Shouldn’t Your Brand Be More British?

Is this #EndofDays?
For ‘British’ as a desirable value, I mean.
Listen to UK radio and it’s the woke brigade who’s ruined it for everyone else.
Two minutes later, there’s never been a better time to be British.

What’s going on?
What should brands do?
Should you brand still talk about being British?

Just before the Jubilee holiday, I heard a Minister saying,
“What could be more British than having imperial weights and measures?”
Oh, I could think of 100 things.
50 would be good: craftsmanship, humour, tea parties, tolerance…
50 would be bad: quality control, banter, binge drinking, racism…

It’s time up for lazy British flag waving.
This is a divided nation.
The rift is growing wider.
(If you’re interested in how language can be used to force us to take sides, read for free “The nun’s manoeuvre”, Chapter 7 of my book Strong Language.)

But if your brand’s already promoting itself with national values, what should you do now?
The answer is, dig (deeper) for victory.
Consider this campaign from about 5 years ago for Vauxhall:

At the time, I believe Vauxhall was owned by Opel. And with the Germans’ reputation for building high quality cars, I think ‘True German’ might have worked harder.
But aside from that, what does ‘Brit’ even mean?
I believe it’s a superficial badging with some half-described value.
And a nudge and a wink to a certain kind of person.

I declare an interest here.
We worked with the previous brand team a few years before this campaign.
They wanted a verbal identity as distinctive as their visual identity.
Until then, their definition of the brand voice had been just 4 adjectives on a page.
But with more channels than ever before, here’s the key question:

How can you keep a brand voice consistent while still making it flex for different audiences and situations?

We used our framework which shows how brand language works on 3 levels:

brand voice

In this case, most of the interesting conversations happened at the 1,000 ft level.
That’s the tonal values.
One of the things that Vauxhall had never done with their brand voice was show familiarity.
Yet everyone in the UK has owned a Vauxhall, driven a Vauxhall, or sat in a Vauxhall.
(Or sat behind one in a traffic jam.)

The writers still had this slightly formal, aloof, distant tonal value to their writing.
It was like bumping into someone you’d known all your life and they still insisted on shaking hands and calling you madam.
We suggested that one of the great ways of showing familiarity is with humour:
‘Funny’ only works if you know that I know that you know.

We asked what kind of humour would be right?
The team said that British humour was the answer.
A good start.
But time to dig deeper.
What kind of British humour?

What’s the take away?

A brand relying on national values is in danger of being seen as nationalistic.
Johnson. Modi. Xi Jinping. Jensa. Orban.
This is a world where championing the supremacy of a national value lands you in bad company.

Don’t wave a flag. Dig into what you stand for.
Don’t be lazy. What is the value you want to write about?
Spend time refining it and refining it.
Until it’s truly differentiating.

Define your brand voice on all 3 levels.
Today, your brand’s tone of voice has to be much more than just ‘tone of voice’.
Defining the 10,000ft level of your brand voice defines what your brand can talk about.
The 1,000ft level is about defining your brand’s personality so it amplifies your world view.
And defining the Ground Level Details saves hundreds of hours in meetings.

If you’d like to read more about nationalism, there’s a book for that:

George Orwell wrote with careful thinking and great clarity.
His 6 tips for every writer are included in this world-beating book about how to create your brand’s tone of voice.
(‘World beating’? Well, it reached #1 on Amazon.)

Strong language

If you’d like to read more on how brands from all over the world have created a distinctive and valuable brand voice, you can buy the book on Amazon.
If you’d rather give money to Ukraine than fuel Jeff Bezos’ rocket, here’s an idea:
email me and I’ll send you a beautifully formatted pdf copy.
Just give The Red Cross whatever you want to pay for the book (RRP £21.65).

Thank you.

To see other blog posts, click here.

About Verbal Identity

We are writers, strategists and linguistics experts: super-specialists in the magic and mechanics of language. We know how language creates thinking. And how – if you shape the language of your company, your comms and your customers – you shape what people think and do, read more…

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