Words as strategy

If you rewrite a strategy, you change it
Samuel Pollen
by Samuel Pollen

Every brand needs a strategy. Without one, you have no clear path from where you are to where you want to be.

It’s easy to waste time, and hard to make decisions, because everyone has a slightly different idea of what success looks like. That’s why businesses invest a lot of time and money in getting their strategies right.

A strategy can involve charts, diagrams, KPIs, and timelines, but it will always involve words. At this critical early stage – often before there’s a name, or a team, or even a product – words have the potential to shape everything that follows. Which makes the words that go into your strategy some of the most important ones you will ever write.

The danger of rewriting

It’s no surprise that we, as writers, often help brands shape their strategies – whether that’s for cultural institutions like the Southbank Centre, software companies like Bluebeam, or much-loved sports brands like F1.

But in some cases, this conversation happens much too late. When you ask a writer to ‘simplify’ or ‘finesse’ a strategy, you’re really asking them to change it. You can’t change the words without changing the meaning.

If you find yourself asking this question, it’s likely that the strategy needs more time, because simplifying the story should be part of the process. Having a writer in the room – rather than making them guess what’s in other people’s heads – will often make that process quicker.

Out with the abstract

Lots of brand strategies are vague or abstract.

‘We’re here to reshape accountancy.’ How?

‘This brand exists to reinvent the now.’ What does that actually mean?

If a strategy sounds good but offers no strategic insight, it has no purpose. You and your team need to know how to act on it, and how to measure success against it. Otherwise, you’ve spent a lot of time and money on nothing.

Strategies can also easily be misinterpreted. Say your goal is to ‘Make train travel more efficient.’ That could be about saving customers money or saving train companies money. It could be about reducing fuel usage or reducing diesel usage, or cutting journey times, or enabling customers to change trains less often.

It sounds silly, but small ambiguities like this can blunt the power of a strategy, particularly if making it happen involves lots of people working independently of one another. A strategy isn’t just for the C-suite. It needs to work for the people who are delivering it, too.

This is where a writer can add real value – by cutting through ambiguity, and describing an idea precisely yet economically, so everyone’s on the same page.

There are times in life when you want to leave things open to interpretation. This isn’t one of them.

What words can do

Sometimes, a strategy is specifically about words.

Take Monzo, the digital bank. The world of finance has long been full of confusing jargon and alienating acronyms. But some of this terminology is genuinely useful and time-saving within the industry. Monzo deals with this head-on, using a ‘jargon tracker’ to keep tabs on terms that people struggle with, so they can find alternatives. It’s a smart approach to a big strategic problem.

Monzo jargon tracker

We think more brand strategies should follow this approach, and deal with language directly as they shape their brands. Ultimately, every brand is experienced through words – whether that’s the words on the packaging, or in an app, or just the words you use to talk about a particular product. We all think and act in words every day.

In this context, the power of words when it comes to brand strategy is really just a microcosm of the power of words in general. Words shape our world. And if you know how to use them, you’re always on the front foot.

This piece was first published in Creativepool

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