LONDON: A majority of brands lack a distinctive voice, frequently using generic words and ideas to the extent that they can appear boring and leave consumers unsure as to what they're talking about.

Alastair Herbert and Dr Ali Goode of Linguabrand reached this conclusion after putting four million brand words through software to measure brand agendas. Writing in the latest issue of Admap they said that 54% of brand language was generic and that brands were investing more in saying the same as competitors than in trying to say something unique.

While a degree of generic language was unavoidable, the authors suggested this should account for only up to 34% of a brand's agenda, or what it was talking about. (For more, including how brands can 'own' the words they put in the minds of their consumers, read the Admap article: Mind your brand.)

An extreme example of a brand that had failed to find its own voice was Reebok. Two years ago an analysis of the way sports brands think had found that Reebok's thinking was 95% generic.

Who's going to pay a premium for something you can get everywhere, the authors asked. "Reebok appeared to have lost its reason for existing," they said, adding it was only a matter of time before sales were affected. The brand, they noted, had written off €265m at the end of 2012 and reported "double-digit decline in wholesale revenues".

The importance of language was further illustrated in their contention that brands had little literal meaning but were just symbols standing for something else. "Understanding that 'something else'," argued Herbert and Goode, "is at the heart of good branding."

The use of language analytics, they suggested, could help bring words under a brand's control, give them a competitive advantage and enable them to make better use of their budgets.

Brands were also guilty of over-complicating their language, as the authors noted that the UK population's average reading age was 13.5, the equivalent of The Sun newspaper. The likes of Sir Martin Sorrell, head of WPP, communicated complex ideas at a reading age of 15.2 while the Financial Times pitched its content at a reading age of 16.1.

The average reading age of brand websites, however, was 17.5.

Data sourced from Admap