Whilst we're designers, or visual people, at heart, more and more copy is king.Â We're helping our clients figure out what's being said, and how to say it, rather than simply 'flowing it in' at the last minute.Â
Tone of voice, verbal identity, brand personality — there's lot's of buzz words and jargon to describe it. Increasingly of late, it's become a key offering of any self respecting brand consultancy. It's a badge of honour in some agencies to have writers on staff, turning out columns, pages and slides of crafted, honed and perfected copy that evokes a brand's values, creates a personality around a brand and connects in it's audience in an authentic way.
For me, the words on the page, and the design that visualises and arranges them, have always been inseparable. One of my earliest 'big briefs', working solo on an annual report, went a little bit pear–shaped as I couldn't stop changing the copy - everything from the headlines, pull quotes down to the tiniest details in body copy. My own creative process actually revolves around key words and semiotics, rather than colours, texture or symbolism. Once I have the words right, the message, then I can design.
That's not to say one is more important than the other – they're both two halves of the whole, equally important and necessary for the success of any brand in our increasingly complicated, diverse and fast moving world. For many years, agencies neglected the other half - dominated by visual designers, visual thinkers and marketers or client teams who considered the words to be their domain, supplied to their design team to 'flow in'.
Thankfully, creating an ownable and distinct tone of voice has become considered part of the branding agency's remit, and we at THERE are seeing the effects of this industry shift in our own work. Increasingly we're being called upon to not only design a visual identity, but also to name a brand, to create it's key messages and narrative, and then to articulate, define and document a tone of voice, or verbal identity. It's both a pleasure and an enormous challenge to take so much responsibility on behalf of a client in shaping the fundamental building blocks of their brand.
Below, we've collected a few great examples of verbal identity, the organisations represented are varied and diverse, from large mega corporations, small boutique juice company, to a 'dry bar', providing a place to socialise for people battling addiction. The tones of voice are equally rich and diverse, but tellingly feature wit or humour. This was by no means intentional, but it was interesting to notice how brands that have a little fun, embrace humour and share a smile with their audience rise to the top and create impact, are memorable and in many cases, more successful.
Nudie Juice, Australia
Nudie have mastered a naive, almost childlike tone of voice that masks a sophisticated intent, to change our way of thinking about our fruit juice, the manner it which it is made, and the contents within. Their verbal identity is thus defined by the tone of their voice, as well as the substance of what they talk about. Nudie have a purpose or mission, they're direct about it, but they have a disarmingly authentic cuteness in the way they express themselves.
Credit: Jack Watts Currie, Sydney
Air Asia X / Virgin Blue, Australia
Virgin have built a global business based on their 'Robin Hood Rebellion' business strategy and brand positioning. They find markets with entrenched, monopolistic leaders, and enter as an irreverent, value option that champions the customers needs — leading the rebellion against the status quo. This gives them incredible license to be cheeky, funny and sometimes just plain naughty.
Macmillan Cancer, UK
A common strategy for building a recognizable verbal identity, is a repeatable, adaptable messaging structure — or to put it simply, let's call it a catch phrase. Macmillan appended 'We are' to the beginning of their brand mark, transforming it from a logo to a bold declaration, a proud statement of belonging. The rest of the identity utilises these 'We are' statements almost too repetitively, but the bold visual approach balances the phrases and gives the whole identity a strong, punchy feel not often seen in the not for profit health sector.
Credit: Wolff Olins
The world dominating tech company from Cupertino has never been afriad of creating memorable, distinctive communications - from the iconic 1984 super bowl commercial, to the long running and beloved 'I'm a Mac' campaign. Increasingly Apple has lost it's edge with regards to it's tone of voice, becoming a monotonous parade of superlatives – and the satirists have taken advantage of this hubris. But every now and then Apple's copywriters get a gem out the door, and this headline from the iPod Touch site is a great example.
Credit: Apple Inc.
The Brink, UK
The last example is probably my favourite of the round up. The Brink in Liverpool is a 'dry bar' — a safe, welcoming and lively place for people battling adiction. Somewhere to hang out, socialise and enjoy yourself, where the strongest drink on hand is a coffee. The use of these catchy little sayings borders on the poetic, creating an optimistic, fun verbal identity that also rolled out to aspects of the branded environment.
Credit: SB Studio & Reed Words.