DOES YOUR BRAND HAVE A LEXICON?

James Hammond, The Brand Doctor, says:
A lexicon? Don’t worry. It’s just a fancy name for a special document – but a very important one for your brand.

Have you ever been in conversation with a company where the discussion of a single product or service feature is different – and at times almost contradictory – depending on which salesperson or customer service agent you speak to? Customer communication is a vital part of the overall customer experience. There needs to be consistency in the language employees, especially those on the front line, use to explain what the business and its goods is all about, and do it in a way that identifies the brand’s distinct verbal characteristics.
The best way to do this is through creating a brand lexicon. It sounds grand, but it’s really just a simple booklet (electronic or paper) containing the main key words, phrases and sentences that will be used consistently when giving information to a customer. This brand lexicon will ensure thateveryone in the company is speaking the same things in the same way.

So how is a brand lexicon developed? Let’s look at the main contents:

Start by determining your brand’s tone of voice

How you say something can be just as important as what you are saying. And your brand should have its own distinctive and consistent tone of voice that your customers will recognise when they are in contact with you. Let’s take airlines as an example. Some brands are quite formal and conservative, like British Airways. They come across as professional but often restrained in approach. Their safety demonstrations on board reflect the typical formal presentation most airlines give. Contrast this to the fun, light-hearted and provocative brand voice that Virgin uses. Virgin America says about its tone of voice: ‘Our audience is youthful, intelligent, and tech savvy, and we like speaking to them in their own language. So our tone is easy-going, informal, playful, and tongue in cheek.’ While British Airways may simply thank their passengers for choosing their airline, Virgin may say, ‘The next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you‘ll think of Virgin Atlantic.’

Virgin staff will match this tone as much as possible in all its customer communications. It would be confusing if half the employees used Queen’s English when talking to customers, while others featured witty wordplay more akin to Virgin’s tone. Of course, that doesn’t mean when you telephone Virgin’s head office you are treated in a disrespectful way, or that Virgin staff have a laugh at your expense. It simply defines the framework for the overall brand voice, in their case much more conversational than reserved.

Use your special brand words and phrases

Having determined the tone of voice, build the brand lexicon around specific words and phrases that tie in with your brand’s personality. You probably have some commonly used terms to describe your products or services. Now, you need to select a number of them that you’ll use on a regular basis when talking to customers. One of the best examples of this comes from Disney. Their brand lexicon lists words like ‘magic’, ‘dreams’ and phrases such as ‘the magic of Disney’ and ‘magical kingdom’. Chances are, if you contact them, you won’t get off the phone without the word ‘magic’ still ringing in your ears. And when this is put this together with all the other experiences of ‘Disney magic’ encountered at their parks, the whole Disney brand secures a strong place in the customer’s long-term memory, where all brands reside.

Again, with Virgin, everyday descriptions are specific to their brand. They use the term ‘In-flight Teammate (ITM)’, never ‘in-flight crew’ or ‘flight attendant’. They call people who fly with them ‘guests’ rather than ‘passengers.’

One thing to avoid is the use of words like ‘quality’ and ‘value’. They are merely comparisons. By that, I mean one person’s idea of value is different to another, and the same goes for quality. How do you determine quality? Or value? What is meant by a ‘good quality product’? Good compared to what? You must be able to differentiate better than that. How will your brand explain value or quality using specific words and phrases?

If your products or services are highly technical in nature, you can still have some core words and phrases your audience will understand. Again, the important thing is consistency. Have one meaning for each technical word and phrase to avoid ambiguity. For example, Microsoft cites the words start, launch and boot as inconsistent terminology, because they may – or may not – mean the same process.

Make the brand lexicon company-wide

Once you have created your Brand Lexicon, then use it throughout your business. Inbound and outbound calls are the ideal places to repeat your brand voice and verbal style. Websites, blogs, social media, e-books, exhibitions, events and printed literature should all contain the distinctive words and phrases particular to your brand. If you are a global business, take care with any cultural differences in language and translate them accordingly. An urban legend suggests that Pepsi’s one-time slogan ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ translated into Chinese read ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.’

You must ensure every staff member – receptionist, sales executive, manager – knows the key words and phrases off by heart. You don’t need that many to complete your brand lexicon. What phrase, for example, will telephone staff use when answering a call? What about made-up words or catchy phrases exclusive to your brand that can be incorporated in the conversation? They don’t need to be humorous, but examples include the KFC phrase of days gone by: Finger Lickin Good, Audi’s Vorsprung Durch Technik or Tesco’s Every Little Helps.

Make no mistake. The more a brand lexicon is used, the more it becomes part of the whole brand impression your customers will experience. Our brains like consistent language patterns because they become familiar aspects of the brand. Hearing one voice and one tone from can have major results in building brand awareness and ultimately more sales, increased customer loyalty and premium pricing.

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Brand Doctor: A brief bio.

I’ve spent nearly 40 years in advertising, marketing, design and branding. Starting life as a graphic designer and copywriter, I worked for Top-100 companies. I then progressed to heading up brand consultancies responsible for sales and marketing, branding, corporate identity and advertising for Yellow Pages, Virgin, AVIVA, EMI and British Telecom to name a few.

Throughout the years, I’ve also helped smaller businesses dramatically improve profits through building a powerful brand. (Not-for-profit organisations have seen their donor income increase using my brand approach too.)

I’m also a qualified psychotherapist. How people think and behave is crucial to knowing how to brand a business, and with 15 years of experience in the field of psychology, I'm better equipped than most to deliver brands that connect and engage with customers.

Psychology is a rare ingredient in marketing, but it should really lead the way. My psychotherapy work greatly influences the approach to branding I teach and formed the basis for my international best-selling book Branding Your Business.

‘James gave two consecutive keynotes for the past three years at our annual Indonesian Superbrands Conference. He is a breath of fresh air, bringing clarity and understanding to an audience of 400 senior marketing executives hungry for knowledge of ways to create leading-edge business and branding strategies.

James also gave two brilliant keynotes on the subject of sustainability, in advance of his new book The Starfish Business. He is now a Member of the Board of Advisors, Most Valued Business Indonesia, an exciting new initiative to recognise brands not just for their revenue, but for their social responsibility.

Whenever James comes to Indonesia, his fans eagerly await the latest from the Brand Doctor – and they are never disappointed. Thanks James – and good luck in all you do.’

– Alistair Speirs OBE
Chairman, Superbrands Indonesia
and Most Valued Brands

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