One of our favorite sources of scoops on the lightning-paced worlds of luxury, fashion and tech is the Digiday spinoff Glossy.co. We talk to them from time to time about our impressions of what's going on in the sleek, chaotic world of pushing glamorous product via smartphones and such. Recently, our founder Cristina Black called in to their Glossy+ Podcast to talk to editor Jill Manoff and share her insights on profanity and eggplant emojis, among other things. Listen and share!Read More
Naming a brand is a special kind of riddle. Both an art and a grind, it’s exhilarating but difficult, requiring equal measures of creativity and practicality, gut intuition and real-world savvy. Aside from the pressure to come up with something clever, a brand name has far-reaching implications that can snowball into a legal shitshow, a costly one at that.
For tips on how to approach the process, we asked Los Angeles fashion attorney Yira Dirocié, who serves as in-house counsel at luxury sportswear brand Oyster Holdings and routinely advises fashion brands, startups and entrepreneurs on day-to-day business affairs, domestic and international trademarks, copyrights, licensing and brand collaborations. Here’s what she said.
GET AN ATTORNEY... Not to wave her own flag, but Yira says you need someone like her on your side, and right away. She’s worked with clients at all stages of this process, and the longer they wait to consult someone who really understands trademarking, the more money they waste disentangling themselves from a dangerous, dead-end path. Yira says you should involve an attorney “immediately, and definitely before investing money into creating branded product, taking the product to market or investing in domains and social media handles.”
The heartbreak of investing in a name concept and building a brand on it, only to find a cease and desist letter in the mail, is something Yira has witnessed enough times to know it isn’t pretty. She suggests getting someone on board early and leaning on them for support throughout the process. “Your trademark attorney should be like your best friend, someone you immediately call to talk about the strength and availability of the name.”
DON'T JUST USE THE FIRST NAME THAT COMES TO MIND... It feels magical to come up with a name for your brand organically, during an aromatherapy bath or on a hike through the hills. But the metaphysics of creativity are only viable if they are aligned with the law of the land. “The most important thing to consider when choosing a brand name is whether the name is clear for use,” says Yira. “Oftentimes a company will invest in a name without doing research to see if someone else is already using the name in a similar way that might expose them to infringement litigation.” You also need to be thinking about how difficult it may be to trademark and defend the name once you decide it’s the one. “Are you able to protect the name via a trademark so you can exclusively own it in your particular space?” Yira asks.
SOME NAMES ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS...Yira breaks down the five types of brand names, from weakest to strongest.
Generic... You cannot protect generic names with a trademarks because other businesses need to use them to describe their products and services. (Example: Black Dresses)
Descriptive... A name that describes the brand by its product or service is very difficult to protect without immense global marketing success, such that consumers immediately recognize the brand by the name and don't confuse it with what the words actually mean. (Example: American Airlines)
Suggestive... A brand name that suggests a characteristic or effect of the product is considered strong under trademark law. (Example: Coppertone)
Arbitrary... A brand name that is an existing word or phrase with no connection to the brand's products can pass trademark distinction. (Example: Apple)
Fanciful... The strongest brand names are made up words with no dictionary meaning, wholly ownable by the brand. Yira says fanciful names are the easiest to register and defend. “It is easy for a brand to shut down another party for using a name that didn't exist until they made it up.” (Example: Kodak)
EVERYTHING IS ALREADY TAKEN... Original ideas are hard to come by, especially if you want them to evoke something familiar. Pretty much every existing word is already owned as a .com url and an Instagram handle, which Yira notes is a red flag. “If the handles are taken and Google retrieves results with others using the name, this is usually an indication that there may be issues,” she says.
One quick way to find out if your favorite name is trademarked is to do a TESS search (Trademark Electronic Search System) to see if the mark is registered with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). But even this isn’t foolproof. “Not finding an identical match does not mean that the name is available,” Yira warns. “Brands should have an attorney also do a search for confusingly similar names based on appearance, sound, meaning and connotation.”
Some names are off limits by Common Law even if they aren’t registered. If a company can prove they used the name in commerce first, you may not be able to register and protect it. But this doesn’t mean you should rely on Common Law to protect your own brand name. Register, register, register, says Yira. “It is always best to register your trademark,” she insists. “Common Law rights might only exist in, say, one state as opposed to nationwide. Registering your mark will keep a record on file and prevent others trying to file a similar or identical name.”
YOUR BRAND NAME IS EVERYTHING, SO TAKE YOUR TIME... “I often see brands investing heavily in a name, only to find out later that the name is not cleared for use,” says Yira. “It is a costly mistake that can be easily avoided by consulting an attorney.” It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of a new brand and accelerate the process of getting product to market, but this is a rookie move. “The best advice I can give is to take your time because the name is everything,” says Yira. “You should only invest in a name you’re sure you can own and protect.”
YOU MIGHT NEED CREATIVE HELP... Coming up with a name that is legally usable is only the first step. The real challenge lies in discovering something that is both viable and inspired. “The name should have a story that resonates with the brand,” says Yira. “Why are you picking that name? What does it mean to the brand? Can you expand the name globally? Will it be offensive in other cultures or languages? Is the name something you can live with 5 years from now?” These are all questions you should ask yourself before you greenlight a name and build a brand around it.
A copywriter or creative agency can come up with name options that represent your brand elegantly and attract the customers you want. And they will work in concert with your attorney to arrive at a name that is completely free of trademark issues and also aligned with your creative and business goals. “Creatives can help in the naming process by interviewing the client about the DNA, face and vision for the brand. Having a vision board, a brand deck, and talking out loud about the brand with a creative team can get inspiration flowing.”
ONCE YOU HAVE A NAME, GUARD IT WITH YOUR LIFE... “If protected and maintained properly, a trademark is the most important asset a brand can have,” says Yira. But that is a big if. Brands should always police their trademarks and enforce exclusive use anytime they spot an infringement. Also, brands need to maintain their registered trademarks by renewing them and actually using them. If they don’t, they can lose their exclusive rights. “Trademarks are the only form of Intellectual Property that have ongoing protection so long as you maintain and continue to use them,” says Yira. “Even huge, famous brands have to continue to fight to protect their trademarks. Registering a brand name is just the beginning."
Do you need help choosing the perfect name for your brand or product? LET'S SOLVE THIS
Your organization has spent years designing a collection, weeks playing with packaging samples and color palettes, months developing a web site, and an obscene amount of money on hot photographers.
Your product is so cool it hurts. Your photos are like dream worlds that everyone is going to want to live inside, immediately. Your web site feels like home. Everything looks amazing.
There’s just one problem. No copy. No content. And no one to write it.
We’ll just come right out and say it—you done fucked up, son.
