At work, I’m the jack-booted brand fundamentalist (hereafter shortened to brandamentalist) who lives on her soapbox preaching consistency in presentation. Most people nod their heads in agreement, picturing colorful collateral materials, lively trade show booths, and stately letterhead, all bearing like visual identity. They really get it. Or so they think.

The first time I point out inconsistencies in their speech, the very same people stop in their tracks, confused. They may not notice that they have called a brand by a former name, have attributed products and people to a business unit that no longer exists rather than to the new one that has replaced it, or have simply used “we” and “they” to talk about members of the same company–but I notice. And so do others around them; it’s just more subtle. These are the things that people don’t really hear, but absorb.

People don’t realize that their words often have much more impact than any visual presentation. Their words reflect their thinking, their mindset. Their language serves to reinforce that mindset to themselves and to those around them. I’m a firm believer that out of the mouth, the heart speaks.

Here’s a quick example. Though my department does work for the entire company, we are often identified with a particular business unit, and I’ve been working hard to change that. When a different business unit started to avail itself of our services, our primary liaison often asked, We’d like to do [x]. How do you do it? My response was always, [X] business unit has done it this way in the past. WE can work with you to accomplish whatever you need. Though the difference sounds subtle, I am always careful to separate the business unit association from my group. After being politely corrected several times (teasing me mercilessly along the way), my liaison no longer views my group as part of the other team. The words made a huge difference.

Changing behavior, even if it requires effort, accomplishes much more than slapping a new label on a brochure. It closes the loop on consistency, making it clear that the brand (or whatever the issue) is part of your DNA. It demonstrates that you believe it.  Without internalizing the brand the visuals are just a costume. If you’re not living and breathing it, your speech will reflect that. To avoid looking like an actor in a play who changes clothes and goes home after the bows are taken, you have to walk the talk.