Here’s a quiz. What brand goes with each tagline?

Think Different

Just Do It

I’m Lovin’ It

Each tagline is short (two to three words) but each represents the culture, emotions, and voice of the brand they represent.

  • “Think Different” represents Apple’s unapologetic way of taking a completely different view of the world. Even the phrase itself breaks the rules (proper grammar is “Think Differently”), giving us an extra bite of Apple’s unique voice.
  • “Just Do It” represents Nike’s challenge to the world. The short, punchy words move you forward with the action and energy specific to the brand. Nike’s all about living in the moment and making it happen—they’re here to challenge you to greater heights.
  • “I’m Lovin’ It” is all about McDonald’s tasty convenience The slang and rhythmic bounce of the words embrace McDonald’s casual, fun-loving atmosphere.

What makes these three brand’s similar? They don’t just rely on their logos and looks, they also hit heavy with what they say. And each one is powerful because their looks and their voice work together seamlessly.

Why is this important? You can have a great design, but without words, your brand is mute.

What is your verbal identity?

As an individual, your voice is part of who you are. It brings people (and yourself!) comfort that your voice and conversation style are consistent and dependable.

It’s no different with the voice of your brand. No matter how beautiful your visual identity (how your brand looks), if the words you use don’t match your looks, you create confusion and dissonance in the mind of your audience. And nothing makes people check out faster than confusion. Embrace clarity. Your writing shouldn’t just tell who your brand is, it should show who you are. (Remember how Apple breaks the rules with “Think Different”?)

When your sharp looks and clear voice work together in sync, you eliminate confusion and clearly communicate how you make your audience’s lives better.

6 steps to building your verbal identity

Your verbal identity is more than your tagline. It includes all elements that add up to create a consistent voice that speaks directly to your audience.

1. Create your brand equity

Brand equity research comes before creating your brand voice. Always. Once you know who your target audience is, what they want, and how you can help them solve a problem, you can build your brand to answer that need from a place of genuine empathy. But you don’t have to wait until your brand equity research is finished before getting started.

During your brand equity research, you’ll probably perform voice of the customer research—including face-to-face interviews with your customers. While you talk, take detailed notes that focus on:

  • Level of formality
  • Words used
  • Idioms, slang, and humor
  • How the customer talks about your business
  • How the customer talks about themselves

You want your brand to communicate clearly to your customers, which means you must first understand your customers’ language. Once you’ve finished the interviews, set these notes aside—you’ll come back to them. Start developing the core differentiators of your brand:

  • Core benefit
    If your customer says “So what? Why should I care about your brand?” this is your response. It should appeal more to your customer’s emotions or inner problem, than their outer problem. For example, if you’re marketing a new razor, your core benefit might be, “The XT Razor is the smoothest and cleanest razor on the market, crafted to help customers save time and look good.” Here, you’re talking directly to your audience’s problem. They want to look good, but they don’t like putting time and effort into it. You’re promising them a solution.
  • Reasons to believe (RTBs)
    These statements support your core benefit. They are more tangible and help ground your core benefit with practical and functional attributes. For example, your RTBs for the XT Razor could be effective and time-saving. Both of these RTBs have results that could be evaluated or measured.

Your core benefit and reasons to believe are the beating heart that affects the rest of your brand—especially your visual identity and verbal identity.

2. Begin designing your visual identity

While this is listed second, the best results come from working on your visual and verbal identity in tandem. Once you’ve finished logo explorations, it’s time to bring in your copywriter, break out those notes you took during brand equity, and work on building a voice that consistently complements your looks. Don’t ask your designers and copywriters to write in a vacuum—make sure to develop close collaboration from beginning to end.

3. Develop your brand voice

This is when you dig deep and really start working on how your brand sounds. Your voice is how your brand talks all the time—regardless of the context, situation, or audience. It’s usually based on a set of values, such as your brand equity’s reasons to believe (RTBs).

For example, if the reasons to believe in your brand are because you’re simple, clear, and helpful, then every piece of content you write, from website copy to the UX writing on your mobile app must be simple, clear, and helpful.

Simple, right?

4. Identify when and where to use brand tone

Tone is how your brand sounds in specific situations. For example, when you announce exciting news, your tone is upbeat and excited. But when you tell people about an error, your tone is apologetic and respectful. Remember that no matter the situation, your brand’s voice (simple, clear, and helpful) does not change.

The point of brand tone is to be sensitive to your audience’s story. If your audience is frustrated, you want to be careful not to sound flippant. If they’re afraid of making a commitment, keep your tone reassuring and give them more information.

In a similar way, you can also change your tone for different mediums or outputs. On social media platforms (such as Instagram) you want to keep your voice easygoing and positive. For client-facing emails, you want to sound professional yet conversational. Press releases often carry the same objective and straightforward tone as a newspaper.

Writing the correct tone can be a bit trickier than brand voice since tone is changeable rather than static. When writing brand tone, work closely with your strategists and UX designers to make sure you’re communicating the right message at the right time and in the right place.

5. Build a manual of style

Style involves the nitty-gritty details. We might be trained in elementary school that grammar rules are set in stone, but by the end of college, we find out that traditional grammar and style are almost completely subjective to the opinions of three varying opinions on style: The Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual Of Style, and the MLA Style Manual.

You’ll probably find yourself balancing between these established opinions on American English, which makes listing out your own rules even more important—such as if you’re using title case for headlines, sentence fragments, or the Oxford comma. This means taking an inventory of how you use grammar and style, setting up some rules and sticking with it.

For example, here are a few questions to ask when creating your manual of style:

  • Grammar: do you use sentence fragments, headline capitalization, use of conjunctions as sentence starters?
  • Punctuation: how about Oxford commas, spaces around em dashes, or exclamation points?
  • Brand quirks: do you use emojis, humor, made-up words and terms?
  • Colloquialisms, slang, and swearing: yes, no, or depends on the moment?
  • Jargon: how hard do you push to avoid the buzzwords?
  • Rules breakers: do you break all those rules you just wrote?

6. Make consistency your mantra

Every word in your business, from emails to television ads, should be intentionally chosen to support your overall brand identity. To do this, make sure that everyone in your company, from interns to CEOs, follow the same rules of voice, tone, and style.

Once you’ve established your rules for voice and tone, incorporate them into your brand guide alongside your manual of style—and make sure to follow all your new rules as you write your overall brand guide, which includes your equity and visual identity. Your brand guide is the best place for your writers and designers to see your verbal identity and visual identity successfully working together.

Talk your walk

At first glance, creating a verbal identity might sound overwhelming. But if you’ve done your brand equity research and connected the right copywriter up with the right designer, you’re ready to create a brand voice that powers your brand and speaks directly to your audience.

Curious about what great verbal identity + visual identity look like together?

Check out our branding for Ope’s Cookies.

Check out Ope’s now