Brand development starts with language. And in turn, language influences the brand. Christine Stark is the managing director and managing partner of ENDMARK GmbH, an agency focused on brand language and developing brand names.
She explains how brands and language benefit each other, which areas are in need of change, and why she’s excited about the changes brought by digitalisation.
You worked on developing the «Berlkönig» brand – the new ride sharing service from Berlin Transport Services (Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, BVG). What is the process for developing a brand name?
Every single naming project involves traditional processes, as well as customised process steps.
We’ve worked on several projects for BVG, mostly in the area of name development. BVG is a very interesting brand, and its verbal identity has held a strong position for some time. It was vital for us to speak in the tone of the brand, because a brand name has to work within and reflect this tone. Look at the way it relates to Berlin. BVG uses the typical Berlin vernacular. We absolutely wanted to include this in the name.
Berlkönig is an innovative concept for mobility. The focus isn’t on mass transportation, but rather on the needs of the individual traveller. This innovative quality is conveyed by the word association with the famous Goethe poem, “Erlkönig”. A nice “side effect” is provided by the visual aspect of the camouflage pattern. (Editor’s note: This is the same pattern that is typically found on Berlin subway seat coverings and the bodywork of shared taxis). The brand name provides all the essential anchor points: it creates a reference to the city of Berlin, to mobility and to the brand’s innovative quality.
In our latest development, “Jelbi” (editor’s note: a mobility app offering timetables and booking options for all modes of transport in Berlin), the name provides both a verbal and a visual link to the brand.
You said that the tonal qualities of language were especially important in the BVG example. Would you say that brand language is a language that you have to acquire anew for each project, and which has to be learned from scratch?
A brand language certainly does have to be learned. In fact, you have to ask the question: does the company actually have a recognisably distinctive brand language? Almost all brands have a corporate design; based on our findings, less than five per cent have a corporate language concept. This means that in many cases there is no verbal identity, and therefore no brand language. This is our specialist area, this is what we help companies with. The scope of a brand language and the level of detail it needs to incorporate always depends on the brand. However, every brand language has a specific tone, linguistic style, buzzwords, stylistic elements etc. People within the company need to be familiar with this language, they need to learn it and use it to express their identity – starting with internal communication and going right through to communications addressed to external target groups.
Will language be an integral part of the branding process in future?
Yes, of course! There is a strong shift of focus towards language, led by digitalisation and AI in particular – this area is currently a powerhouse of activity. Language forms the basis for many developments taking place in the world of digitalisation. Brand languages are a hot topic in the fields of virtual assistance and brand recognition.
Brand language has a specific tone, linguistic style, buzzwords and stylistic elements. People within the company need to be familiar with this language, they need to learn it and use it to express their identity.
Do today’s brand name requirements differ from earlier ones?
Many of the older parameters determining brand names are still relevant, naturally. At the same time, there are new developments in the pipeline. An increasing number of brands are now working with audio in the form of virtual assistants. This allows hard-to-pronounce names, for example, or minor linguistic obstacles that could previously only be overcome in print media, to be communicated more effectively. As we become more used to experiencing brand names through the medium of audio, repetition breaks down barriers.
However, a different approach should be taken with brand language: this should be more robust, much more specific, more coordinated than was previously the case.
You already mentioned that digitalisation is generating enormous change in the area of brand names and brand languages. What is your opinion: is there a particular need for change in the area of brands, brand names and brand language? Or do some elements need to be retained to prevent the brand essence from getting lost in the language?
Brands change, just like customer target groups, and in fact the world in general – up to a certain point. We have new technologies available, so of course a brand will change its image and use the new potential to mark its presence. Brands are now entering a space where a lot has happened with the various interfaces.
Ultimately, brand essence is the core feature that constitutes the brand’s identify. Brand names shouldn’t be changed without forethought, and this also applies to the brand essence. Intellectual capital, knowledge gained over time, familiar aspects – these are the most important elements I draw on when establishing a brand. Our motto is: don’t change your brand name, unless you have a really good reason.
Because changing your brand name is a big risk, after all. Is that also the case when a company changes its brand claim?
There are different brand claim scenarios. Some claims remain unchanged for years or even decades, and others change more frequently. What counts is role and function of the claim. Is it an expression of brand identity? Or is it a claim communicating current trends, alignment with specific target groups – ultimately conveying change itself?
In this case, the claim serves a positioning function. For example, Milka changed its claim, but this didn’t happen because the company reinvented itself. The switch from “zarteste Versuchung” (“the tenderest temptation”) to “im Herzen zart” (“tender on the inside”) represents a change of perspective, shifting from the product itself to a type of brand awareness which engages with the target group.
So there are some genuinely good reasons for adapting a claim. But a brand name should only be tampered with in the context of a complete rebranding exercise, for example as a result of fundamental changes occur such as a merger.
In other words, your brand name should basically remain as it is. But language does need to move with the times, because it also evolves.
Exactly, language does change. Language has a meaning, an identity. Still, we don’t have to be held ransom to the zeitgeist, or go along with every stylistic trend or slang term. Brand positioning needs to be planned with precision.
That probably depends a great deal on the target group too, as you already explained with the BVG example: the Berlin dialect is an effective tool when addressing a target group in Berlin.
Right, it’s a question of definition. Firstly, you have to analyse the brand and decide how to go about enhancing the verbal dimension and creating stronger identification – perhaps by making a conscious decision to position a brand from the perspective of the original target group, for instance by saying “this is how Berliners speak”. We can take this cultural identity and turn it into a unique selling point. Language is a great medium for doing this.
Language forms the basis for many developments taking place in the world of digitalisation.
How do you think language will evolve in future? You already mentioned virtual assistants.
I really think that changes are needed here. But at the same time, we also need stability. This reflects a basic human need: one is conditional on the other. Each person has his or her own level of curiosity, or impulse for change.
And brands are facing a number of changes: for a start, the number of brands out there is immense. The range and pace of technological change will make it increasingly difficult for brands to remain relevant. We agree with the forecasts predicting that some brands will disappear. Brand positioning has to concentrate more on communication – which involves language, of course. Which message do I want to give? How am I communicating, and with whom?
Automotive mobility is a prime example of this transformation: people are talking about mobility concepts now, not just about vehicles. This involves working out what the target group needs, in order to communicate relevant content. This content may form the basis for new types of advertising, such as native campaigns, for example.
We look forward to seeing how which concepts, strategies and ideas will be pursued in branding. To take the example of Ikea and Sonos, here we have two brands coming together and overlapping. This gives rise to new communication-related issues, maybe even a new language.
We’re living in exciting times. Things aren´t just changing – they´re acquiring a new significance, a different relevance. Looking ahead, the question we’ll be asking is this: How does language influence language?
Christine Stark is managing director and managing partner of ENDMARK GmbH, an agency for strategic name marketing. For more than 15 years now, Christine Stark has been helping companies operating nationally and internationally to establish a verbal identity, develop brand names and claims, and create their own brand language. Having studied German literature, Romance literature and European law in Mainz, Dijon and Cologne, her background testifies to her affinity for words and the way that they work. Her client base includes Arvato, Bayer, Bertelsmann, Brita, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom, Intersnack, MAN, the RTL media group and Merck.
Together with Svea Barei, head of advertising/marketing at Berlin Transport Services, Christine Stark will take to the stage at the German Brand and Design Congress to talk about brand language and brand development.
Article by ndion