Words have an awesome power. We all know that words can help us express our thoughts, emotions, attitudes, likes and dislikes. Words also help us describe situations — how about slightly touchy or demographically explosive? Arm them and you can spread both positive or negative energy — You mean the world to me; I hate you. The same word can take on a completely different meaning given the context. Some examples are “fire”, “sound”, “kill it”. What do you think this sentence means? “Dude, Raja killed the biryani!” A favourite word grouping of millennials, but if you are unaware, to “kill” actually means “to do something exceedingly well”. Words have many ways of actually reflecting our current preoccupations and trends. I believe that words are also lessons about humankind.
So what have we learnt about ourselves from words in 2020? “Lockdown” is the Collins Dictionary’s word of the year. For Merriam Webster it is “pandemic”. The lexicographers at Oxford University Press could not find a winner for 2020. A report explained, “Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development in 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.” Some of the words they found ubiquitous were “bushfire”, “impeachment”, “acquittal”, “coronavirus”, “Covid-19”, “lockdown”, “social distancing” and “reopening”.
So we were largely a worried, panic-stricken lot. Coping with the virus and our lives. Searching for light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a vaccine!
But if you were a brand or a business that was interacting on a daily basis with audiences, would you not worry about the words that are getting associated with your activities and presence? Especially during the pandemic where the messaging load and anxieties are already high. The difference between being noticed, staying relevant and getting lost was a matter of choice. So if food brands did not talk about safety, hygiene and the extra care in the manufacturing process and the supply chain, they have lost an opportunity. If a bank hasn’t emotionally packaged its digital banking services, then it, too, was on the wrong side. Another example is salon care where proximity is a given and the tensions of touch are high. So we had F&B brands talking about that taste you could trust and serving happiness with extra care. A salon chain stated its range of safety measures and its “Touchology” principle that would be at play when customers walked in with prior appointments.
Words, narratives and the meanings associated with them — all are important to brand messaging. Words to describe your brand. Words that express the sense of loyalty and belonging. The key for a business is how well the audience is grasping the intent of the brand. Because beyond semantics lie emotions, feelings and attitudes. You ought to possess a way of keeping track of the words and the associated sentiment around them. Certainly, you could take the aid of search words and keywords to reflect your brand and business but these have the limitation of not bringing out the concepts associated with the words. To me, it makes business sense to chart out a plan of getting the most appropriate and relevant set of words associated with your business and brand narratives.
Three quick examples here: 1. For a producer of organic brown rice, the words that need to get linked up as concepts could be has all parts of the grain, healthy nutrients, keeps you fuelled and fit. 2. For a cloud migration company, the words could be technology that grows with your business, pay as you use, unifying the data, securing the cloud with automated cloud anti-virus checks and more. 3. For a chocolate company the words could be happy moments and memories.
So, if you would like to build relevant narratives here’s a short framework: first thoroughly understand the needs of your audience; then brainstorm for the word concepts associated with them; don’t try to create big words, keep them simple and sometimes an uncommon combination works well too (examples:“mobilise your data” or the famous “I love you Rasna”); lastly test the word concepts out.
Remember, getting to the right words is a creative process and not a mechanical one. You need to connect with the audience. With your words. And don’t forget what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.” This applies to words, too…
Raj Mohan Tella is the founder of Brandlogues, a global brand consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.