Have you not been reading our blog? You know, the one where it says over and over how demonstrably important copy and content are in the current marketplace? How they work in tandem with design and imagery to cut through the noise? That you need a deep-dive brand voice strategy, top-to-bottom eCommerce copywriting package and/or style guide to keep your message consistent across platforms? That you should be dedicating an appropriate amount of resources to verbal communication with your target demo, in proportion to how much you spend flashing pretty pictures at them? Didn't we tell you that, at some point, design and imagery were going to reveal their limitations? Sooner or later, we said, you were going to have to explain something to someone. Using words. Well, that time has come, hasn’t it?
Don't look at us. You did this to yourself.
Actually, yes, look at us. We can save your ass just this once. (But it'll cost ya!)
NOTE: IF YOU’RE SKIMMING THIS BECAUSE YOU HAVE MORE IMPORTANT SHIT TO DO THAN LISTEN TO US SAY WE TOLD YOU SO, THE PART WHERE WE TELL YOU WHAT TO DO STARTS HERE.
First of all, relax. Do some yoga. It’s going to be fine.
Yes, you planned your brand launch without thinking seriously about copy, but that’s freeway under the Uber. Forget it for now. We’ve got a site to populate. Here's your three-step 911 (and a fourth step for bonus points):
STEP 1: DETERMINE YOUR IMMEDIATE COPY NEEDS. Go through your site really well and make a list of every copy element essential to your launch. Don’t forget about small things like checkout and error messages. These all need to be rewritten in a tone of voice that makes sense for your brand. Same with transactional emails.
Also, what about your socials? You'll need bios for those, as well as some starter posts. Marketing email might also be a good idea, at least a launch announcement. If you don't have someone on your team who isn't having a panic attack at the thought of writing the very first words your new brand puts into the world, you'll want to add these to your list so your copywriter can include them in the scope of the project and crush them immediately.
STEP 2: HIRE SAID COPYWRITER. An expert, not a hack. See, because you waited until the last minute, now you need someone who really knows eComm, specifically in your category (oh, hey). Because now you don’t have time to workshop every word. Get someone you can trust to make most of those decisions for you quickly. And trust them. Don’t quibble.
Invite your copywriter to do a site review and decide where boilerplate copy is passable, and where it's possible to write original copy under the time constraints. She can make those calls and bake it into the scope of the project so you can be sure you don't miss anything or waste time doing anything non-essential.
And be prepared to open up your budget. Sorry, but your bottom line might eat a little bit of shit for this. Since you scrimped on copy six months ago, you need a total wizard who can clean up your mess fast. If you can find someone this good who has last-minute availability, they might charge you a premium for the rush factor. This is your problem, not theirs.
STEP 3: SHIP IT. Don't worry about getting everything perfect. The good news is, your launch isn’t permanent. It’s the first of many, many moments in time for your brand. The upside of the Internet’s insatiable demand for content is that you will have a lot of chances to improve upon your original vision. Think of your brand as an infant. It’s a living, breathing thing that will grow and develop over time. It doesn't need to be everything it's ever going to be on Day 1.
STEP 4: PROMISE YOU'LL DO YOUR BRAND VOICE STRATEGY AFTER THE FACT. This is not like closing the barn door after the horse runs out. There are a lot more horses inside. You can let a few get away, but not too many. Don't just get through your launch and forget about copy and content again. It’s never too late to develop and implement a brilliant brand voice strategy. Just because you slacked on something once doesn’t mean you have to continue to live life as a fuckup.
A mistake is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.
Do you need excellent copy for an imminent eComm launch? OKAY FINE, WE’LL HELP YOU
Recently, a collaborator of ours complained that all of the personalities in her industry (healing/wellness) use the same cheesy girlspeak. She was feeling pressured to adjust her own brand voice to fit into a sea of chatty gurus who say things like “hey babes” to greet their followers and constantly push what they call “posi vibes.” Looking at Instagram these days is like going to a high school football game. So noisy, so upbeat. So many cheerleaders.
Call it the Californication of Everything. There was this moment, circa 2015, when our current decade peaked in an explosive obsession with all things affirmative. Everyone was trying to be the online Oprah.
Then shit got real.
By 2017, the digital delirium had begun a steep decline. The positivity movement started to feel trite at best. Annoying, almost. And pretty tone deaf. Sure we all like to feel uplifted when the world is quite possibly going to hell, but the endless pablum just didn’t really ring true anymore. A lot of people actually feel like shit inside and they need someone to validate that.
Trends are hard on the psyche. They lead us to believe that everyone is doing this one thing this one way, and if we are not interested in that, then we are alone. In fact, the larger and louder a particular trend is, the more likely people are to be looking for something else.
See, for every movement, every trend, no matter how universal it seems, there are a lot of people who are annoyed by it. It might seem like the cheerleaders are the most popular girls, but they’re not ruling the school. There are burnouts huddling in corners and smoking, rolling their eyes and plotting revenge. Kurt Cobain was one of those kids. So was Kathleen Hanna. They defined their generation because they spoke—or sang, in their case—honestly about what was really going on. And that was actually a lot more inspiring than the phony stuff they were calling out.
The point is, you don’t have to talk like everybody else in your industry. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. “But, it works!” our friend said about the posi-babes in the wellness industry, “These people are doing well. They have a ton of followers.” Sure, it works. For THEM. Their clients are basic bitches. Is that who you want for clients? No, she replied, she wants to work with people who are intelligent, open and real, because that is what she herself strives to be.
So, if you want followers, don't be one. If everyone’s web site is pink, make yours black. If everyone’s copy is casual and clean, make yours intelligent and filthy. Speak directly to your audience in a way that is authentic to your brand, and you will never have to worry about competition. You’ll know you’ve made it when people start trying to be like you.
Do all the brands in your industry kind of make you sick? LET'S DIFFERENTIATE YOU
Just kidding. We would never say that. But podcasters do. Like, all the time. In that upbeat, sing-songy inflection that signifies generic millennial informality. So common is this greeting that it now functions as a kind of verbal hashtag that says, I'm cool and vulnerable and relatable and just like everyone else.
But we don't want you to be just like everyone else. We're coming to you for insight, or wisdom, or entertainment. We want you to have your own way of looking at things. We want Marc Maron, Russell Brand, Katie Couric and James Altucher. The best podcast personalities sound 100% like themselves.
When podcasters and pundits revert to Podspeak, it dampens our sense of their brand. They're doing it practically unconsciously, their mouths full of meaningless words that have been strung together in the same order before, so many times. They're watering down ideas and glossing over points out of habit, in a haze of entranced laziness that keeps them regurgitating rather than creating.
Perhaps it's because they're under pressure to put out so much content that even the best among them find it difficult to stay consistently fresh. Or maybe podcast culture is so voluminous and circle-jerky that its reverberations reach higher concentrations faster than in any other media. Whatever the overarching case, if you're a podcaster or podcast guest, challenging yourself to come up with original thoughts and new ways of expressing them will go a long way toward differentiating your brand and helping you stand out in a sea of copycat content.
