What is a brand?

What is a brand?

In my younger and dumber days, I thought a brand was a logo and a set of fonts and colours.

Those are only part of a brand, and in my opinion they are very much secondary to the other aspects of brand.

Brand is:

  • a feeling
  • a story
  • character
  • values
  • drivers

And all of those are expressed through 2 things, which I don’t believe can be considered separately:

  1. a voice
  2. a visual persona/palette/conversation

To figure out what kind of voice your brand needs to have and how your brand should look, you need to know your tribe.

Who do you want to connect to?


When your brand speaks to your tribe, it has to use the words, metaphors, jokes, and slang/jargon your tribe speaks.

When your brand is visibly in front of your tribe they have to see people like them. Humans. With emotions and experiences who align explicitly with the brand voice.

So if you’re building a brand or your brand needs to be refreshed, stop thinking about you. Stop thinking about brand stories and logos and fonts and colours. Think about your tribe. Listen to the way they speak, the way they dress, the places they go.

Make sure your brand lives and breathes what your tribe lives and breathes. Everything else will follow.

Dear language purists

Dear language purists,

Language changes.

Deal with it.

I got mansplained recently, in the most belittling of ways which quickly devolved to mockery and insults when I called him out on it. (In truth, I hurled the first insult.)

He was a PhD student from the local university, social media tells me. He emailed me to tell me about an ‘error’ he had found on my website.

When you put a lot of content out into the universe, people let you know when they find an error. I’m always incredibly grateful and have been known to send off a free book as a thank you.

But this. This was not a friendly Hey, I think I found an error.  This was a gloating, condescending, 4-paragraph grammar lesson which was, of course, completely unnecessary. So I told him so. And suggested in future he might approach such a find in a gentler, more diplomatic way, maybe even asking if perhaps it was a mistake rather than assuming he was right and knew better than me. Then I called him an asshat.


What it left me reflecting on was language purists. The prescriptive vs descriptive grammar debate.

In my trainings this is a topic that invariably comes up – because, when teaching the principles of plain language, we have to understand the difference between rules and conventions.  In my definition:

  • Rules = practices that impact on meaning
  • Conventions = practices we’ve been taught are rules, but don’t affect meaning – they’re just things we got told were right and wrong.

The discussion comes up when we talk about starting a sentence with And or But.  Or when we cover the Oxford comma. And someone says, Hey. When does it all end? Do we just give up on the English language and let it all go to hell and communicate through text speak and emojis?

That’s when I explain, well, language has always changed, evolved. And it does that based on usage, not on the rules or edicts of prescriptive grammarians.

Look at Old English.  The Middle English.  The Shakespeare’s English – which is classed as Modern English but clearly isn’t the English we speak today, duh.

Look.  At.  How.  It.  Changes.

I explain that it’s up to each of us to decide where (and if) we draw a line. Are you willing to accept that language changes, that English is and always has been an evolving language, or are you going to stamp your feet and pout and say that what you learned in school is truth, the end, and refuse to accept anything else?

I tell you, if you do that you’ll spend your life telling everyone else they’re wrong and reminding yourself how clever you are for knowing better than the entire universe.

The choice really is up to you. It’s clear where I stand. I’m willing to let go of all kinds of conventions – I only follow what helps readers understand and process information faster. That’s who I’m writing for – not me.

Dear language purist,

You and my PhD misogynist friend should go have a party all by yourselves.

The rest of us are going to keep moving on.