Bamboozled by brand jargon? Join the club, friend. Which is why I've put together this guide to commonly confusing brand terminology explained as simply as possible.
There’s an awful lot of brand jargon floating around, isn’t there? It seems like every other week someone throws out new terminology on LinkedIn. Then everyone starts touting it as the Next Big Thing in branding and what everyone needs to be doing — and you’re not quite sure if it is truly new and useful, a rehash of something that already exists or just plain nonsense*.
*I say this in full self-awareness as someone who calls their tone of voice guides brand voice blueprints.
The problem, as I see it, is threefold:
Rather than standing out and looking all fancy and desirable, however, inventing new words often has the opposite effect. It bamboozles people outside of the echo chamber, intimidates people just starting out and fuels the rampant cynicism evident in certain — cough *veteran* cough — quarters of this industry.
Basically, it’s not doing any of us any favours.
As an antidote, I thought I’d attempt to take the mystery out of some of the most common brand jargon I come across. I asked my Twitter and LinkedIn pals for suggestions too.
It’s important to note here that in explaining these things simply, I’m not trying to dumb down or minimise them. I’m also not explaining how to do the work. I’m just seeking to take some confusion out of proceedings.
I’m also totally open to discussion. This is my understanding of things, but you might think differently and I’d love to hear about it if you do. Every day’s a school day.
So… without further ado, here’s my brand jargon: demystified.
A brand’s ultimate objective. Their end goal as a business. The reason they get out of bed in the morning and what they’re working towards. Fans of Simon Sinek will recognise this as a brand’s “why”.
For me, this could be used interchangeably with vision — a brand’s raison d’etre.
See purpose and vision above — I consider these all roughly the same thing. A brand’s promise is the change they vow to make in the world.
If a brand’s vision or purpose is the “why”, their mission is the “what” and “how”. A mission statement should succinctly answer the question: what exactly do we do, and how do we do it?
A brand’s distinctive place in the market. Where it sits in relation to competitors, what makes it different and/or better, and why this differentiation is relevant (i.e. why people should care).
The beliefs that influence and guide everything a brand does — from the company culture they create and how they promote themselves through to customer service and how they interact with others on social media.
A brand’s core messages are the big things they have to say about who they are and what they do. Essentially, what they want to be known and remembered for. These can have significant crossover with values, particularly for purpose-led brands.
Somewhere between values and messaging — the core things that prop up a brand. These could be statements about who they are, what they believe, what they do or how they do it.
The who, what, why and how of a brand brought together in a narrative structure. It turns a list of boring old facts about a brand into a cohesive, meaningful story people are more likely to remember.
What a brand does — the problem they solve, the thing they offer to customers. In many ways similar to a mission, but without so much of the “how”.
One step further than a proposition, this includes the unique advantage or benefit of what a brand does. It should answer— as specifically as possible — the question: what do you do and why should people care?
These are the visual and verbal elements — like colours, logo, font, tone of voice — that define how a brand presents itself to the world (and usually internally, too).
How a brand expresses itself through wordy communication — word choice, grammar, punctuation, style and so on. Sometimes called verbal identity or shortened to brand voice.
A non-technical document that brings together all the high-level brand stuff — vision, mission, values, identity or whatever mix of things you’ve got — that everyone in the organisation has access to and can understand.
A technical document that contains the same information as the brand platform, with added rules, conventions and how-tos for anyone working on brand assets.
I’ve seen this used interchangeably to mean either the brand platform or the identity guide.
The character traits that influence a brand’s identity — particularly tone of voice. These can often also relate to a brand’s values (e.g. transparent, credible, non-judgemental).
The thoughts, feelings, emotions, reactions, sensations and all those other touchy-feely things a person goes through when interacting with a brand.
It can also relate to experiential marketing, where an immersive event or interaction is set up to promote the brand.
I started Tone of Voice Nerd because too many of my clients were investing in vague tone of voice guides that didn’t help their team, or freelance copywriters like me, write good copy.
I knew I could do a better job and produce tone of voice guides—or brand voice blueprints, to use their fancy name—people would actually find useful.
They're designed to give you clarity on how to speak to customers, the confidence to communicate who you are as a business and the tools to present the value of what you do to the world.
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