Away with Brand Strategy’s Jargon Jungle

Content Strategy

Industry Insights

Terminology within branding circles struck me as hugely over complicated and unnervingly confusing when starting out in strategy. It took me a year or two to realise it wasn’t that I couldn’t ‘get it’; it was that one person’s ‘attribute’ is another’s ‘feature’ is another client’s ‘USP’ is another colleague’s ‘benefit.’

Agency to agency the interchangeability of various terms, each interpreted slightly differently was everywhere, and hard to initially navigate. And so it came, that to get on and do some actual work you simply have to define the terms for yourselves. Get rid of all the junk that people use to justify an expensive workshop, and make sure your clients understand exactly what you mean, and why you need to work out compelling answers, together.

On a quick Google of ‘brand attributes’ for example, it chucks out:

‘The touchstones that define the qualities and personality of the brand in a customer’s mind. Brand attributes help establish the spirit and tone that inform all communications and effectively guide internal culture. They are the qualities that make a brand unique, personal and recognisable.’

Bin this

So attributes are ‘touchstones’…. helpful? But also, ‘qualities defining personality, spirit, tone, culture’!? Let’s put ‘attributes’ in the bin all together. Let’s throw ‘product features’ in the same bin too, for now.

Similarly, workshops are awash with dreams of purpose, missions and visions, value propositions and positioning statements (and sometimes if we’re really unlucky aspirations, ambitions, approaches blah blah).


Keep this

Now, purpose, missions and visions are important. Simply, without mixing them up into different jargoned jumbles, you are deciding:

  • why you do what you do
  • what you believe in
  • what you want to achieve in two years (achievable)
  • what you want to change in the world (never ending).


After defining the problem you have identified needing a solution (‘customer truth’), the audience (‘demographics’ / ‘segmentation’ / ‘pen portraits’) and a few things you passionately believe in about the world and how you want to do business (‘values’, ‘beliefs’, ‘behaviours’, ‘pillars’) … we find the most useful way to get to the heart of what clients and brands need to do to resonate and win, comes down to two areas; (whatever you want to call them….).



The brand’s winning functional benefits. 

1. Sit in a room and simply list all the things ‘the consumer GETS’ from the product or service. It might be bright headlights, a 24/7 rooftop pool party, a designer bed, superfast downloads, stripes in the toothpaste.

2. Next you decide (argue about) which of these the customer actually cares about and genuinely wants. You may be the hotel with the biggest carpark in Berlin, but who cares. Objectively decide and throw away the ones your customer doesn’t care about.

3. Now you have a list of things your customer gets and that they actually want. Now answer (again, as objectively as possible for each) ‘do we do this best?’ or ‘does a competitor do it better?’ Bin the ones your competitor does outright better than you. Keep the ones you both do best; they are still important later on. But crucially, you have a list of things your customer wants, that you do best, that your competitors cannot compete with. Sounds useful.

The brand’s winning emotional benefits.

People need to understand function and utility, of course. The cheaper and more ‘everyday’ the product, the more importance we place on the functional. The higher priced and rarer the purchase the more we place on the emotional.  But either way, the final trigger before purchase, is a feeling. Customers choose to interact, or to pass you by.

And you want to target people that are looking to feel the way that you and your brand, can win at making them feel. You should prioritise communicating and evoking these winning feelings, in everything you do and say.


1. To do this, take those winning functional benefits – e.g. handcrafted reclaimed-wooden beds, local artists in residence, UNESCO protected town square, sunrise paddle board meditation – and ask yourself what feelings each functional benefit evokes / achieves for your consumer.

‘Local artists in residence’ for example may throw up – ‘feel expressive’, ‘feel educated’, ‘feel creative’ etc. the list will go on.

2. Then go through the same process again. Which is the tricky part, understanding how much your customers are motivated by each feeling when they choose your brand, and how ownable each feeling is for your brand, against your competition. You will end up with a list of feelings that motivate your audience, and you can ‘own’.


The result is a list of winning functional benefits and a list of winning emotional benefits. Lovely.


Concluding thoughts

You now have a guide for your brand story, what you say first and last, what feelings you prioritise and target, personality, tonality, straplines, mantras, promises… or indeed whatever you decide to call all of these silly titles, that if you do get right, will do so much for growing your business, hiring the right staff, expanding in the right locations and creating a long lasting, emotional connection with your audience.


Just don’t talk to me about attributes.

By Nick Ford-Young, Head of Studio Black Tomato