Terminology Management: The Key to Brand Consistency

You may only get one chance to impress someone. That’s why companies work hard to develop a strong brand that will consistently convey the value they hope to give their potential customers. Brand loyalty is solidified through dependable performance, but it is often initiated by appealing language and logos. Most companies recognize the need to control how they use and replicate their logos, but many do not appreciate the necessity of controlling and managing their brands’ language.

When brand language is imprecise or used inconsistently, a company’s brand will be diluted or misunderstood. This type of brand damage results in less repeat business and lower revenues. The need to manage a company’s brand language becomes even greater when a company expands its markets across borders and translates its message into other languages. Terminology management is a great way for companies, both domestic and international, to control how their brands are understood by maintaining clear and consistent messages.

How to Get Started

 The way to implement a terminology management system, whether it’s for a large international company or a small domestic one, is basically the same. The difference will be, of course, in the scale and complexity of the system. The foundation for a good terminology management system is a database with preferred terms, synonyms, trademarked terms, and conventions for acronyms or unique lingo.

Before this database can be built, however, adequate thought must be given to how to organize and integrate it so that users can easily find and identify the best terms or language for a particular situation. The more thought that goes into the organization of a terminology management system, the more potential problems will be eliminated. With a well thought out system, unproductive searches and disputes over correct terminology will be minimized.

Once a company has worked out the organization for its system, it needs to research and review all of the company’s communications (instructional, educational marketing, etc.) to find common terms relevant to its industry and its particular company. This can be a relatively simple task or fairly daunting one, depending on such factors as size, industry, and location. For example, the more technical the material, the more complex the terminology will be. In the case of reviewing terminology in multiple languages, in-country experts should always be consulted to ensure that the terminology has been accurately understood and translated.

This research and review stage is a continuing process for most companies, because if the review is only done once, over time some of the terminology will become stagnant and irrelevant. When terminology research and review is approached as an ongoing practice, it keeps the company vibrant and its brand strong.

Terminology Issues for Domestic Companies

 Even though domestic companies do not have to translate their messages into a foreign language, most companies have their own vocabulary of industry jargon. Companies need to designate specific definitions for the specialized jargon unique to their industries and companies so that its meaning can be communicated clearly and consistently. Companies are often so immersed in the language of their industry or organization that they may not recognize when terms or phrases require a definition in order to communicate effectively with current or potential customers. An industry outsider may be a useful resource in determining what is commonly understood and what is not. Once defined, the correct use of this terminology should be carefully maintained. Inconsistent use of jargon leads to confusion and frustration and causes lasting brand damage.

Synonyms can be another problem area for many companies. Big businesses frequently encounter the necessity of defining which synonyms to use in the context of their companies, but smaller businesses don’t often anticipate this issue; they should. The time a business spends protecting the integrity of its brand through terminology management is like an investment in brand damage insurance.

Terminology Issues for International Companies

 Terminology management is even more critical for companies doing business in international markets. The quality of translation services can vary dramatically. Translators who are not native speakers usually do not understand the subtle nuances words may have in a particular culture. Careful attention must be paid to how a company’s message will be perceived in order not to cause offense or confusion.

Synonyms exist in every language. As helpful as synonyms may be in giving a company more options when describing its product or services, without careful scrutiny they can easily lead to misunderstanding or to quickly identifying a company as a “foreigner” in a particular market.

I am one consumer who knows how frustrating this can be. While living in France some years ago, my family purchased a new VCR from a well-known international company. In those days, setting up VCRs was not very straight forward and just reading the instructions, which had been translated into French, took significant time. We were all excited to watch our first movie together, but came across some difficulties in getting it to work. We couldn’t understand how to fix the problem, because many of the words being used were inconsistent synonyms and didn’t make sense. After a few hours, and a call to the company’s customer support, we figured it out and had the VCR functioning properly. The product ended up performing satisfactorily. However, our initial experience with the product was very frustrating due to the poorly translated instructions. My family’s frustrating experience with that brand has influenced many purchases since, and it’s safe to say we haven’t been totally loyal.

 A Note about Trademarks

 Once a terminology database is intact, a company may need to create a “do not translate” list in regard to their trademarks. Translating a trademarked term will weaken its power with the consumer and severely damage the defensibility of the trademark.

By keeping specific terms consistent across all languages, companies can strengthen their marketing terminology. At the same time, a “do not translate” list should only be reserved for trademarks or terms that are important to the identity of a company or its product. Companies should use caution in choosing which terms to keep static cross languages and which to translate. A strong brand successfully balances the need to maintain the credibility of its trademarks with the need to accurately communicate the value of its product or services to the consumer.


 First impressions can be hard to change; that’s why most companies understand the need to invest both time and money into ensuring that every experience a potential customer has with their brand is consistently appealing and positive. This need becomes even greater when companies expand their markets across borders and translate their message into multiple languages. An essential tool for every company in meeting the need to communicate clearly is terminology management. Companies that have made the effort to implement a well thought out and researched terminology management system know its value in protecting their brands.