What has copywriting got to do with brand?

What has copywriting got to do with brand?

We were chatting to a new client on the phone recently, digging to get the information we would need to create a brief together.

We asked about the organisation’s brand.

There was a short silence. Then, “Sorry, but what has copywriting got to do with brand?”

We think everything an organisation communicates – internally and externally, in words, images and behaviours – should be rooted in brand. So here at Wordtree, understanding your brand, and sometimes helping you to further refine and shape it, has everything to do with copywriting.

First off, what is brand?

Essentially, when brand is working really well, it’s a framework of your organisation’s beliefs, goals, personality and the types of relationship it has. In other words – all the intangible stuff about your company.

Read our What Is Brand? explainer for a more in-depth explanation of what brand is.

When a brand is well – and simply – defined, it should become the lens through which your organisation plans, makes decisions, communicates, designs and forges relationships.

Brand, therefore, is a set of principles which guides how your organisation thinks, acts and plans.

And what has it got to do with copywriting?

Your brand should dictate four fundamental things about your communications:

  • What you say
  • How you position what you say
  • How you convey the relationship you want to have with audiences
  • How you say what you want to say

What you say

In marketing terms, what you say is your “messaging”. There’s a tendency for companies to leap to talk about technical features in their messaging.

So a management consultancy with expertise in HR might say: “We know what we want to talk about…” and then give a list that goes something like: research, transformation, talent, rewards, analytics and workplace culture.

Of course these things are important, but on their own they do little to help a prospective client understand why one management consultancy is different or better than any other.

So even with this seemingly easy stage of defining “what you say”, it helps to take time to think. We encourage our clients to understand the benefits of their products and services, as well as features. Which is to say, what do clients of the management consultancy get as a result of working with them?

Feature Benefit of feature
Advanced analytics Deeper understanding of your teams
  Being able to identify root causes
  Making teams feel heard
  Happier, more productive teams

What you say should be led by benefits, rather than features. You may be understandably excited by your algorithms. Your client probably just assumes you’ve got that side of it covered. So lead with benefits, then qualify with features.

Listen to your teams.

Use their insight to boost productivity.

With highly advanced technology that’s easy-as to use.

Rather than:

Our proprietary AI and machine learning form a listening-at-scale solution.

Messaging should be benefits-led. But you probably have a number of messages to talk about. So how do you know which of these things to say first, or to make the most of? This is where we come to positioning.

How you position what you say

In brand and marketing, “positioning” means where you stand in your marketplace. The position you take will be a strategic decision based on the customers you want to attract – and what your competitors are already saying about themselves.

Taking a position is important because it helps customers to understand your organisation in its context. In the consumer world, for example, customers of Stella Artois understand from the brand’s consistent “reassuringly expensive” messaging that it is more premium than, say, Carling. Their marketplace is easily accessible, non-specialist lager – and they have decided to stake out different ground than Carling. This allows drinkers to orientate themselves in the marketplace, because they know what each offer means. Carling = dependable, unpretentious. Stella Artois = a cut above.

Your brand’s positioning should help you decide how to order the things you want to say about it. The management consultancy, for example, might decide the position it takes in its marketplace is about “improving productivity”. This may mean that the productivity message takes a lead role – or is at least present – in all of its communications (because having a position means nothing if your customers don’t know it and can’t orient towards and around you because of it).

This means positioning is something your copywriter needs to know about. And once they understand it, a good copywriter should then find opportunities to strengthen your positioning and amplify your brand.

Learn more about positioning in our FAQs.

How you convey the relationship you want to have with audiences

Two organisations can have very similar messaging and positioning, yet feel completely different – if the relationship they convey is different.

Imagine there are two management consultancies who are both banging a productivity drum. They’re both also talking about how technology can unleash productivity. Yet one wants its relationship with clients to be “we are the authority and it would be best if you simply do as we say”, while the other sees itself as a partner to clients – kind of an extension to their team.

The two organisations will probably communicate the same messages, but in very different ways.

MessageHow the “authority” consultancy might talk about itHow the “team” consultancy might express it
Deeper understanding of your teamsPerformance monitoring can reveal important data. What it does not do is identify underlying causes and triggers. We take your performance to the next level because our proprietary software can uncover more relevant information than you’ve ever been able to achieve. We highlight what is influencing productivity in your organisation – and we suggest action to improve your bottom line.  Monitoring performance is one thing. But understanding what might be standing in the way of your teams achieving even more can unleash whole new levels of productivity. In partnership with you, we’ll identify what’s working – and what needs attention. Then together, we’ll decide a plan of action. Your teams will feel heard and the bottom-line results will speak for themselves.

Understanding the relationship an organisation wants to have with its audiences is important if a copywriter is to get it right.

How you say it

It is, of course, possible to say the same things in completely different ways. In marketing and brand, this is called tone – or tone of voice.

You can read our FAQs on tone of voice here.

A tone of voice should be a verbal expression of your brand’s personality. When you use it consistently, your audiences get a better idea of what kind of organisation you are and what they can expect from you.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it here again now. Two almost identical brands, with similar values, similar positioning and a similar type of relationship with their audiences can each have a very different tone of voice. This is precisely because tone of voice is an expression of personality.

Imagine, for example, two organisations that both have “saving the planet” as a value. But one has a personality that is youthful, fun and irreverent, while the other has a personality that is serious, academic and earnest. They are going to speak very differently. Their sentences will be constructed differently and their vocabulary will be different.

This is why when we begin talking to a new organisation, we always ask them if they have an existing, documented tone of voice. Sometimes there isn’t one. Usually, there is a tone of voice – but it only consists of a couple of pages at the back of visual identity guidelines. Rarely, it’s a fully-fledged 30+ page document with full examples and guidance on how to apply the tone in different circumstances.

When we ask clients about their brand, it’s often because we need to fill in gaps about the organisation’s personality, so that we know what the baseline should be for tone of voice.

You can read more about tone of voice here:

What’s missing from your tone of voice?

What’s the difference between a style guide and a tone of voice guide?

Struggling with tone of voice? This might be why…

And as an aside, when we’re creating tone of voice guidelines, we roll relationship into them. However, if your tone of voice guideline is a two-pager, it’s unlikely to cover relationship.

Some still associate brand with design only

If you think “brand” means visual identity – logo, colour palette and typeface – then it’s logical that you wouldn’t understand why a copywriter would ask you about it.

On the other hand, if you see brand as a framework that sets out all the intangible information about your organisation, then you’ll get why it’s important for writers to know about it.

To us, “brand” is – at its heart – a documented set of values and goals. Ideally, it should be fully developed before you start to design visual identities – or create a tone of voice, for that matter. And if a copywriter asks you about it, we hope you’ll understand there are several good reasons why.

If you’d like to talk to us about your brand – or copywriting – you know where to find us.