Brand jargon: demystified

There’s an awful lot of brand jargon floating around, isn’t there? It seems like every other week someone throws out new terminology on LinkedIn.

Then everyone starts touting it as the Next Big Thing in branding and what everyone needs to be doing — and you’re not quite sure if it is truly new and useful, a rehash of something that already exists or just plain nonsense*.

*I say this in full self-awareness as someone who calls their tone of voice guides brand voice blueprints.

The problem, as I see it, is threefold:

  1. It’s a crowded market so there’s the temptation to invent new names to stand out.
  2. Fancy-sounding jargon is used as a shortcut to justify a premium price tag (vs. the harder work of demonstrating the value of a service).
  3. There are no real rules and it’s all mostly made up anyway.

Rather than standing out and looking all fancy and desirable, however, inventing new words often has the opposite effect. It bamboozles people outside of the echo chamber, intimidates people just starting out and fuels the rampant cynicism evident in certain — cough *veteran* cough — quarters of this industry.

Basically, it’s not doing any of us any favours.

As an antidote, I thought I’d attempt to take the mystery out of some of the most common brand jargon I come across. I asked my Twitter and LinkedIn pals for suggestions too.

It’s important to note here that in explaining these things simply, I’m not trying to dumb down or minimise them. I’m also not explaining how to do the work. I’m just seeking to take some confusion out of proceedings.

I’m also totally open to discussion. This is my understanding of things, but you might think differently and I’d love to hear about it if you do. Every day’s a school day.

So… without further ado, here’s my brand jargon: demystified.

Brand vision

A brand’s ultimate objective. Their end goal as a business. The reason they get out of bed in the morning and what they’re working towards. Fans of Simon Sinek will recognise this as a brand’s “why”.

Brand purpose

For me, this could be used interchangeably with vision — a brand’s raison d’etre.

Brand promise

See purpose and vision above — I consider these all roughly the same thing. A brand’s promise is the change they vow to make in the world.

Brand mission

If a brand’s vision or purpose is the “why”, their mission is the “what” and “how”. A mission statement should succinctly answer the question: what exactly do we do, and how do we do it?

Brand positioning

A brand’s distinctive place in the market. Where it sits in relation to competitors, what makes it different and/or better, and why this differentiation is relevant (i.e. why people should care).

Brand values

The beliefs that influence and guide everything a brand does — from the company culture they create and how they promote themselves through to customer service and how they interact with others on social media.

Brand messaging

A brand’s core messages are the big things they have to say about who they are and what they do. Essentially, what they want to be known and remembered for. These can have significant crossover with values, particularly for purpose-led brands.

Brand pillars

Somewhere between values and messaging — the core things that prop up a brand. These could be statements about who they are, what they believe, what they do, or how they do it.

Brand narrative

The who, what, why and how of a brand brought together in a narrative structure. It turns a list of boring old facts about a brand into a cohesive, meaningful story people are more likely to remember.

Brand proposition

What a brand does — the problem they solve, the thing they offer to customers. In many ways similar to a mission, but without so much of the “how”.

Brand value proposition

One step further than a proposition, this includes the unique advantage or benefit of what a brand does. It should answer— as specifically as possible — the question: what do you do and why should people care?

Brand identity

These are the visual and verbal elements — like colours, logo, font, tone of voice — that define how a brand presents itself to the world (and usually internally, too).

Brand tone of voice

How a brand expresses itself through wordy communication —  word choice, grammar, punctuation, style and so on. Sometimes called verbal identity or shortened to brand voice.

Brand platform

A non-technical document that brings together all the high-level brand stuff — vision, mission, values, identity or whatever mix of things you’ve got — that everyone in the organisation has access to and can understand.

Brand identity guide

A technical document that contains the same information as the brand platform, with added rules, conventions and how-tos for anyone working on brand assets.

Brand book

I’ve seen this used interchangeably to mean either the brand platform or the identity guide.

Brand personality

The character traits that influence a brand’s identity — particularly tone of voice. These can often also relate to a brand’s values (e.g. transparent, credible, non-judgemental).

Brand experience

The thoughts, feelings, emotions, reactions, sensations and all those other touchy-feely things a person goes through when interacting with a brand.
It can also relate to experiential marketing, where an immersive event or interaction is set up to promote the brand.

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