Choosing your brand words: some tips on making them meaningful

Picking a set of really strong, really cohesive words that will act as your guiding light when it comes to branding and communicating your business is often harder than it sounds. The entrepreneurs I meet who are struggling with this tend to fall into one of two camps. Either, they 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.

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Let’s just remind ourselves of why this matters. The whole foundation of the creative branding process in my book, How to Style Your Brand is centred around you making intentional design choices based on what’s right commercially for your business. It’s not about you following the latest design fad or throwing a templated logo onto your website and ticking ‘brand’ off your list. It’s about creating a connection between you, your business and your customer. It’s about standing out, being different, being confident about what makes you unique and authentically and persuasively communicating that with flair and polish.

What do you really want to be known for?

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To do all of this, first of all you must work out what you want to be known for. What makes you unique? What do your clients value about what you do? And what lifts you head and shoulders above the competition? I’ve created a Planning Workbook that you can download for free which walks you through the process, so if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you print that out and work through the questions.

And so on to working out what’s important. Surely this is the big question: How do you work out which of the words you’ve written down really are essential and which are just important? How do you prioritise the three most important brand values and which of those sit in the background?

For me it’s a combination of things: an understanding of what’s going on in that particular marketplace, an evaluation of where I see the strengths in the business and also how that fits with my clients’ ambitions, and finally – perhaps most unhelpfully of all- it’s a feeling. An intuitive response to which words feel right, which elicited the most excited response from the client, which offer the most exciting and powerful opportunities in terms of creating a memorable brand.

Don’t forget you can use colour psychology, as I often do, to help you whittle down your list and find your focus. Think about which season feels right for your business. If you find you have values scattered across the seasons can you hone in on the one that appeals the most? And do the words that stand outside your favourite season work when you change them slightly?

When I worked with the lovely Josephine Kimberling we had an intense session to work through her words. Interestingly, many of the words she had picked were summer – organised, professional, responsive etc but as an experienced and creative pattern designer they weren’t what her clients were buying, nor did summer accurately reflect her design style or personality. Josephine’s designs are forward thinking, trend led and highly creative so I felt strongly that spring would be right for her. A winter backbone of streamlined, great design would keep things looking professional, organised and expert and so actually, we left summer standing and focused in very much on creative, distinctive and happy. The perfect blend of spring and winter.

On Friday I spent the day with the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners at their annual Wedding Planning Excellence seminar. I ran a session on styling your brand and, as I often do, asked each delegate to write down three words to describe how they wanted to come across. Three words that would sum up their approach to planning a wedding. What would make them different?

The responses varied wildly, from “creative, heartfelt and elegant” to “f***ing awesome“! (I let her off at just one phrase because it seemed to sum up her approach so well! Obviously, her homework was to flesh that out some more…) I love doing this exercise because not only does it get people focused, it also gives you a huge insight into the personality of a brand. And that’s really what we’re talking about isn’t it? People buy from people. And we respond well to confident people who know what they are about. It’s the same with business. That doesn’t mean you need to be swearing on your homepage – but packing your website and brand identity with confidence and personality will make a huge difference to your success.

Make it easy for people to pick you

It’s about standing out. Making it easy for people to pick you. Being different – refreshingly so.

It’s not uncommon to hear people use less emotive, less unique words as the basis for their brand values and that’s where I think you’re missing an opportunity. For example, “professional, organised and efficient” – to be honest, I take it for granted that every wedding planner is going to be those things. So what a waste of key brand words! You can communicate all of those things by having a well designed, well structured website. What is it that makes you different? What would be your creative approach? Those words are pretty summer, in terms of seasonal personality, so you might find that your creative style happens to be elegant, classic and maybe romantic? In which case I might pick one of those three words and combine it with two of the more emotive words. It’s pretty hard to get excited about designing a brand for someone who is professional, organised and efficient. But once you bring in some creative words, things get a whole lot more exciting!

Think about what people take for granted in your industry and think about what you deliver above and beyond that? For example, we just expect writers to have a good grasp of grammar. I know that not all do, but what a waste of your three words to use one of them on grammar! Instead you could think about your tone of voice, your approach, your use of language. It’s about bringing in your personality.

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As you’re working through your list of words, think about what you mean by each one, and whether that sparks off more or better words. For example, what do you mean by creative? What’s your creative approach to what you do? And how would that differ from others in your field?

Think about why you’re using certain words. Professional must be one of the most over-used words I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a brief for a client that hasn’t included the word professional. Everyone wants to look professional. But when you scratch the surface, what you actually find is that people want to be taken seriously. And you can do that in a multitude of ways: from finally getting a well designed brand identity out there or a smart website, to introducing a set of processes that gives your clients reassurance they’re in a safe pair of hands. You don’t need to make professional one of your core brand values (although I’d certainly include it in my top ten if it was important to me).

It’s the same with luxury. A massively overused word which I find often is really about wanting to be paid properly for what you do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting people to see the value in what you do, but ask yourself: Is what I’m selling really luxury? Is it a word I should include under my logo? Or is there a better and more appropriate word that sits well with me and my brand? One that I can really own and deliver on? If you’re selling a luxury product every, single interaction and finish must be luxurious. Can you deliver that? Or is there a better word? Intricate? Bespoke? Iconic, perhaps?

The more I write and the more I teach I realise I’m a bit of a wordsmith. Choosing the right words does come naturally to me and I realise it doesn’t to everyone. But take advantage of a thesaurus, relish in the process of devouring new words and testing them out on your brand. It’s fun, it’s inspiring and it will bring you heaps and heaps of clarity. Good luck with it!

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12 Comments

Christine March

Fiona, this is a fabulous post. I’m planning to tweak the text on my website in the New Year. Not only is it too wordy, but I fear I’ve used words that are generic and so obvious. As you point out, people would expect me, a wedding planner, to be organized and professional. So why am I highlighting those qualities on my site? I mean, duh. I can hardly wait to receive your book in the mail. (Any day now I hope.) I’m hoping it will be my guiding star as I work on refining my brand in the new year.

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Fiona Humberstone

So glad it resonated Christine! Obviously you still need to give people confidence that you can do the basics, but I’m sure you’re about more than that too. Enjoy the book when you get it! And wishing you tons of luck with your rebrand…

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Karla Caloca

You always let me shocked, in the good meaning of the word.
I’m rebranding everything, starting with my photography style and passing by my logo. Is so amazing how you always open my eyes and show me something new, something I was missing.

Now I understan more what do you me, my three words would be: Passionate, handy, and romantique

🙂

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Emma - Gifted Heart Cakes

Hi Fiona, Im loving your posts and I’m so pleased to have met you at the flower workshop before Christmas. You have inspired me to spend some time analyzing my website and Brand image to help me improve 🙂 Many thanks, Emma – Gifted Heart Cakes xx

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Fiona Humberstone

Thank you so much Emma! It was great to meet you to. Wishing you loads of luck with your business – you’re a very talented lady!

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Helena

Hi Fiona! I absolutely loved this post. So many good tips and a pleasure to read! Can’t wait to get your book. Hope I can make it to one of your workshops in the future 🙂 Thank you for sharing all this!

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Susanne G

Great post!

What do you suggest us to do when we find words that are not included in your list (and which I don’t know where to place myself) – any great advice?

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