David Ormondroyd on the power of words leading to successful branding
David Ormondroyd on why harnessing the power of words is key to branding
Does your branding agency have an in-house copywriter? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m willing to bet there’s a designer, so implicit is their importance in the creative process.
And yet for brands, finding their voice has never been so important. With visual and verbal identities now having to work across myriad touchpoints and engage rapidly evolving consumer profiles, brand copy needs to work harder. So why are writers so few at branding agencies?
At Ragged Edge we’re working to establish a team of copywriters because we understand that the most powerful identities employ both words and design, working cohesively to create richer brands.
But we’re still in the minority. And I often wonder how such an imbalance between writing and design has become so entrenched in the creative industry. How some agencies get by without any writers at all. Or how some clients, account directors, strategists and designers find time to do such specialist work themselves.
Am I biased? Of course I am. But here’s my ode to the value of good copywriting.
I don’t need to write down the Martin Luther King Jr. quote for you to know which one I’m talking about. I don’t need to tell you what film ‘May the force be with you’ is from. And I don’t need to tell you which brand believes that ‘Every little helps’. From song lyrics to straplines, words have the power to transcend generations and geography, and fix themselves firmly and favourably in the cultural lexicon.
Nike recently found its uniquely London voice to great fanfare; Spotify turned data into something meaningful and funny; and fashion brand Jigsaw powerfully spoke about the benefits of immigration.
The right words allow us all – individuals and brands – to converse. To participate in culture and talk about what’s happening in the world. To make jokes, to console, to speak in terms that resonate with others, and to build long-lasting connections. The type of connections that make a brand name like Hoover synonymous with a vacuum cleaner, and that turned Google into a verb that people just drop into a sentence. Words have the power to explain. And as evidenced, with such power comes a great deal of responsibility.
In this manner, the 2012 relaunch of GOV.UK deserved all its awards for writing, where it put words to work in order to make vast amounts of complicated information as widely accessible as possible. Not only was this a practical challenge of writing in clear language, but a vital effort for a working democracy.
Hashtags get a hard time most of the time. But #blacklivesmatter and #metoo show how words can instigate action: finding their feet on a social media, before protesting their way onto the streets, onto the cover of Time magazine, onto Hollywood red carpets, and very much continuing into our collective consciousness.
Those conjoined words have sparked conversation, united people across the globe, and inspired movements. Talk about a call to action.
The proliferation of Twitter a few years back depended on decent writers. It required people to learn the art of saying something worthwhile in a short space. Some brands nailed it. Others didn’t. But across the board it heightened people’s appreciation for good writing.
When the Alexa, Echo and Siri gang manage to embed themselves in our homes, we’ll be interacting with brands using words, and words alone. So how do you communicate your brand without a logo or a typeface or a snazzy brand film? It’s both a challenge and a huge opportunity. Especially for us writers.
I’ve spent a decade in design and branding agencies, I’ve worked in-house at big, global brands, and I’ve worked with energetic start-ups you’ve probably never heard of. And as far as I can see, the best creative always comes from words and pictures working together. It’s not one versus the other. It’s never a competition. The two are rooted together, in one act of communication. Design can bring words to life, just as much as words can inspire and elevate design.
Just look at our brand identity for online mortgage broker Trussle. Engaging copy that’s full of possibility, written to welcome readers in, ensures Trussle never becomes just a commodity, and can talk about more than solely technology. But it’s when the words work hand-in-hand with a bold design that our brand idea of ‘Open doors’ truly comes to life. The two elements strengthen one another.
Since day one of my career I’ve been trying to inspire people about the value words can bring to the creative process. It’s a mantle I take seriously. Sometimes that inspiration comes in the form of a keynote presentation to colleagues, sometimes a thought piece like this, but more often than not it’s about getting stuck into a project and putting words to good use, not just talking about them.
And it doesn’t matter where or when a writer jumps into the creative process, because it turns out words are useful across the board. From writing a great proposal, putting together a winning pitch, articulating strategic ideas, developing a brand’s visual and verbal identity, selling it into a client, and bringing a brand to life in the real world. Regardless of the purpose, it all needs good words.