Personality Sets a Brand Apart

With increased globalization and diminishing opportunities for tangible differentiation, personality is getting more attention, and for good reason. Personality can be the most distinguishing feature of a brand. When expressed consistently, it is remarkably enduring and hard to copy.

Strong brands have many human qualities. They have relationships with customers and other brands – some even have parents! They care about their appearance and worry about making a good first impression. They take stands on issues and contribute to causes.  They show up at events, and have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts.  How they accomplish these activities creates an impression of a personality. 

Some brands assume the personalities of their founder (think Virgin Airlines). Others assume a personality through their advertising (think United Airlines Rhapsody in Blue), and others through how employees talk to customers (Jet Blue, Southwest).  Regardless of how it is acquired, personality is an important element of your brand strategy.

Four Steps to Putting a Human Face on Your Brand 

1: Understand Who You Are Today

Even new brands don’t start with a blank sheet of paper. While customer perceptions can be shaped, it’s not a good idea to step too far outside the boundaries of what is known about your brand too quickly. 

Qualitative research is a good way to explore current brand image and personality characteristics. To learn what human qualities customers associate with the brand, ask, ‘If the brand were a person, who would it be like?’ Listen carefully for adjectives that suggest a person you’d want to meet or have a relationship with, especially those that indicate competence or likeability, the main drivers of brand appeal. To learn what the ideal personality is, ask customers, “On your best day, who do you want to feel like or be like when you use this brand?” Listen closely for aspirational values and attitudes. Crayola’s personality is more that of a fun, creative teacher who inspires kids to be free to be themselves.

2: Identify What’s Unique About You

Every brand wants to be trustworthy, friendly, efficient and caring. These characteristics are important, but won’t make you special.  The characters you like most are not cookie cutter stereotypes. Jeeves is the quintessential butler – British, controlled, smart, and attentive - but his special charms make him the character we love. Jeeves doesn’t just offer advice, he anticipates the need for it and dispenses it with a droll, one- of-a-kind sense of humor.

To discover what’s different about your brand, ask employees why they work there? Listen for qualities they identify with. Zappos has a strong corporate culture and attracts people who respond to that culture.   Or try putting a competitor name on your ads. Which ads could fit no other brand? One of the reasons Gap is struggling is its personality has become bland. To succeed, Gap will need to rediscover what makes it special. 

thats cub logo cubsChallenge yourself to discover the quirky side of your brand. What aspects of your brand are unusual or interesting? The Chicago Cubs have some of the most loyal fans in all of sports. They are also one of the quirkiest sports brands, with traditions that defy the modern era. This is not a coincidence.

3: Define Who Do You Want to Be

Bring the brand to life in a personality statement using words and pictures to express the tone, voice and behavioral qualities of your brand. Be sure to specify the guard rails, the things your brand would never say or do.

Your statement should include:

  • Origins: Where do you come from? What problem were you created to solve?
  • Voice: Are you professional or friendly, authoritative or fun, down home or cosmopolitan?
  • Visual Expression: Are you lavish or simple, colorful or subdued, modern or traditional?
  • Behavior: How do you treat employees, customers, partners? What policies best express who you are?

4: Be Consistent

In the Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” When a brand acts out of character, it undermines trust.  Make sure those who are charged with speaking for the brand are well-versed in its style.