Identity: The visual language of brands

Becky Cormack and Martin Oxley

How consumers interpret language and meaning is crucial in brand communication but understanding the power of words is complex.

What's in a word? Language is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal – and if you are marketing or positioning a brand, product or service, it can also be one of the most difficult to use wisely. Words are fluid, open to interpretation. They don't always have bedrock meaning that can be communicated clearly to consumers. When determining the essence of a brand, or how people feel about its positioning, how can marketers be sure that what they mean is what consumers hear? Further, meaning is more often coded and communicated visually – on packaging for example – making the interpretation of meaning even more challenging.

To further complicate matters, language is all about context. Words can take on a very different meaning dependent on the framework – whether social, political, economic or personal – in which they are heard. The UK's current economic recession is a glaring example. With the news full of tales of financial doom and gloom, some of the classic brand positioning language inevitably takes on a new resonance. Are luxury and indulgence still relevant concepts?