Stop Talking to me like a friend. You’re a brand

The most successful brands don’t talk like they’re your friend. They talk like they’re in the background while you’re becoming self-actualised. Here’s how they do it:

Language for customer actualisation and transcendence. Yes, really.



  • Make the customer the protagonist: not your brand.
  • Adapt your tone to be a facilitator: not the hero.
  • Don’t blow it with your word choices: listen carefully to how your consumers talk.
  • Think like a c2c brand, not a b2c brand: talk like you know what someone is trying to achieve in their life with other people.

Revolut. Apple. LuluLemon. Old brands and new brands that do well soon get over their ego and make their communication about you, not them. It’s a subtle difference in their brand voice, but a big difference in what their customer hears. And it means that consumers engage with the brands more deeply.

Verbal Identity’s clients define their brand voice on 3 levels to be effective:
– 10,000 ft. narrative
– 1,000 ft. tone
– Ground level lexicon and grammar choices.
Here’s how the successful brands follow that framework.

Compare Revolut with the traditional banks.
Traditional banks use a narrative which puts them at the centre of the action, talking about their services and what they’re going to do for you (with your money). They used to try not to be too patronising in their tone, but it always leaked out (most strongly in customer letters and in branch). Chastened, they now try – and fail – to use a matey tone (‘giving you the freedom to concentrate on more important things’ – HSBC). Their failure to follow through in their choice of specific words (Lloyds’ Youth and Student account talks about ‘being prepared for exciting times ahead’) sometimes makes their copy cringeworthy.
So, probably not effective.

What’s this got to do with self-actualisation? And brand building?
Remember Maslow’s hierarchy? We’re striving to be our best self, not just achieving our full potential but also developing joint strategies with other humans. Successful modern brands think and talk like they’re part of that.

Revolut’s narrative focuses on what you’re trying to do talking about you being able to ‘budget, save and spend with ease’. Another challenger bank, Monzo, uses a tone which isn’t matey, but has the mindset of a helpful assistant or practically-minded coordinator: ‘No cost. No Hassle. Just more time with your money.’ The tone is carried through into the Ground level choice of words (‘hassle’) and short sentences.

These banks are acquiring millions of customers quickly because they don’t think like a b2c business, they talk like they’re in a c2c world. Neobanks know we don’t want money to hoard, it’s there to help us achieve our higher goals with other humans (family, friends). We’re not buying product for its features or benefits, we’re buying it to be our best and transcendent self.

LuluLemon, one of the fastest growing apparel brands in the world, shows it understands that the best exercise isn’t a solitary thing, it’s something we do with others, so it wants us to ‘stand out as we work out’. Apple wants us to find a sense of meaning through the greatest actualisation method there is: creativity.

How can you change your brand language to be more c2c and engage more customers?
This isn’t about talking ‘Purpose’. It needs the CMO and content team to clearly define the narrative of their voice, its tone and its lexicon.
It always starts with understanding what commercial result you’re trying to achieve and auditing where language is playing a role in that.
This is the work we’ve been doing for over 10 years with clients around the world including Alphabet, General Motors, a gigantic brewer, a fintech start-up, a breakthrough skincare brand, retailers and luxury brands.
All of these projects have used language to deepen relationships, shape ideas, be remembered and cut through – but always to engage more customers.

Would you like to read about saving thousands of hours by defining the brand voice of a luxury brand, or creating a 3x increase in engagement at a car brand? Or hear more about the three levels of every brand voice? Please email for more: email Chris.

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…

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This