment to our brands that, in turn, can actually harm recognition and growth.”

As a writer and content creator this can only resonate with my own practice. Words matter. They take time to select, craft, and use. They’re frequently the first thing that customers see, but the last thing that businesses think about.

And badly placed words will always do more harm than good. We all know the old nursery rhyme:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones But words will never hurt me.”

We all know that it isn’t true, that words have tremendous power. They can build books, fill up political rhetoric, and capture the essence of human experience. Or they can be used as slurs to put people down, and many times, they can be used to say absolutely nothing, to simply occupy space.

So what’s a personality less brand to do?

Finding Your Voice

Your brand is in a nascent state without a clearly defined voice. It hasn’t learned to speak yet.

Start by deciding on your identity, on the way that you want to be perceived.

The words come from this source.

One of my personal favourite brands (I’m a writer so I love a good cup of coffee), is Pact Coffee.

Pact deliver fresh coffee, ground at their offices in London, sourced from indigenous farmers from across the globe, straight to your front door.

Their USP is fresh, tasty, flavourful coffee that you can’t get at the supermarket. It effectively stands in opposition to mass production, and it stands out for this reason. There are other coffee companies using this approach, but Pact have done so well with their branding, that most users won’t investigate the competition.

Early on, when they were just starting out, Pact pitched Reddit – a notoriously difficult audience to market to.

They established their tone of voice immediately, and their marketing rang out clearly from the language they used:

“Our coffee is picked and imported by a guy who knows coffee like a teenage girl knows emoticons.”

The language they use is playful, their Reddit handle is omfgcoffee, and they actively interact with commenters in the thread.

It’s a simple approach, but it’s honest. It seems transparent, and users are encouraged to try them out at a hugely discounted price. It all suggests that they know what they’re doing is excellent, noteworthy, and by giving out almost free bags of coffee, they’re encouraging you to try them out – with no obligations.

They establish that they’re ethical, and they set up a scenario where everyone wins. Customers get great coffee, and they can sip away guilt free.

Speaking With Meaning

So, what is this thing that separates good branding from simple business marketing?

Content marketers argue that it’s about relevant content, things that add value to the reader and the end user.

Now, this is certainly true, and it’s an approach that I agree with. Our writing should educate and elucidate.

But I believe it has to do something more. Something that’s perhaps not quite so easy to define.

After all, a good recipe adds value, it teaches and informs, but it’s ultimately utilitarian.

Our branding, and the words that we use to pitch it, should sparkle, inspire, and fundamentally change the customer. They shouldn’t be able to ignore what we’ve got to say.

Marketers, businesses, writers, creatives – we’ve all bought into the idea that relevancy, and free information, are the keys to unlock access to massive audiences.

But maybe we’ve missed something in the process.

As Ronnell Smith discusses in an excellent and illuminating article titled, ‘Why Meaning Will Ultimately Determine Your Brand’s Content Marketing Success’:

I propose that we’ve misread the tea leaves.’

‘It’s time your content led with meaning, and that process begins with a revamping of the thought process surrounding content ideation and content creation.‘

What Ronnel Smith argues for is not only high quality content, but branding that is meaningful, that sticks in the guts of readers, and that never quite leaves them.

Think about it.

A good book, or an excellent film lives on with you. But bad storytelling isn’t just forgotten, it’s scoffed at, pulled apart, and remembered as an example of what not to do.

Start thinking like the end user. What do they want, not simply, what do they need.

There’s plenty of brands out there doing what you’re doing. So, be unique.

Now, this is all well and good, but how does this relate back to your brand’s voice?


You need to find the meaning in what you do. Like Pact, with their ethical coffee sourcing, you need to infuse your products and branding with something more than the sum of their parts.

Pact isn’t just a coffee company.

They deliver fresh, ethical, and delicious products to your door.

Can you define your own brand so easily?

It’s Not What You Say, But How

Finding your voice is no small task. But it can be broken down into stages.


Start by writing up a brand positioning statement. A document that states exactly who you are, and what you do.

This doesn’t have to be published. But it does have to be as accurate, transparent, and honest as possible. The trick is conveying who you are to someone who doesn’t know you.

I like to approach this like a character development exercise, something that wouldn’t look out of place in a screenplay class.

Try to define your brand like a character, determine their key characteristics, and experiment with the type of words they use.

It’s also worth considering how your audience speaks, too. Online magazine, Vice, is a good example of this, albeit less so these days (they certainly seem less relevant than they did a few years ago). They target young millenials, and they use an irreverent, self deprecating tone.

This works well, and their content, written in this voice, continues to develop who they are, and advertise their specific identity.

For many businesses this may seem pedantic, it may seem like a waste of time. But it really does matter.

As David Moth states:

“As consumers we expect brands to speak to us in a consistent tone of voice. We want communications that reflect each brand’s personality and fit within a defined set of characteristics.”

Provide your audience with a clear identity. Let them define themselves through it, add meaning to their experiences, and use words that stick in their guts, that aren’t easily forgotten.

Spend some time, think long and hard about how you want to be perceived, and what you want your legacy to be, then get busy creating it.


It’s all in the details.

Free Consultation Call

At Storkey Media we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how we come across. We’re trying to find, hone, and use our own voice, and we’re being transparent about the journey.

Have a read about what we’ve been learning.

We’re skilled and excitable brand enthusiasts, brimming with ideas, and ready to use them to help other businesses find their voice.

We’re so committed to collaborating with others that we want to talk with you, for free! So, grab a coffee (or a cup of tea), settle in, and give us a call.

We’ll talk through your specific needs, and we’ll help you craft an effective strategy.

Looking for the right words? Don’t worry. We’ve got plenty.

We can’t wait to hear from you.