Language is a marker of belonging. If you’ve ever heard people disagree on whether to call a carbonated beverage a coke, soda, or pop — you’ve seen this principle at work.
The words we choose tell the story of where we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going next. Which is why using language as a tool for your memberships can be so powerful.
Crafting a unique language around your brand, community, and content can help your offering stand out, increase customer loyalty, and add an element of playfulness to your work. Curious? Here are a few real-world examples followed by a short guide to using this strategy in your business.
Examples of unique membership language
Restaurants and food
It’s increasingly common for restaurants to have “off-menu” items, like In-N-Out Burger’s Animal Style or Dairy Queen’s Butterbeer Blizzard. Since these need to be requested by name, it’s a perfect example of the language strategy at work.
- These provide customers with an insider experience.
- Activities like this are a natural marketing tool since they spark curiosity about the item itself, and what else may be hidden.
- It can help you stand out in a crowded market with a memorable (uniquely-named) product.
Fitness and sports
The health and exercise niche is one of the most competitive spaces to be in. However, a little creativity can open the floodgates of potential customers.
CrossFit gyms and Spartan obstacle races are two great examples. The first relies on a comprehensive vocabulary to identify how their product (group exercise classes) differs from anyone else's on the market. The second reframed popular running lengths (5k, half marathon) into new training experiences (Sprint, Beast) that attracted a large community of people who otherwise would have never taken up running.
- The challenge of adopting a new “language” prompts newer members to befriend and rely on established members, thereby building bonds of loyalty early on.
- By calling familiar items a different word, you create a unique space that’s separate, at least in a small way, from the outside world.
Influencers and personalities
Many smaller membership communities, newsletters, and products are led by incredibly talented one-person teams. While these creators often have a strong skillset that makes their work possible, they also tend to have a personality that can attract and hold people's attention. In this way, they share some similarities with their more traditionally famous counterparts — and they can use this to their advantage.
- Music fanbases adopt unique names: Taylor Swift = Swifties, BTS = Army, Lady Gaga = Little Monsters. This collective identifier builds connection between fans.
- Influencers and brands take a similar route by finding their place within established communities — and then naming their specific segment of the group. Like Yeezy Mafia with sneakerheads (aka shoe collectors), or Ken Block’s Hoonigans (aka street racers).
How to create a unique language around your membership
By asking a few simple questions, you'll quickly find opportunities to put this idea into practice. First, here are a few guiding principles to follow.
Less is more
Resist the urge to do too much when adopting a unique language around your membership. Start small, see how your audience reacts, and go from there. You don’t want to add so much nuance that new members have no idea where to begin.
Introduce new terms early
Ideally, customers should learn what they need to do during an onboarding process. It should feel like a natural part of them stepping into the “world” you’ve created.
Use language purposefully
Remember, the objective is to solidify a sense of group identity. One of the best parts of being a creator online is that you attract people with similar interests and make it easier for them to find and befriend each other.
Now, here are four questions to get you started.
- What is your audience called? What do they call themselves? Can you give them a unique name related to your brand or niche?
- Is there a word that represents what you are all collectively pursuing? Can you create a word or acronym that represents the goal and spread it to your audience? (i.e., FIRE = financially independent, retired early).
- Are there common words you can reframe so that when you use them only insiders will understand the reference? (For example, Contrarian uses the term “boring business” positively, as something that will reliably make money.)
- What alternative words do you use in your daily life without even realizing it? Audit the memberships, communities, and brands you support to discover these instances.
Language is a key part of how we relate to the world around us. By offering your members a unique vocabulary, you can help them see your category in a fresh way, build new relationships with fellow supporters, and empower them to amplify the impact of your work.