If you don't want to sound like everyone else, here are a few phrases to avoid...
THAT BEING SAID... It's a virtually meaningless phrase used in transitions that actually makes it tough to know if what follows is meant to be point or counterpoint. It also serves as a subtle disowning of your words because you're not saying you said it, you're saying it's being said. By whom? You.
IN THAT SENSE... It's more the misuse of this phrase than the overuse that urks the listener. Unless you really are distinguishing between two senses of an idea, this literally means nothing. And yet, pundits will tack it onto a long-ass bloviation on some political issue, and you can't even tell if they're trying to qualify their point or strengthen it. Either way, that's not what this phrase does.
I WOULD SAY... Yeah, you would say, because you are saying. So just say.
GOES TO... Maybe it's a little nit-picky to expect podcasters and pundits to avoid common point-making mechanisms, seeing as it's their job to make points. But this one is just so common, and even when it's used awkwardly, it's passed off as elegant and smart. Which, originally, it was. See, that's the thing with clichés. They were cool before everyone started saying them.
DIVISIVE... This one is for sure Trump's fault, but why play into his grimy hands? Yes, we are a divided nation. Yes, some of the people in power are deliberately trying to divide us so they can gain more power over us. This is all painfully obvious, so there's no need to point it out. And a moratorium on this word would make the debate on how to pronounce it a moot point. (P.S. It's div-EYE-sive.)
IF THAT MAKES SENSE... This is one of those ones like "Sorry but..." and "I just..." that, upon its omission, strengthens arguments. It's an afterthought infused with insecurity, signifying mimsy. If it doesn't make sense, don't say it. If you said something and realized it might sound convoluted, just play it off. We can decide for ourselves if your point is legit.
AT THE END OF THE DAY... We might not even reach the end of the day because we are all going to murder ourselves if we hear this shit one more time. In fact, it makes us wish for the swift coming of the End of Days.
Are you allergic to overuse? THEN WE'LL GET ALONG GREAT
People have long been obsessed with their basics, as anyone who ever wore a pair of Levis will tell you. Gold standards like that are appealing precisely because they aren’t exciting. They’re just cool. And they were easy before we needed everything to be easy.
Somewhere along the way (circa 2010, maybe?) fashion brands started talking about every product as if it were the least complicated item you’d ever own. “Easy pieces” were the thing. Suddenly, you could be shopping for a ball gown online and every selection was made out to be infinitely wearable, like you could just throw it on any old time and look like you found it on the floor because you couldn't be bothered with such a thing as "trying." Alexa Chung was effortless. Behati Prinsloo was effortless. A wedding dress was effortless. Everything was effortless. Timeless. Seasonless. All the less-es. A race to nothingness.
The problem with this kind of talk is not so much that these concepts are now meaningless fashion eCommerce clichés. It’s that they imply extreme convenience, which is no longer a unique selling proposition.Read More
We’ve never really thought of lipstick as a man-pleaser. Sure, it looks great in photos, and there are balmy versions that help lady faces appear youthful and inviting. But in its purest form, mouth painting is a serious ritual. A full-pigment matte is nothing you’d want to argue with, let alone kiss. It’s more of an empowerment potion, something to smear on your face-hole to make people pay attention to what you are actually saying. It’s a Cleopatra power pose, a Kathleen Hanna siren scream, a dominant female fuck you. It’s not so much “look how pretty I am” as “prepare to have your world rocked, son.”
Two particularly excellent recent lipstick releases have completely nailed the balance of sexy and smart in their product stories. C. Black Content client Hourglass Cosmetics put out a game changer for the lips this summer. The disruptive brand’s Confession Ultra Slim High Intensity Refillable Lipstick comes in a gorgeous conical applicator that resembles a goldenVirginia Slim, refillable with cartridges of colors like No One Knows and I’ve Never. Each shade is the prelude to a tell-all. And really, is there anything sexier than a secret? One that you might whisper to a priest? To a lover? Or is your priest your lover? Either way, go ahead, we’re listening.
From the woman who suggested you “make your mouth a metaphysical masterpiece” upon the release of last year’s glittery LUST 004 lip kit, there’s the new Pat McGrath Labs LUST MatteTrance™ lipstick. “Flaunt your fixations orally,” reads the product page copy. Bold, clever and fairly filthy, this line leaves you wanting...more. Then comes the payoff. “Like a good lover,” the description continues, “this lipstick lays down a high impact with a strong finish.”
Say no more. We’ll take two. Except half of them are sold out. Because of course they are.
Autumn is an incredible time for fashion. After an entire season where near-nudity is the only viable sartorial option in much of the Northern hemisphere, we get to return to dressing ourselves richly, in jackets and boots, velvets and wraps. Knitwear for days. It’s all so supportive and nurturing. Fall feels can translate to major sales opportunities for brands and retailers, some of whom get a bit carried away with autumn imagery. Not naming names, but in August, our inboxes are a constant source of eye rolls and smh’s, especially since it’s still so hot out and most of us are not planning to attend a single backyard bonfire in the next three months. These are the fall fashion copywriting clichés to avoid if you don’t want your customers to get sick of the season before it even starts.
FALL FOR FALL... Honestly, it would be better if you wrote nothing. Give us “Fall Collection.” Give us a boring eComm image with no caption. Just please don’t insult our level of life experience by expecting us to think your copywriter is clever because he figured out the word “fall” has more than one meaning. So does “leaves.” And this is us, “leaving” your web site. Sure, fashion can be romantic and hypnotic, but no one is “falling for” your new knitwear line.
APPLE CIDER... In agriculture, fall is associated with harvest. Apples are prominent among the bounty and Trader Joe’s will surely have a nice display of ciders and the spices you can use to mull them up for a Halloween party or whatever. What this has to do with our need for a velvet jumpsuit that goes seamlessly from the office to a cocktail party, we do not know.
COZY... It’s true that, save for a few mid-July storms, summer is not a snuggly season. And now, we’re going to get chillier days when we will need to put more clothing on our bodies and spend more time cuddled up in our warm beds. What’s tired though is this word.
SCHOOL DAZE... Back to school is a huge part of fall fashion, a shopping surge second only to holiday (or maybe Prime Day). Of course you need your customers to make the association between fall shopping and impressing their friends come September. Just don’t say things like “school daze” and “get schooled,” because you will sound like a dorky teacher/Beastie Boy.
SWEATER WEATHER... There was exactly one moment in 2013 when this phrase was a semi-cool move for fashion copy. We say semi- because The Neighbourhood was never a cool band, despite all their black and white publicity photos. And anyway, that was half a decade ago. You can stop already.
THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING... Boots are a bust-out for fall, and buying them is the most effective way to soothe the exquisite pain of saying farewell to summer. It’s also the easiest way to justify a full-price splurge upwards of $350, provided they’re cool and Italian enough. So, why in the name of the goddesses of style would you slap the most obvious song title ever on your category page and desecrate this sacred shopping ritual? Indeed, the modern pop canon is a deep fount of inspiration for fashion copy, but you need to dig a little deeper to get your hands on our credit cards. For fall, try “September Gurls” by Big Star, “We Are Going To Be Friends” by the White Stripes or “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young.
LEAVES... The mother of all corny fall clichés. Don’t make puns about them and their changing colors or crunching sounds. Actually, don’t mention them at all. And no, we’re not going to spend good money on a new outfit to go rolling around in them, no matter how cute your models look doing that.
Do you insist on keeping your copy fresh? LET US HAVE AT IT
Journalists often ask actors if they’re anything like the character they’re most famous for playing. It’s a pretty lazy question, only common because of the tempting assumption that we know the actor just because we know the character. Of course we don’t, because they’re not the same person. Because acting.
When clients ask us how to approach on-brand copywriting, we tell them to think of it like acting. In other words, don’t be yourself. Pretend to be someone else. But make sure you know exactly who that person is. Your brand is the character you’re trying to portray, and copywriting is about knowing what they would say in every situation.
Now, if you’re the founder of a personality-driven brand, then there is definitely some of you in your brand voice. Likewise, your company’s team of writers and content creators probably identify with the brand lifestyle and believe in its products. They get it. They get the audience they’re interacting with and the character they are playing. But they're not the same any more than Jon Hamm and Don Draper—both handsome men with alcohol problems, not the same person.
So how do you know what your brand would say? Same way Matthew Weiner knew what Draper would say. Backstory. Even if you don’t communicate every detail of it to consumers, you need to know who your brand is, where it came from, why it exists, what it cares about. That’s your brand platform, your brand voice strategy. You need to back all the way up and get those underlying themes solidified before you even begin to put words in your character’s mouth. It’s a lot like screenwriting, actually.
Even if you do all the homework involved, inevitably, there are going to be cases where you’re at a loss for words. That’s what your style guide is for. Think of your style guide like a script. It’s a pre-written document that tells you what your brand is supposed to say and how. It can be refined and rehearsed, interpreted for effect. It’s a wonderful tool that takes a lot of pressure off the writer.
But you don’t always have to follow it.
When we create style guides for brands, they sometimes worry that it’ll be too restricting. They don’t want to make a decision now about how to communicate and always be bound to express themselves in that particular way. As the world throws different situations and conditions at a brand, it needs to be able to respond accordingly.
So go ahead, we say. Use your judgment. Some of the best moments happen onscreen when brilliant actors go off script and ad lib their parts. Just because you have a style guide with rules in it doesn’t mean you always have to follow it. That call is yours to make. The style guide is just that, a guide. You have it as a foundation, as a key to what your character would and wouldn’t say, but you can decide who in your company has the authority to go off script and when. And remember, your style guide is a living, breathing thing. It can evolve and change over time. Let that process happen. As your company bends and stretches and grows, so will the way it speaks.
Does your brand need a backstory and a script? LET'S GET TO WORK
Grammar. The very word conjures images of schoolroom torture, rule recitation and red marks on book reports. No other subject more perfectly embodies the petty oppression of childhood, professional life and polite society. Being told to “talk right” is a shackle we’ve all wanted to throw off at some point. It's that constricted feeling you’re reminded of when you sit down to do your brand copywriting. Not super fun.
But any good rebel will tell you that rules were meant to be broken. Tom Waits, for instance, would say that deviantism, when done deliberately, systematically, and with purpose, is high art. It is character. It is trademark. It is cool.
Copywriting is no exception. Grammar is a set of conventions that can be bent, broken or shunned altogether. You’re an adult now. You can know the rules and just deadass decide to do things your own way. Innovation in this area is as valid as it is in tech, logistics, design, or any other. The ironic thing is, doing what your teachers told you not to could be the thing that sets your brand apart and leads you to wild success in the business world. You don’t need to ditch school and deal drugs to be bad. You just need to be a little creative with your use of language.
Besides, signature syntax doesn’t need to be super disruptive to be effective. It can be subtle and smart. It’s like meeting a person with a certain something about them that you can’t quite name. You don’t notice it, but you do. Think of Clinique’s periods and Jaden Smith’s title case Twitter feed. (We also really love our client nununu for their no-caps-ever policy—they make clothes for children, so keeping it little makes perfect sense when you see it.) None of these brands seems sloppy or destructive. Quite the opposite. They’re 100% who they are in a tidily distinctive way.
Which is not to say that you can’t go big with it. Take Kendrick Lamar’s recent album, DAMN. Every track on there, like the title, is one word, all caps, with a period at the end. When you call it up on Spotify, before you even listen to one bar, you are already immersed in the brand of the album. You already know that this thing is about making a bold statement. The track list tells you that, just by saying IDGAF to case and punctuation. The key is consistency. If you’re wrong the same way every time, then you’re right.
Hip-hop overall is a deep font of inspiration for using grammar as an arbitrary, ownable element. It’s that explosive combination of highly literary and totally aberrant that makes the art form undeniable. Rappers, some of our finest writers and greatest rebels, are not subjects of the King’s English. They are free to play fast and loose with the rules, to show us fresh ways of saying things that push beyond the boundaries of traditional expression. You can do that too.
Are you ready to break the rules? HIT US UP
A recent piece in the New York Times' excellent Critical Shopper column asked "What Happened to J. Crew?" This kind of breathless inquiry often comes up when an iconic brand takes a nosedive. We asked the same about Abercrombie, American Apparel and Nasty Gal. These are brands that defined our youth, that spoke to us and understood what we needed at a delicate time in our lives. They meant more than we could explain. How could they just...abandon us?
The answer is almost always that they didn't want to hurt us, they just didn't feel like they could talk to us anymore. Maybe we changed and they no longer knew who we were. Maybe the world changed and they grew up and moved on with their lives and it all just got really confusing and hard. So they just quit talking altogether, or they tried talking to some sanitized version of us that never existed in the first place.
The Times article complains about J. Crew's disastrous aim at the nebulous middle, an imaginary set of boring people who have no clue what they want. "It existed in a hinterland of chintz and misguided aspiration," the piece said about a particularly meh item at the brand's flagship store. "Curiously blank and directionless, neither sophisticated nor appealingly accessible."
We've been saying this for a while, but it's more true now than ever—being safe is the riskiest thing you can do. Which is why brands come to us and ask us to make them sound edgy. "Like Reformation," they'll say, and then bristle when we suggest throwing an f-bomb into an email. Their qualm is always something like, "Oh, we don't want to exclude anyone."
