“Excuse me, you’re leaking.” And a few other things we’d prefer not to have to say to clients.

I was pitching a Verbal Identity project in New York last week, staying at Smyth Hotel in TriBeCa.

I guess there’d better now be an illustrative morality tale to justify that self-flattery.

Luckily, there is.

Smyth’s brand is best described as ‘casually sophisticated’. Staff uniforms by Helmut Lang and guest linen by Frette provide the sophistication. Subdued lighting and architecture by BBG provide the casual, you-and-me-are-all-so-cool-nothing-gets-us-too-excited vibe.

Unfortunately, a microscript issued by a brand-denying accountant to the Front Desk staff broke the magic.

Microscripts are those one-breath expressions which have been, wittingly or unwittingly, installed in our brains and which we, wittingly or unwittingly, then implement in our conversation.

Used skilfully in a Verbal Identity, microscripts reinforce the brand. Used clumsily, they damage your brand. Sometimes irreparably.

Which unfortunately was true for Smyth.

Every time I asked Front Desk if I could borrow something (umbrella, network cable etc) they’d say:

“Of course, sir. But make sure you bring it back or we’ll charge it to your room.”

When we deviate from the brand’s bigger set of beliefs (the script) and reveal what’s going on behind the scenes, the Discourse Analysts call it ‘Leakage’. And Leakage never sounds like something you want to have.

Right up until that point, I’d enjoyed paying every one of my cough, how much?, ahem, dollars per night for the Frette linen, the Helmut Lang little shorts and the low watt lighting and more than anything else, for the mutually reinforcing dance that the hotel staff and I were in, that we were both Smyth kind of people – people who get up in the morning and smother themselves in Kiehl’s rather than Tesco own-label and wear Helmut Lang to work, rather than, erm, Tesco own label. But that one instant of a wittingly installed microscript, about a $1 network cable, broke the hotel’s massive investment in the rest of the brand.

Verbal Identity can sometimes lead the structuring of the brand. It can be something you do only when every other element is in place. But you ignore at your financial peril.

As the great New Yorker Woody Allen once said:

“You bend it, it’s funny. You break it, it’s not.”

Have a nice enough day.