I’m told I have the handwriting of a physician writing a prescription.
The neatness of my penmanship peaked while learning cursive in third grade, and has devolved from that to a barely-legible chicken-scratch today. I cope by typing most of my communication. But the whiteboard work that I do, and the occasional necessary handwritten note, is met with scrunched eyebrows by my team. My project manager, Deborah, has sent me many a puzzled question mark about whiteboard notes I’ve written in my work.
This terrible handwriting is a problem that I am currently working to fix.
It takes my reader more effort and more time to discern what I have written. This leads to two negative consequences.
One is a diminished goodwill. When Deborah has to email me three times to ensure she captured the correct meaning from my handwritten chicken-scratch, it is annoying and disruptive to her. I want her to be happy and efficient, so it’s in my interest to work on my handwriting.
The second negative consequence is miscommunication. When I write “professor" and it is interpreted as “profit” (not making that up), my meaning is missed.
Your Brand Must Be Crystal Clear
Handwriting is a vessel of meaning.
Another vessel of meaning I consider to be deeply important? Brand.
Brand is the meaning you stand for in the mind of your customer. When we communicate with our customer, we are always either reinforcing or diluting that meaning. And diluting our meaning is bad because brand is our most enriching and enduring competitive advantage.
In order to consistently reinforce your brand, you need to know exactly what your meaning is. And when you are a large business with lots of people and teams, maybe in different regions or countries, it is particularly crucial that you’ve done the heavy lifting to isolate your brand, so that everyone can be working in concert. You need a brand, or meaning, that is bracingly clear by being both legible and brief.
What happens when you lack a clear, legible brand?
Your audience needs to expend more effort and more of their precious time to grasp your meaning. That is bad for two reasons – the same two reasons I am doggedly trying to improve my handwriting. It decreases both goodwill and understanding. And what does a business most need? Customers who like them, and customers who “get” them.
Why Does a Precise Brand Matter?
For a moment, imagine that your audience is really nice, and really wants you to succeed (like Deborah, trying to interpret my handwriting). When you drain your audience’s two most precious resources – cognitive energy and time – you weaken your goodwill with that audience. Also, when you demand that effort and time from your audience, you put unfair onus on them to interpret your meaning accurately. This increases the likelihood of misunderstanding, of error.
And that is with a FRIENDLY audience who WANTS you to succeed.
Now imagine that you are a business that has a large market that is not currently aware of you, with competitors clamoring for attention. You have an audience, but they do not know you well, or at all. They care little whether you succeed in your business. You have not yet earned their goodwill.
You have an audience that is NOT friendly, and does not CARE whether you succeed.
Now with this audience, you need to be exquisitely easy on their scarce resources. You want to make it both easy and fast for them to grasp your meaning. If my chicken-scratch handwriting is on one end of the spectrum – the least optimal end of the spectrum – then you need the other end of the spectrum for this audience. You need crystal clear penmanship, plus precise and succinct wording, so that you require low effort and little time.
This is why you need a ridiculously tight and crisp brand. It is the considerate thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do. It is how you capture the scarce attention and time of an audience whose trust and liking you have yet to earn. It’s the way for your business to gain a place in the minds and hearts of your customers.
How to Ensure Your Brand is Crystal Clear
The purpose of brand is to make it easier for our customer to buy from us. Easier. How do you make it easier? You make it as singular as you can.
What a lot of people do with brand is the equivalent of what I do when I send messy handwriting to someone to interpret. They throw it all in, carelessly, and they don’t do the heavy lifting to ensure it’s crystal clear, easy and quick to interpret.
It takes people more effort to understand my handwriting because of its messiness. Deborah is nice, and like some of your customers, she will give me a second chance. But the smart and generous thing for me to do is to treat her with the respect I would give someone who I am trying to impress.
Same goes for brand. Get to crystal clarity with your brand as a sign of respect for your audience. This makes it easier for your audience to learn about you and engage with you, because you have made it easier to do that.
Real World Brands: Clear and Not So Clear
Let’s look at an example. Here are a couple of car brands. One has utterly perfect penmanship, so you will know exactly what its brand means. And one has my physician-like handwriting, so we do not know what the brand means.
Volvo and Buick.
When I’ve done this exercise on the fly with an audience, 100 times out of 100, for Volvo I hear some permutation of the word “safe.” Safety, safe, safely, safeness. Volvo has the neatest handwriting in the automobile category, and possibly the neatest handwriting in any category.
With Buick, I have yet to hear the same answer twice. Mostly I get blank looks, but here are some responses that have been offered in a tentative voice: American car? Big? Old? General Motors? Grandparents? Leather seats? No longer in business? Funeral cars? Luxury car from the 1980s?
Make Your Brand Easy to Learn, Impossible to Misinterpret
Clear handwriting makes it easier to read and is a sign of respect to your audience. It reflects that you know what you are talking about and that you’ve put care into your message. It also improves the chance that your audience will like you after reading it, and that the audience will understand from it precisely what you wanted them to grasp.
A clear brand works the same way. Take the time to get so exquisitely clear and precise about your brand that you show your audience that you respect their time and their cognitive energy. Do this because it’s respectful to your audience, but also do it because it’s the smart thing to do for your business. When your brand is clear, it is easier for a customer to buy and like your brand. You need that ease to have a business that will create value for you, value for your customer, and will endure for years.