Except yes, you do. If you started this brand out of passion (and we sure AF hope you did) then why are you trying to speak to the dispassionate masses? Who, exactly, are you addressing here? Oh, your product is for "everybody?" No, it's not. And even if it were, it's 2017. Who is still offended by anything?
Let's talk about defining your target market, a crucial step in any effective brand voice strategy. A lot of people think this is a matter of demographics. Sure it's good to know your ideal customer's age range and income tax bracket, but that is the very, very easy part. Most brands claim to be aiming at "millennials." That's a lot of people. You need to be more specific.
Go deeper. Create a back story about what your people are doing with their lives and then figure out how your products are going to fit into that story. Are they partying in Tulum, taking selfies at Coachella, presenting at CES? Do they want to be Silicon Valley moguls, wellness gurus or ball players? Do they take life advice from Father John Misty or Bella Hadid? Do they caffeinate with Starbucks or Stumptown? What other brands do they like and how are those brands talking to them, serving them? What are they showing them that is really resonant? Don't copy it. Know about it. Consider it. And then do your own thing. Give your people a glimpse at the life they really want, and speak to them as if they already had it.
Maybe it used to be enough to not offend anybody, as long as you had a decent product at an accessible price point. Not anymore. Now, you need to take a strong position, and that means speaking directly, and personally, to your audience. Remember what you learned in high school—if you try to please everybody, nobody will like you.
Do you really know your target market? BECAUSE WE CAN FIGURE IT OUT
When we think about copywriting and brand voice, we think about what we want to say. We spend hours crafting the perfect message, considering our product features, our brand ethos, our creative passions. But how often do we think about our audience and what they're saying?
Because, if we did, maybe we wouldn't have to do much writing at all. Sometimes the most effective brand messages and brand voice strategies are the ones we hear from our customers and reflect back to them. We don't even have to pretend it was our idea.
Case in point, the incredible Le Labo Instagram account @overheardlelabo. If you haven't seen it, definitely check it out. It's a real-time quote-slide feed of exactly how the brand's fragrances make its customers feel, as overheard in the shops. It's powerful precisely because the brand isn't in the conversation. It's the eavesdropper, the quiet observer, listening in on private dialogue between consumer and product. Le Labo becomes a setting, a platform for people to tell the stories of their lives. The results are devastatingly personal and highly relatable.
Sometimes you just have to shut up and listen. Everyone loves Glossier's on-point millennial voice, but the exploding beauty brand's popular communication style is the result of years of monitoring its market via the beauty blog Into the Gloss. Community building is a long, laborious process, but once it gains traction, it's a gold mine of market insight. Give people the proper channels and tools to communicate with your brand, and you'll be amazed what you learn about how your products fit into the lives of those who love them.
Look at your Instagram comments. How do your followers speak? Do they use a lot of AFs and FTWs? Or are they talking about how "obsessed" they are with your "fabulous" products? The way your customers speak is full of cues about how they would like to be spoken to. If you want to be relatable, mirror their speech patterns. If your brand is more aspirational, enter the conversation a few levels cooler and fancier.
Or maybe just let the customers speak for you. Active wear brand ADAY's Throw & Roll Leggings are among the most flattering on the market (trust us, we are connoisseurs). But every brand says that, so a recent promoted Instagram post features a photo highlighting how well the product enhances the curvature of the ass, with a caption quoting feedback from a customer service email. "I wore your pants on a date," it reads. "We went on an urban hike, took a ferry to Sausalito, then on a whim we flew to LA for the night." Obviously, a customer finding love in your pants is worth more than anything you could say about construction, material and fit. Even if ADAY didn't quote the customer directly, they could take a cue from the comment and write an inspired copy line and content piece with an irresistible call to action, like:
These pants could change your life. FIND OUT HOW
Then, you do a styling story about how to wear the leggings on a spontaneous urban discovery mission that turns into an overnight date. You start with a tank top and dope sneakers, then maybe throw on heels and hot jacket for dinner. By the time you're checking into the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA, you're in boots and the cashmere wrap you brought for the plane. All this is to say that these goddamned pants will get you laid. And sex is never a hard sell.
The approach can be even edgier, if it befits your brand. You don't have to control your message all the time. Let your fans go off script if they want. The reason why the Le Labo stories are so intriguing is that they often veer into evil intentions about revenge and renewal. "I've had this bottle since 2014," says a recent @overheardlelabo quote. "I need a new label. It says 'sweetheart' and that's not really me anymore. I want it to say 'manslayer.' I've changed."
Hey, we're all for strategic rebranding.
Would you like to use your customers' stories to create a more effective brand voice? WE'RE LISTENING
Everybody loves looking at good-looking things. Especially in image-driven industries like fashion, beauty and luxury—pretty people, products and pictures are the focus, and rightfully so.
But those things can only impact your sales figures if you tell people how to interact with them. It’s up to you to make a connection between what your audience sees and what they’re supposed to do with their feelings about it. There are stories, philosophies, information and instructions that are necessary to bolster the images that sell the products. How does the model feel wearing this dress? Who designed these shoes and where were they made? Why is this hotel room laid out this way, and how do I book a night to sleep in it? They want to know exactly what they’re looking at and how they themselves can be a part of the lifestyle you’re depicting.
This is why image-based brands who want to become and remain relevant should think about balancing bold visuals with healthy investments in copywriting and content. Blowing your entire digital marketing budget on photography and design is like going on a date with a professional blowout, bespoke nail art and a $5k outfit, but having absolutely nothing to say. It isn’t attractive past the first few minutes. Nor does it lead to anything truly life-enhancing. People long to be inspired, and physical beauty is just one aspect of that. As a brand, you want to be the total package.
Here are a few reasons why you might want to re-think the way your brand distributes its spending on copy and written content in proportion to visuals...
AWARENESS ISN'T THE SAME THING AS AFFINITY... Images, colors, videos, looks. These elements, when they’re on point, can be mesmerizing. There’s no denying that a picture can really say a lot in one glance. But what happens once you’ve grabbed all the attention? How will your audience know what your brand is actually about? Some explaining might be in order. Once people know who you are, it’s time to get them to like you. And the way you get people to like you is by talking to them.
OH HELLO, SEO... Search engines can’t see images. They can’t. Yes, you can label your photos invisibly, but even then, they’re not as interesting to Google as they would be if you put written content around them. You need to have words on your web site. You just do. But you don’t want them to disrupt your brand experience. It’s a delicate maneuver that you should think twice about leaving up to your in-house designer or other layperson. Besides, merely slapping some written content on your site won’t do much for your SEO rankings. You need your content to be good—as in useful, as in meaningful, as in engaging, original, and shareable. As in, professionally planned and executed.
