What’s Your Language Saying about your Brand?

If language builds and binds cultures, why shouldn’t it be used to build and bind cults around brands?

Think about the power of words. If I use specific words in a specific way, it builds an image in your mind. It paints a picture. It has meaning. Words tell stories and humankind responds to storytelling, as we all know, in an emotional way.

Now think about some of the world’s top brands. They know the secret of using the right kind of language to amplify who they are and what they’re all about.

That’s why it’s puzzling to see that so many brands aren’t effective communicators. If you’re going to use bland language, don’t be surprised when your target audience isn’t energized. When has lackluster, uninspiring language ever gotten people excited?

Another big no-no is misused language. You know: words that say one thing while the brand proves it’s something else in every action that it takes from the inside out—with its employees and with every customer facing aspect of its business. Look, nobody’s perfect and maybe we have a brand mission that’s tough to live up to 100% of the time, but misleading is never acceptable. Because then the brand is labeled as a fraud and avoided like the plague.

So moral of story: be selective about the words you use for your brands. And find the right ones and use them in the right context, too.

What about the grand majority of brands, the ones who aim to be compelling but cannot seem to supply the language? Well, brand language has to come from the creation of a unique, one-of-a-kind brand to make a meaningful impact. So let’s start there. And let’s have a real proposition to offer; one that can inspire. Then our words and story will fall into place.

Oh, so you have a commodity product line and there’s just no way for you to generate the kind of excitement we’re talking about? Think again.

Let’s talk about Johnny Cupcakes. What kind of cupcakes are Johnny’s? They’re not cupcakes at all. They’re T-shirts. T-shirts with cool art and wording on them. They happen to be sold in the brand’s own retail stores that happen to look like old, funky bakeries. They’re also sold online. And they’re packaged in bakery boxes.

A 19-year-old kid named Johnny Earle started up the brand in 2002. He had an idea, and a passion. He knew he could sell his T-shirts and he did; out of the trunk of his old, beat up ’89 Toyota Camry. Then he opened his first retail shop in 2004.

“When it came time to open a store, I really wanted it to be an unforgettable experience,” he said.

Some people just get branding in their bones, don’t they? And then more shops opened. And then Johnny got the idea to do some fun events and pop-up shops around the country.

It took a while but the way he used language, visuals and ideas to build a brand is pretty breathtaking. And you know what happened? Johnny Cupcakes developed a cult following around the country. By 2006, JC was getting all kinds of press—radio, TV, print—all about his brand. Free PR that has only fueled more interest in his brand. Wow—right?

“What blows my mind even more is that Johnny Cupcakes brand has been a case study in several branding and business books,” Earle is quoted as saying on his website. Maybe he’s surprised, but once you see his website and understand his vibe, you won’t be.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Earle is busy collaborating with a host of other brands: musicians, famous people and licensors to crank out more unique T-shirt designs.

As the icing on the cake, Johnny Cupcakes donates its time to community organizations in need and supports sports teams and other local groups in their hometown of Hull, Massachusetts as well as local charities. Plus: they donate T-shirts to fundraisers across the country.

Yep, we’ve always said it: the truly great brands are good corporate citizens.

So there you have it. Quirky brand, quirky brand owners and employees, cool tees. What’s not to love? Check out how to create and really rock a unique brand at johnnycupcakes.com. But remember: this language set is taken. Just use this to get inspired and go find your own.

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Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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