Beyond logos: firms in their own write

Commercial radio stations such as Classic FM are branded by tone of voice

GOOD companies know that a corporate identity is more than a logo. It is a whole approach to visual presentation.

Forward-thinking companies are now looking beyond design to the way they could use words to express corporate identity in ways that stretch beyond the parroting of a single slogan.

These leaders have everything to gain while the bulk of companies' awareness of the power of language is at a low level. Even the slogan is often misunderstood. A few companies, such as John Lewis ("Never knowingly undersold"), build customer recognition and respect with long-lived slogans. Most regard them as dispensable optional extras acquired with each advertising campaign.

Few corporations give the same consideration to a consistent style of written language as they do to their visual presentation. Those that do often have special reasons and strong individual leadership.

The Body Shop's "verbal corporate identity" is a by-product of Anita Roddick's enthusiasm for environmental campaigning. The BBC once exhibited a unified voice, not so much thanks to meticulous implementation of a corporate policy but because of the sense that Lord Reith was breathing down the neck of every broadcaster. Today commercial radio stations such as Classic FM are strongly branded by tone of voice.

The telephone bank, First Direct, has taken steps to ensure that its telephone voice, experienced by customers performing transactions, is similar to its printed "voice", the language used in its advertising and other literature. This style is given visual emphasis by a distinctive typographic treatment.

It is harder to find examples where the use of words is written rather than spoken. One might be Waterstone's. Its use of apposite quotations from well-known writers in its advertising and in-store displays has established a powerful verbal identity that is witty and literate, something that both its parent group, WH Smith, and its rival, Dillon's, singularly lack.

But any company that has regular direct contact with its customers stands to gain from extending the idea of the slogan into its handling of written communication in general. "There is great potential for the first companies who take advantage of this," says John Simmons, the wordsmith at Newell & Sorrell, Waterstone's design consultant. Retailers and financial services companies are obvious candidates. "The principles of managing an identity programme apply to this. We are talking about another aspect of identity."

But if the principles are the same, the practice probably is not. It is simple enough to specify particular typefaces and colours within a visual corporate identity. The equivalent in written language - a permitted vocabulary and syntax - is not a realistic proposition. What is more, while only a small proportion of people in a company are involved with the production of artwork, almost everyone is involved in producing written material. The problems of policing such a verbal style are potentially horrendous.

Royal Mail has ambitions to implement a consistent verbal tone of voice. "Properly used, verbal tone of voice becomes an intangible aspect of identity that can avoid ramming a logo down people's throats," says David Griffiths, its identity manager. "But this is not a quick win. It's perhaps an order of magnitude more difficult than visual identity." One possibility might be to dispense with the style manual and trust to people's intuition. Mr Simmons believes staff and suppliers responsible for producing a corporation's literature would begin to conform to a house style if led by example. People would not require the feel for language of an English professor. Their identification with the company would do the job automatically: People "in corporate mode" would absorb the appropriate writing style relatively easily if they saw that style as "corporate" rather than as a particular style of English without context. This is what seems to have happened at First Direct. The bank's insistence on a high degree of in- house training and its mission to provide customers with easy banking generate a company ethos that naturally finds expression in the way its staff address customers on the phone and in the written language of its advertising.

Keeping in style should be down to key personnel rather than style manuals, says Mr Simmons. "Companies already have the equivalent of that in product managers and teams of people checking on the use of language for what you are legally allowed to say," he explains. "It's just a matter of raising the standards through this process. A slogan should just be the tip of the iceberg; underneath should be a whole approach to language which runs throughout the company." This thoroughgoing approach is rare. But then so too, a decade or two ago, was the idea of a co-ordinated visual language rather than a logo.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
News
Floyd
newsFloyd 'Creeky' Creekmore still performed regularly to raise money for local hospitals
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Graduate Recruitment Consultant - 2013/14 Grads - No Exp Needed

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £30000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Law Costs

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - Law Costs Draftsperson - NICHE...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?