HOW CAN I CONVERT IF YOU DON'T TELL ME HOW...? When a user interacts with your web site, you want them to leave something behind—an email address, a comment, a query or perhaps some of their money. Pictures are nice, but they’re not instructive. They don’t point the way or beckon the user to take the action you want them to take. You need words to do that. But not just any words—on-brand words. Don’t think of this as a burden or “another thing.” Think of it as an opportunity for brand-building moments. How you ask for an email address, how you guide your user through checkout, could create brand affinity in an unexpected way, and get the desired action out of the user at the same time.
I WANT TO BUY SOMETHING, BUT I CAN'T FIND IT... How frustrating is it when you walk into a store where you know they have what you need, but there isn’t anyone around to assist you? “Hello?” you yell into the air. “Does anybody work here?” See, that’s what it’s like when a customer lands on an ad or eCommerce site that has little or no copy. They might like the products they see, but there is nothing there to guide them through the shopping experience and clinch the sale. On the flip side, having too much copy on your site is like shopping in a store where the salespeople follow you around the whole time you’re browsing. Also not super welcoming. Which is why you need a professional to help you find the right amount of verbal interaction (and a tone of voice that works for your brand).
I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEEP, BUT YOU WERE JUST HOT AND QUIET... Let’s return to the dating analogy for a minute. Have you ever spotted an attractive person who seemed intriguing and mysterious? But then, when you went to talk to them, they were actually just vapid? Pretty disappointing. It’s the same with your brand. If you’re going to put truly compelling imagery into the world (and you should) you need to make sure you have a rap. Have a few clever lines at the ready and then let your story grow more interesting as it unfolds. Get involved in the conversation. The brand-customer interaction is a relationship. It needs to work on many levels—not just physical.
Do you think a strong voice could be a good look for your brand? LET’S GET YOU HOOKED UP
Some years back, we bought a pair of black John Fluevog pumps in a second-hand store in San Francisco. They had chunky heels, peep toes, a psychedelic swirl at the vamp and they were the right size, but none of those features was the actual selling point. The best part of this find was the story printed on the soles. "If we move together, dance together..." it said in black serif on a beige background. "We'll stay together." It was that whiff of romance that sealed the deal, the promise that these batty shoes, a steal at $75, could lead one to true love, and only the person wearing them would know that her path to eternal happiness had been predetermined by the poetry embedded in her steps. Why, we wondered, didn't every brand print secret messages on their products?
Finally, it seems, in 2017, The Year of Our Need For Encouragement, Hope and Constant Mental-Emotional Fortification, the fashion world is catching up to old Fluevog. (The designer's Angel Soles are stamped with a guarantee to give cover from Satan, a great spiritual buffer that dovetails nicely with the brand's promise of unparalleled physical comfort.) Newer designers are reviving the technique in modern ways, weaving on-brand philosophical messages more subtly, and yet more powerfully, into their creations.
Of course, there have always been t-shirts with clever sayings written on them, words to live by, out there for all to see. Well, but no. Not always. It's hard to imagine, but not so long ago, people didn't wear words on their clothing at all. Less than a hundred years ago, you couldn't just look at a stranger and determine whether you'd be friends or not by the obscurity of the indie band whose tour dates were listed on the back of their shirt.
Like so many Twentieth Century trends, it probably began in the movies. The earliest known instance of lettering printed on clothing was in 1939 in The Wizard of Oz. Emerald City workers re-stuffing the scarecrow in preparation to meet the Wizard wore green t-shirts printed with the word "Oz." But the concept wouldn't really catch on until a generation or so later, after Marlon Brando and James Dean had made the t-shirt itself popular, and rock & roll bands, sports teams and political slogans began to make their way onto the chests of the masses. Free expression was the thing, and everyone was exercising their First Amendment right.
By the '70s and '80s, the practice was pretty commonplace. "I [heart] NY" was a popular one in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.K., they loved bold political statements. "If you want to get the message out there, you should print it in giant letters on a t-shirt," said Katherine Hamnett, designer of the "CHOOSE LIFE" t-shirt famously worn by George Michael and Andrew Ridgely in the Wham! video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." (Though perhaps not as famously as the shorts and neons they wore in the second half of the clip.)
Judging from the overall art direction of the video itself, a complete lack of subtlety seemed like a good idea at the time. It was the '80s after all. Lately, though, more thoughtful alternatives have emerged to the custom of wearing a generic political statement splashed in the middle of one's body in block lettering. Designers at all levels of the price-point spectrum are weaving words into garments and jewels in more elegant, understated ways. They seem to be taking cues from tattoo art with feminine scripts, interesting placement and more personal messages. The techniques and materials are more sophisticated too, with embroidery, beading, lacework and luxe fabrics replacing screen-printed 100% cotton. The effect is elegant, but clever, more whispered secret than all-caps exclamation.
Which isn't to say politics, nor boldness, have completely dropped out of the equation. Feminism in particular is out in full force as new designs bring tales of autonomy and ambition to women's clothing staples, not just tees, but blouses, jeans, jackets, dresses and hosiery. There are also a lot of self-love mantras finding their way onto clothing, or inside of it, with tags and linings offering words of wisdom known only to the wearer, or whomever she chooses to take her clothing off in front of.
There's something fun about being an onion, someone who keeps layers of secrets under her stylish garments, such that when you peel them off and look more closely, you uncover something that wasn't so obvious at first glance. Those revelations can be prescribed by designers who think to establish an intimate relationship with their customers by communicating through hidden copy, words the wearer can identify with and live by but not necessarily put on ready display.
Conversely, there seems to be an explosion of designs featuring copy that flaunts inner vulnerability and sorry-not-sorry flaw-ownership on the outside. "I regret nothing," it says in black embroidery on the white collar of a Reformation blouse, while a sweatshirt from LPA says "CRYING INSIDE" on the chest in shiny beaded lettering. If it was cool a generation ago to bandwagon onto a universal issue like human life-respect via your t-shirt, it's now considered clever to look inward, find your quirks and wear them passionately on your sleeve. This is so me right now, you say, slipping on a new look, a new mantra, a new intention.
Would you like your products to speak intimately with your customers? WE HAVE IDEAS
Personal but public, simple but epic, specific but universal, cultish but mainstream. These are the tensions you want to transcend when you decide what to have your fave graffiti artist or neon sign-maker splash across your brand's most appropriately visible surface area. Done well, it could be the most money-drawing phrase you ever think up.Read More
Remember when you used to read magazines and you'd come across an article, enjoy it, then realize it was actually sponsored by an advertiser? That was content. Except then it was called advertorial, and now it's not just in magazines. It comes in all forms: articles on the Internet, social media posts, branded YouTube videos, concerts, parties, multimedia experiences and art exhibits, to name a few. Content's more practical older cousin copy is only ever words, which lay people sometimes call text, or worse, verbiage.
In the middle of last decade, being a writer was an impossibly bleak prospect. The Internet was annihilating print media, but it hadn't figured out how to capitalize on content yet. Meanwhile, in the advertising world, copywriters were relegated to second-class citizenship as developers and marketing strategists assumed rock star status. And that is not even to mention the Great Recession.
