This episode brings you Unchained Labs. Their voice is one of my absolute favourites. But before we dive in: 1. Thank you for being a subscriber! There’s over 1000 of us already, which is, frankly, 🤯 . Keep spreadin’ the love. 2. Write me! ✍️ what’s working? Anything you’d like more of? Less of? 3. And if you know a brand with a🔥 voice that I should feature, gimme a shout. (Yikes. I notice since Starface last week, I’ve become way more emojiful.) Anyways. Let’s go:
Unchained Labs make the scientific instruments that are used in medical research, gene therapy, and other cutting-edge science stuff. They burst onto the scene as a start-up five or six years ago.
Now, a bit of context: the scientific instrumentation market is not what you’d call brand mature. Pretty much everyone else communicates in an over-cooked casserole of noun-stodge: ‘Our high-performance scientific instrumentation and innovative analytical and diagnostic solutions enable innovation, productivity improvement and enhancement of customer success outcomes’. That kind of thing. There are interesting reasons for this, which we’ll talk about later.
And then, there’s Unchained Labs:
Right away you’re getting strong Unchained vibes: say less. And say it with energy.
Let’s keep going:
Scientific research is usually a world of complex questions and head-scratching problems, grey areas and uncertainty, incremental progress. Not for Unchained. They have an audaciously bullish simplicity:
Big Bill & Ted energy. Here’s how they introduce their instruments:
Uncaging the tools. Cranking up your research. Big-time differences. Unruly samples. This isn’t painting a picture of research happening in quiet labs by calm and methodical researchers. This is science made to sound more like extreme sports – almost physically demanding, and something that needs you to be, like, totally stoked.
They keep it up in their portfolio, where they introduce each scientific instrument with a super-short, punchy paragraph. Meet Bouncer:
And here’s what they say about it:
Notice: Wonky. Jam. Ooze. sweet spot. Sounds more like a donut-making machine than a super high-end bit of scientific kit. It’s gloriously visceral. And again, the same relentless bish-bash-bosh-get-it-done energy: too thick, too thin, good to go.
Whoa! Wait! Back up there! Did I just say they’ve called this incredibly precise and expensive scientific instrument ‘Bouncer’? What the hell? Everyone else calls their instruments things like F3-s980, or X’pert3 or Partica LA-960V2. What kind of simple, memorable, personalityful name is ‘Bouncer’?!
Which brings us to the second thing about Unchained’s voice. The brilliantly wild naming strategy. The names aren’t descriptive, they’re emotive. And all of them have the constraint of including the letters ‘UN’ in the name. Like Big Kahuna:
Also in the gang are Hound, Uncle, Lunatic, Stunner and Big Tuna. They sound more like a pro-wrestling tag team, or an anarchic superhero collective than a portfolio of scientific instruments.
Three things to love and learn from:
It’s a total science shake-down
In any sector, there’s often a default tone or format that haunts a lot of the writing. Lawyers, for instance, tend to write everything as though it’s a legal contract. In science and engineering, there’s a tendency to unthinkingly slip into drafting a scientific report: objective, meticulous, dispassionate. Yet while it’s often turgid stuff to read, it does work as a kind of credibility signalling: Trust us. We’re too absorbed in science to be distracted by trying to emotionally manipulate you into buying our stuff. In this context, Unchained Labs’s full-on emotional energy isn’t just ‘different’, it violates all the unspoken norms of the category.
It’s a naming masterclass
The names are brilliant – unexpected, funny and memorable. The ‘UN’ constraint is inspired. (Not least because everyone I spoke to who knows Unchained Labs took the time to point it out to me: it’s one of those Easter eggs that makes you part of the tribe and you can’t help sharing with others.) Above all, though, it turns inert machines into characters. Insanely effective brand-building. Facepalms all round for everyone else. I mean, it’s only been a generation since Apple showed the world that tech naming doesn’t have to be based around serial numbers and specs…
Ohhh, the energy
I’m told that the full-on can-do vibe of the writing matches the culture of the organisation. Which is, I’m sure, completely deliberate. In fact, as a start-up, it’s possible that an equally important audience for their writing, as well as customers, is potential investors.
There are gonna be some who find Unchained’s voice absolutely insufferable. Fair enough. But you can’t deny it’s an absolute masterclass of Challenger brand swagger: just a tone of voice and a handful of product names, and all eyes are on you. If your brand is in a similar same-same sector, what the hell are you waiting for? More specifically, what Unchained reminds me to do is forensically examine the unspoken linguistic codes that might lurk in any sector. Cos once you know what they are, you can drive your Big Kahuna right over them.
Til next time. 👋