Laying a good foundation

Tom Biro argues that verbal identities are foundational materials that work to make any brand successful.

For the last 18 months, I’ve led the day-to-day charge for an agency that primarily does design and marketing work and has done so for about two decades. For most our existence, the work has focused on visual outputs like ad campaigns, logos, and websites.

However, as we noticed the marketplace changing we began including far more verbal elements in our work and experienced tremendous results. We didn’t abandon design; it’s something we’re known for. But we did see a transformation in what our clients responded to and we also saw that detailed verbal identities are doing far more today than simply complementing visual identities.

Ask any branding person to describe visual and verbal identities, and you’re likely to get fairly similar definitions. But ask marketers what branding is and the responses will focus on logos, color palettes, and imagery. Herein lies the disconnect.

A verbal identity is mission critical for anyone handling communications, and it’s something we should insist on having, whether we’re in-house or working as a consultant. As public relations professionals, we’re all used to messaging matrices, boilerplate language, talking points, and similar elements. But in today’s fast-paced environment, we need a cornerstone for all of those other bits track back to. That’s what a verbal ID can do.

Proper positioning, a set of organizational traits (preferably with custom definitions), a solid brand promise, a narrative, and core messaging are all elements we should insist that our companies and clients have. I’m surprised when I meet prospective clients who have little or no familiarity with these elements. Some tell me their communications partners never even discussed them.

We can do better. In fact, this is an area where agencies that normally compete for business (or at least budgets) can work together to help our clients. Great visual design is made greater when combined with well thought out verbal elements. And organizations with a strong foundation to lean on – even in times of crisis – are more likely to survive over the long term.

Like anything else in communications, verbal IDs are different for every company and every organization. Not everything needs to be cookie cutter. Just because another company has five core values doesn’t mean you need five. But you should have some, and they should be baked in to your company’s actual identity.

For me, verbal IDs are foundational materials that work to make any brand successful. They make campaigns, public relations outreach, website copy, and even attraction and retention of employees more effective.

As we look at year-end planning and determine what’s on the docket (and in the budget) for next year, locking in the pieces of the verbal ID should be top of our lists, especially if they’re not readily available or in line with who your organization aims to be for years to come.

Tom Biro lives in Seattle and is Managing Director at Rusty George Creative in Tacoma, WA. He can be reached on Twitter @tombiro or via email at

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