But then social media happened and eCommerce exploded. Around the beginning of our current confusing decade, a gold rush of desperate, starving writers scrambled to meet the new demand for "content," specifically the written kind. But how was this different from the traditions of advertising copywriting and editorial (a.k.a. journalism) that these writers hailed from? And what sorts of skills and experience did the new dimension require?
According to conventional wisdom, "copy sells and content tells," which is an easy, if simplified, way to understand the dichotomy. Copywriting is a sales pitch. It's short headlines and product descriptions and calls-to-action. It's trying to get you to do something or buy something. Examples include the words in an ad, homepage headlines on an eComm web site and an announcement in a promotional email. Content is information or inspiration, sometimes related to product, but not always. It often comes in the form of long articles designed to draw traffic via SEO and enhance the user experience, though again, not always. To complicate things a bit further, as brands integrate editorial elements ever more closely into the consumer experience, the lines between the two continue to blur. And a single piece could require both skill sets. Which is why it's crucial to understand what your needs are before you start hiring writers. Not every writer can write everything.
Especially in the Internet age, journalists are encouraged to develop strong voices of their own. In case you haven't noticed, the Internet is deluged with first-person essays by writers who can't write about anything but themselves and their own lives in anything but the voice of their own interior monologues. These writers also tend to be poor editors, especially of their own work. Their pieces are long, rambling and self-indulgent, not such great characteristics for content, which should be squarely focused on the customer and her desires. Likewise, advertising copywriters aren't necessarily very good at long form, editorial-style content. It's two different tricks.
Even journalists who write adeptly about the world around them tend to absorb the habits of other writers and editors on their beat, whether it's music, food, fashion, politics or extreme sports. If you're a tech company, it seems like good sense to hire a tech writer, but do you want that person writing for your blog as if she were reviewing a product on Mashable? Even if you want to appeal to that same audience, you also want your content (and copy) to be brand-ownable, differentiated from whatever else is out there in your sector. The writer needs to be able to write in your brand voice, or if you don't have one, create one that works for you.
As for copy, you need it to sell stuff, but you also need it to draw attention to your content, which you need to get attention for the stuff you sell. And so goes the dance, once forbidden, now essential.
Would you like to work with writers who have both deep editorial experience and expert copywriting skills? OH HEY
It's hard to know which of today's expressions will stick in another generation or two, but if you're using words to spread your company's message, you need to be aware of what they might mean now, as opposed to a few years ago, even if it's just to avoid certain ones altogether. Here is a list of common words that could possibly indicate something other than what it used to...Read More
Ever since content took reign of its rightful kingdom, most companies have had a “we need a copywriter” moment. But do they all, really? Many brands could certainly do well to have a scribe (or a team of them) in house to handle brand messaging and content marketing. For others, it’s unnecessary, or flat-out unadvisable. And then there are those that could benefit from a strategic combination of in-house talent and outside consulting. If you're wondering which arrangement might work for your brand, consider the following...
YOUR BUDGET... Let’s just get this one out of the way first, shall we? Because it’s a big one, always. It is a natural law that the more you invest in a robust brand voice strategy and content program, the further it will go toward galvanizing your business goals. When your resources are limited, you may not have the luxury of a dedicated staffer. One way to get more bang for your buck is to hire an outside content partner. The national average yearly salary for a junior copywriter is $47,000. You could invest less than that in a pointed campaign directed and executed by experienced editorial talent outside your company, and it could actually give you more marketing power than a management-needy junior full-timer who spends a lot of time looking at Facebook. All other variables constant, quality of time is better than quantity of time.
YOUR NEEDS... Partnering with outside talent works well if the nature of your business lets you plan campaigns and content packages in advance. Weekly or biweekly blogs, newsletters and social posts can be submitted and approved in advance, kept in the can and rolled out when the time is right. On the other hand, if you need updates multiple times a day, based on constantly changing events and conditions (or whims), you might want someone in house who you can literally turn to at a moment’s notice to get some tweets off or whatever. Just make sure you have a style guide for that person to follow, so you don’t look like you’re all over the place—even when you are!
YOUR NICHE... If you’re in a highly specialized industry, the people creating your content need to know what they’re talking about and who they're talking to. Company insiders could be the best choice because of their proximity to your products and target demo—unless they’re a little too close to the cause. Hiring someone external brings a broader perspective, but make sure they know your industry really well. In many cases, specialized knowledge trumps general writing talent.
YOUR TEAM... So many brand directors think they can strap their staff with blog-writing duties and expect good returns on that ask. Such an organic approach is more of an experiment than a strategy. And how many employees appreciate having “be a professional writer ” tacked onto their list of things to do? Even if you do have capable, willing writers on your team with bandwidth to spare, how do they decide what to write about and when, and where to post it? Is there a centralized brand voice strategy? You might turn to an outside partner for guidance on that, if nothing else. It’ll empower your team to create better, more focused content.
YOUR SYSTEMS... Take an honest look at the way you do things. If you aren’t very organized, don't know what you want, or haven't defined your goals, you’re going to have a hard time conveying your needs to an external entity. You can often afford better talent hiring an outside expert over a full time employee (see “your budget” above), but in order to reap the full value of the work, you’ll need your team to be very attentive about getting them the information and feedback they need. Help your consultant help you!
Still not sure if you need outside help with brand voice strategy, copywriting or content? LET'S TALK IT THROUGH
When it comes to brand copywriting, there's a pitfall that even the most skilled among us must fight to avoid: the urge to write a certain way because it's how you've seen it done before. If I'm doing copywriting, I want to sound like a copywriter, right? No, you don't. You want to sound like your brand having a natural conversation with your customer. Of course it's important to present as current and clued-in. You need to be a part of the conversation and culture of your industry, but if your brand is at all interesting, it shouldn't sound like everyone else.
Certain industries are more susceptible to cliché because they are trend-based. Last year, we identified a list of overused words in fashion eCommerce, and now we're pointing out the language we'd love to not see anymore in beauty content. We're pretty sure we're not alone when we say the following words and phrases are on our nerves. Let's try to start talking about hair, skin and makeup without them.
DEWY... This has become a legitimate finish descriptor along the lines of "matte" or "luminous." But, outside of immediate product copy, we can definitely put to rest the image of a maiden who feel asleep in a field of lilies at mid-spring. Moisture and radiance are strong indicators of youth and health, and absolutely to be desired, but it would behoove all of us to move on and find a fresh (no pun intended) way of expressing the effect.
FRENCH-GIRL... It is almost always good advice to do as the French do: have well-behaved children, live in an apartment with crown molding, be sexier than ever at 45, spend 50 percent of your income on skin care products and sleep with whomever you want. However, calling classically chic looks "French-girl" is so over it needs a new word for over. C'est fini.
