I’ve long believed in the power of words. To articulate strategies, spell out propositions and build brand personality. While ‘branding’ is more likely to conjure up associations with logos and visuals, thankfully there is growing respect for the importance of language. It is no longer an add-on or a space filler as it sometimes seemed to be in the design industry. Designers win branding contracts based on good-looking portfolios but their first port of call is the strategist, naming consultant or writer. Without words, they have nothing to work with.
It makes sense. In an age dominated by social media, words matter and writers are just as capable of driving ideas and brands as designers. Following in the well-trodden footsteps of Innocent some twenty years ago, like it or loathe it, challenger brands like Oatly and Brewdog stand out through their confidence with words.
What’s this got to do with poetry?
I’m getting there. You see, the emergence of content strategy, brand storytelling and tone of voice has been a great thing. Brand owners, designers and writers have all developed finer skills in messaging. But with its formalisation has come process. More measurable than ever through clicks and likes, words have become a science more than art. There are numerous tools, workshops and formula for the creation of effective copy: words that ‘work’. And while processes are helpful and thought-provoking, they can result in language that feels formulaic. They don’t deliver fully formed solutions.
I’m wondering if the current emphasis on short term results means brands are missing out on the long term brand equity that can come from words. That lies in individuality. I lose track of the proliferation of job titles within the writing discipline: copywriter, content strategist, content designer, UX copywriter. Within such a wide discipline, I feel sure there is room for ‘brand poet’.
The joy and the craft of words
It might be just me. Perhaps it’s the fatigue of years as a strategist, but just as an artist gets lost in the colours and texture of paint and learns from the medium itself, I want to dive into language, playing with sound and rhythm and unexpected combinations of ideas. At art school they teach that creativity comes from ‘happy accidents’. What if the best writing, the writing that lasts, can’t be ‘worked out’ but must be felt? It has an energy of its own. It takes risks. That’s what makes it compelling.
And so, to poetry.
My yearning for the art in writing led me to set up The Brand Poet as a sibling to my consultancy Becolourful. It’s a new venture where I literally write poems for brands. A simple idea about using words to ‘show not tell’.
With poetry, there is a freedom and a demand for experimentation. Less literal and more lyrical, it leaves room for interpretation. Poetry might be associated with greeting cards and mawkish social media content, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I think there is an appetite for something more creative. It’s a different way to approach brand expression and one that might just help brands stand out.
Through lockdown, we all experienced heightened stresses and emotions. It has been an opportunity for everyone to review personal values and find perspective. Added to Covid19 we saw the Black Lives Matter movement take off. And now we have recession to contend with. In this challenging context, I’m noticing a greater degree of vulnerability on show. A move away from the authoritative personality of people and brands that had come to dominate.
Marketing folk have all been adjusting their tone of voice so that it sits right and incorporates greater sensitivity. There is a reflective mood. And poetry seems to be calling.
In the summer, I was invited to take part in a book of lockdown poems instigated by Harry Meakin at Clout Branding. Soon after that I wrote a poem as a script for a movie promoting independent retailers. Could it be that it’s time for poetry to have a mainstream moment?
Poems aren’t the answer for every brand but I think can be a powerful form for some – particularly consumer brands and not for profits. The idea of writing to order might be abhorrent to literary poets, but here too there is an opportunity to break down barriers and free poetry from restricted circles and conventions.
In the world we find ourselves in right now, we need to explore new forms of expression. And we need creativity when it comes to words.