It’s not just CEOs and corporate spokespeople who need effective language to be the message. The most successful advertising taglines are not seen as slogans for a product. They are the product. From M&M’s “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” to “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” bathroom tissue, from the “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” of Alka-Seltzer to “Fly the friendly skies of United,” there is no light space between the product and its marketing. Words that work reflect “not only the soul of the brand, but the company itself and its reason for being in business,” according to Publicis worldwide executive creative director David Droga.
In the same vein, advertising experts identify a common quality among the most popular and long-lasting corporate icons: Rather than selling for their companies, these characters personify them. Ronald McDonald, the Marlboro Man, Betty Crocker, the Energizer Bunny — they aren’t shills trying to talk us into buying a Big Mac, a pack of smokes, a box of cake mix, a package of batteries; they don’t even personalize the product. Just like the most celebrated slogans, they are the product.
Walk through any bookstore and you’ll find dozens of books about the marketing and branding efforts of corporate America. The process of corporate communication has been thinly sliced and diced over and over, but what you won’t find is a book about the one truly essential characteristic in our twenty-first-century world: the company persona and how words that work are used to create and sustain it.
The company persona is the sum of the corporate leadership, the corporate ethos, the products and services offered, interaction with the customer, and, most importantly, the language that ties it all together. A majority of large companies do not have a company persona, but those that do benefit significantly. Ben & Jerry’s attracts customers in part because of the funky names they gave to the conventional (and unconventional) flavors they offer, but the positive relationship between corporate management and their employees also plays a role, even after Ben and Jerry sold the company. McDonald’s in the 1970s and Starbucks over the past decade became an integral part of the American culture as much for the lifestyle they reflected as the food and beverages they offered, but the in-store lexicon helped by setting them apart from their competition. (Did any customers ever call the person who served them a cup of coffee a “barista” before Starbucks made the term popular?) Language is never the sole…