COOL-GIRL... The ubiquity of this one is pure dramatic irony, because whenever you say "cool-girl," you immediately sound like you're not one, and why would we take makeup tips from a huge dork? Coolness is like fanciness. As soon as you make the declaration, it ceases to be so. A better way to look at it is that good = cool. Cool is automatically codified into anything interesting and effective. So don't say this is the eyeliner the cool girls are wearing. Just tell us why we need it.
SWEARS BY... No one puts her right hand on a retinol product and promises to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not even Kim Kardashian West. Of course we want to know what her go-to nude lipstick is (try the one Charlotte Tilbury created in her name), but framing it in this dramatic way, like makeup is a goddamned religion? It's been done. A lot. Like, every day.
YOUR SKIN WILL THANK YOU... In the fluorescent-lit Manhattan office of a mainstream women's magazine, circa 1965, a Peggy Olson-esque career girl sat at her IBM Selectric and typed out this phrase for the first time. Maybe it was for an article about how many glasses of water a lady should drink per day to achieve that magical, husband-finding glow. It's actually a clever personification of a human organ, conjuring the image of a happy, grateful, content dermis. Except now it's tired, aging, wrinkling, drying up. Let it die with dignity.
TRESSES... Perhaps the most difficult thing about copywriting is the constant challenge to express common concepts in fresh ways. If you're a beauty blogger, that goes double, because there is a finite number of topics here: skin, nails, eyes, lips, body, hair, maybe diet and fitness. Plus, you have to write headlines and deks that read rhythmically and don't repeat the same words too many times. But when you choose a weird synonym for a body part, one that nobody uses in everyday speech, you just look like you clicked over to Thesaurus.com. Anyone can do that.
BASIC... Since about 2012, it's been a flood of pity for old people who green light the use of this word to describe products or collections. It's been overused so much, it's not only lost its meaning, it's actually changed meaning. At least for the time being, it connotes something millennials will avoid like their parents on Facebook—being super obvious and culturally unaware. This word is now covered with warts. Don't touch it.
A RED LIP... This is one of those phrases that originally signified "insider" quite effectively. It was the beauty industry equivalent of fashionistas calling pants "a pant" or music nerds calling a song a "track." You sounded cool and knowledgeable referring to a classic look in this clipped, backstage-at-fashion-week way. But the ubiquity of the look itself during the current decade has definitely forced this phrase into trite territory. Now, you sound basic AF if you say this, especially with the word "perfect" inserted. Just say "red lipstick" or "red lips."
Does your brand deserve cliché-free copy? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS
Everyone's talking about Glossier! Maybe it's because they create effective, easy-to-use skin care products and cosmetics that are instantly iconic and irresistibly Instagram-able. What also helps is how they talk about said products in such a way that makes the world want to be a part of the conversation. As an offshoot of the gold standard beauty blog Into the Gloss, Glossier already had a relationship with its target market when it launched in 2014 and took off like a Sephora shoplifter. A strong brand voice, it turns out, is a good thing to have. Since Glossier's is as subtly impressive as its Perfecting Skin Tint, we thought we'd ask Executive Editor Annie Kreighbaum exactly how they do what they do. (Hint: Drake lyrics are always game.)
EVERYONE LOVES THE GLOSSIER VOICE! IS IT DIFFERENT NOW THAN WHAT YOU INTENDED WHEN THE BRAND LAUNCHED? Our voice has stayed pretty consistent, but over time, we’ve tightened up on the edit and come to prefer shorter copy that packs a punch. There's definitely a time and a place to expand on things and write entire paragraphs though.
HOW DOES GLOSSIER'S VOICE COMPARE TO INTO THE GLOSS? They're very similar: friendly and informative. I would say starting in editorial is an advantage. We know how to talk with people. It comes naturally.
THE GLOSSIER GIRL IS UNFUSSY. HOW DO YOU GET THAT EASY-BREEZINESS TO COME THROUGH IN YOUR COPY? It's important for us to only use words you'd actually say in an in-person conversation. We don’t like to make up words that you wouldn’t ever use, like "talons" for nails.
WHEN YOU'RE CHOOSING A PRODUCT NAME, IS THERE A STRATEGY BEHIND WHETHER YOU GO FOR SOMETHING STRAIGHTFORWARD OR PLAYFUL (PRIMING MOISTURIZER VS. BALM DOTCOM)? It depends on the personality of the product. You want to make the product sound interesting, but not confuse people as to what it is. A shimmery makeup product, you can get more experimental with (Haloscope), whereas skincare you want something more straightforward (Priming Moisturizer). Though masks are more of a fun, experiential product, so the names speak to that (Mega Greens Galaxy Pack). The SOI (statement of intent), or sub-name is super important. It can convey any info you might not get across in the primary name (Haloscope Dew Effect Highlighter). We also play around with shade names. I would say we try not to be too precious about those, and just have a good time brainstorming them.
WHAT SOURCES OF FEEDBACK FROM YOUR AUDIENCE ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU? Sales! And when we see Glossier customers evangelizing and repeating things we say on their personal Instagrams and snapchats. We’re constantly looking at that content and sending each other screenshots of what people are saying. Love a regram...love when people tag their friends in our posts. Sometimes they take the time to leave a comment specifically on our copy, and that feels pretty great.
HOW DO YOU GET FANS TALKING ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS? Having content and social channels that are fun and interesting to follow is one part. You get a lot of shares on that. Then you talk to people in person and they're almost shocked about how good the products are. That classic word-of-mouth on product efficacy is the most powerful, in my opinion.
DOES YOUR COMMUNITY HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON HOW THE GLOSSIER VOICE DEVELOPS? A lot of our voice is informed by the kinds of conversations we have with our Into The Gloss readers, who are a crucial part of the Glossier community. We’re writing for intelligent, like-minded people.
DO YOU THINK BEAUTY CONSUMERS LIKE SEEING SLANG AND INTERNET MEMES IN BRAND COPY, OR DOES IT COME OFF SUPER CORNY? There's a time and a place, but I do urge everyone that writes copy for Glossier to avoid it because it's easy to overuse and then you become this brand that sounds too trendy, and, quite frankly, like everything else that's on the Internet. That's not good. It's important for us to test jokes on coworkers. If it's funny to most people at Glossier, it'll be funny to the people that follow us. I'm trying to ease up to it, because sometimes you can nail it.
WHAT ABOUT SONG LYRICS? Song lyrics you should be careful about. What is the subject matter of the song? Is it lighthearted enough to turn into marketing copy? Sometimes I feel weird about taking lyrics that are making a statement about something important like equality and female empowerment and turning them into an email subject line for a flash sale. We tend to avoid it. Drake lyrics are usually fair game though.
Would you like your brand to sound cool but not like it's trying too hard? LET'S JUST DO IT