Does Your Brand Lexicon Connect?

Words matter. They are the building blocks of how we communicate. Frequently brands will create a lexicon or phraseology to describe features and benefits, and to capture the essence of what makes the brand different and special. Achieving a common language with your audience, however, is not as intuitive an exercise as you might think. It takes market awareness, brand discipline and sometimes a tenacity to challenge internal convention.

Imagine calling twenty random people from your company into a conference room. In front of each employee is a pen and paper and each is challenged to say what the company is all about in a single sentence. Most likely, twenty very different visions of the company will be captured. The ideas being represented shaped by the lens from which the employee sees the company. Different words being used. Different feelings being expressed. It’s not at all unusual. But it is also not at all acceptable.

No organization is without its own set of internal acronyms, code names and ways of expressing itself. New employees confronted by the challenge of learning yet another set of terms in order to successfully navigate day-to-day business. Long-timers using the jargon as part of their primary language unwittingly. And the healthcare industry itself is packed with language that sometimes is only recognizable by the disciplines that propagated its use. The issue to be aware of is when internal communication and or industry language misshapes or limits brand communication.

The key to avoiding this trap? Listening to your customers. How are they describing the challenges that they must face? What terminology do they use to address existing approaches to their problems and potential solutions? Foundationally, words matter. This isn’t to say that new terminology cannot be introduced. But in doing so, it is vital to understand the context you would like to influence.

Here are a few questions to ask when thinking about your brand’s lexicon. First and foremost, is it immediately clear what you are trying to communicate? If there’s any ambiguity, there’s an opportunity for tightening.

Are the words you are using and your brand’s messages credible? Do they fit your brand in a way that your audiences will accept and trust as being viable? Integrity is the most important characteristic of any brand. You won’t want to squander this by overstating or misstating your messages.

Are the words you are using to support your messages reflective of how your audience thinks and communicates instinctively? Make sure that internal “speak” doesn’t inadvertently or deliberately migrate into brand communication if it’s outside the realm of your audience’s mindset.

Be careful to make sure that industry terminology that is second nature to some audiences isn’t inherently part of your brand messaging if it is not universally understood by the people with whom you are trying to reach.

And lastly, be sure that your brand’s lexicon is compliantly compelling and concise. Fewer words, if they are the right words, can be very powerful. Remember that you want your audience to recognize and understand your brand without a lot of effort. The less work the audience has to do in order to connect with what you are saying and moreover what you want them to do, the better.

Once your brand lexicon is established, by listening to your customers, by assessing the competitive landscape, by understanding the marketplace, you have a tremendous asset. Be sure that everyone internally understands the brand the same way. Use your lexicon to communicate both internally and externally. And, without fail, use it consistently. The goal is to brand the language, the words, the messaging into the minds of your key constituents. So they adopt its use and take ownership. This creates the opportunity for your brand to influence the market and earn a position of leadership. It also should minimize the range of responses if you were to pull twenty employees into a conference room and ask them to express their view of the brand in a single sentence.

by Jonathan D. Katz