How to Give Your Brand a Personality

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Revitalize your business and connect with more customers with this brand personality exercise.

As a brand strategist one of the most fun, albeit difficult, elements of building a brand is figuring out how to bring it to life.

Consumers create emotional attachments to brands just like humans so establishing a relationship is key.

If your business is struggling to establish a relationship with your consumers it could be because your brand lacks personality.

In the absence of a distinct brand personality it is difficult to resonate with consumers who need to be able to self-identify with a brand.

Moreover, given the plethora of online businesses and low barriers to entry that the internet affords, a well-crafted personality is necessary for brand differentiation.

Competing on price is just a race to the bottom. Competing on quality alone is not enough because consumers aren't rational and don't always reward the brand with the highest quality with their loyalty.

Having a strong brand is no longer a nice to have but a requisite for success.

With that in mind, I've developed an exercise that will assist you in revitalizing your startup or business with a winning personality.

What is A brand personality?

A brand personality is a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand. These characteristics shape how consumers feel about, and interact with, the brand.

They are critical to establishing an emotional connection, and ultimately, a lasting relationship.

Building a brand requires you to think about it just like you would a person: people have a combination of traits that distinguish them from others and how one person thinks, feels, and behaves makes them unique.

Moreover, the relationships that a person engages in not only shapes their personality, but also influences how they are perceived.

Likewise with a brand.

How can you personify your brand?

There are four important steps you must take to create your brand personality: 

1. Understand your target audience, inside and out

If you don't know who you are talking to and how you should be talking to them, then you will struggle to bring your brand to life.

You want to have a solid understanding of who you are going after and what makes them tick.

Completing a customer profile will help you identify the psychographic and demographic makeup of your target audience.

Knowing their needs, desires, and behaviors will help you craft a relevant personality.

Members can find a customer persona template in my repository of premium resources. Not a member? Join to access this resource. 

2. Establish the role you want to play in the consumer's life

Once you get to know your customer you should think about the role you want the brand to play in their life.

An easy way to think about this is to map the consumer's needs/desires/behaviors to a "human typecast" that is relevant.

For example, does the consumer require advice from an authoritative figure? Then the brand role could be that of a counselor.

Is the consumer young, carefree, and just looking to have fun? Then the brand can play a more casual role of a peer or friend.

An oldie but a goodie (to help jumpstart your brainstorming) is Susan Fournier's theory on brand relationships. In the 90s her research proposed that (for better or worse) consumer-brand connections typically fall into one of these twelve categories: 

  • Compartmentalized friendships    
  • Arranged marriage    
  • Rebounds    
  • Dependencies    
  • Secret affairs
  • Marriages of convenience    
  • Committed partnerships    
  • Best friendships    
  • Childhood friendships    
  • Flings
  • Kinships    
  • Courtships    
  • Enmities    
  • Enslavement    
  • Casual friends/buddies

 3. Determine the traits to infuse into your brand

Now that you know the brand role you can start working on the more detailed elements of the personality.

One of my former business school instructors, Stanford Professor Jennifer Aacker, is one of the most prominent branding thought leaders. She developed a simple framework that proposes five dimensions of a brand's personality.

You can look at each trait and measure the extent to which you believe it describes your brand. The traits with the highest ranking will help determine who the brand should be.

The lowest ranking traits shouldn't be ignored either. They illustrate what the brand should not be, which is also important to know. 

4. Turn your brand into a character

At this point you will bring together all the elements from steps 1-3 to turn your brand into a fictional representation of an actual person.

To help flush out the character it could be useful (and fun) to ask questions to get your creative juices flowing, such as:

  • if the brand were a celebrity who would it be?
  • is there someone you know, in real life, who fits this profile well?
  • is there a fictional entity, such as from a book or film, that conveys the brand well?

After brainstorming different sample characters, start to shape and refine the brand in a unique way.

Be sure to think of the different voice and visual elements that fully capture the spirit of the brand and keep in mind how the brand should interact with the consumer.

5. Be in tune with the spirit of the time 

A lot of big brands that have been around for a long time end up flailing because they completely lose touch with the current pulse of society. They are still doing business like they did 25 years ago and have a stale brand image as a result.  

A lot of new and small brands fail because they try to be too unique and completely forget to consider the prevailing societal ideas and beliefs. They are out of touch with pop culture and end up creating a brand image that's just not relevant. 

After researching your specific segment you should also take time to reflect on dominating themes and trends – ensuring that you aren't too far off in how you connect and communicate. 

What are brand personality examples?

Below is a list of lifestyle companies with distinct brand personalities.

Note the strong aesthetic, the deliberate copy, and how it all ties together to quickly create an image in your mind of what the company is all about, who it is for, and whether or not it's relevant to you.

How will this exercise lead to brand differentiation?

I’ll answer with a quick question back to you: there are hundreds of denim brands out there. How many do you consistently turn to when you need a new pair of jeans? One maybe two max?

Of course, the fit and quality go a long way in your decision-making process. Yet, I bet it's the overall brand presentation and relevancy to your life, aesthetic, and sense of style that matters most. 

Lifestyle brands in particular serve more than just a functional role in the lives of their consumers.

They are chosen because the consumer, in some way, identifies with or aspires to a certain way of life that the brand embodies. Customers may think they always make functional, rational purchasing decisions but they are really being driven by emotion.  

Therefore the key to differentiation is the extent to which your brand becomes a beacon of self-expression. This allows you to establish a deeper, emotional connection that is critical for loyalty.

What are other brand personality considerations to be mindful of?

First, and you’ve likely heard this before, but don't try to be everything to everyone — even if you have aspirations for being a mass brand.

Start out with a focused niche, gain the loyalty of that small segment, and help them be strong ambassadors for you.

That focused segment will sing your praises allowing you to reach new segments of consumers and grow over time.

Second, don’t ignore "fringe" groups. These days, particularly with lifestyle brands, everyone wants to go after millennials and moms.

These groups rightfully get a lot of attention because of their spending power and propensity for consumerism.

However there are significant segments — such as the aging and elder population — that are being discounted because entrepreneurs and marketers are running after low hanging fruit instead of recognizing potentially more fruitful opportunities.

By focusing on these fringe segments, especially if you are amongst the first in your category to meet their needs, you can use your brand personality to create a powerful connection.

In the absence of the type of noise and distractions experienced in more saturated markets, you'd be able to take time to understand these consumers and foster an authentic relationship.

Ready to take inspired action? 

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