You had me at hello. Finding your brand personality…
If I met your business at a party, what would it be like?
Cracking jokes at the side of the room, keeping their circle entertained? The kind-hearted angel circulating finger-food to make sure everyone’s happy? The expensively dressed high-achiever showing the room they’re a big deal – because they know deep down we all want to be like them? Or maybe the everyday, humble but reliable friend I’ll ask for help if my car needs a jump-start at the end of the night?
Every successful business has a distinct brand personality that guides how the world sees them. It flows through every element of the organization: their logo, their website colours and fonts, their product names… even the way staff greet customers in store.
Fail to plan these elements and you may end up with no personality. Or worse still, an unintended one that’s not right for you. Either way, you’re hurting your customer engagement.
If that sounds like marketing BS, here’s some science.
In a University of Oxford study, diners in a restaurant using heavier cutlery liked the same food more and were prepared to pay 15% more for it. Meanwhile Nike uses scents in-store to increase intent to purchase by up to 80%. Put the ethics of this aside for one moment. What it shows is that a combination of mental associations, sensory processes and thinking shortcuts causes our perception of the world – and businesses – to be influenced by subconscious, often irrational factors.
In fact, Harvard Business School’s Professor Gerald Zaltman estimates 95% of purchasing decision-making takes place subconsciously. So you need to think carefully about the messages your brand is sending out, to make them work for you.
Luckily, there are a few exercises you can do to help define your brand personality.
This is where most articles talk about brand archetypes.
What’s an archetype? We’ll skip the Jungian psychology and shorthand it like this: remember the people at that party we started at? Those broad personality descriptions are archetypes. Most brands fall within one or two of the following 12 archetypes:
You may not think you have a lot in common with those businesses. Some may even represent everything you’re opposed to. But we mention them because they’re amongst the world’s most iconic brands. And a big reason why is they have strong, distinct personalities that emotionally connect to people.
And that’s something you can achieve too.
But brand archetypes may not be the best place to start.
Archetypes are a handy shorthand for brand personalities, and can provide creative inspiration later as you explore how to visualise your personality. But we don’t find them so useful for the initial work defining your brand.
Why? Spend a couple of hours with your colleagues to eventually decide you’re a Caregiver or a Hero/Creator, and where has that got you? A “hero” means different things for different people. And what does a Hero actually look and sound like?
You need to get more specific if you’re going to express a distinctive personality to the world. Here’s a fun 10 minute exercise that will help you dig deeper…
Find your four.
Download our handy Brand Personality Questionnaire.
It gives you 10 sets of descriptions – some of which will feel like your business and some definitely won’t. Follow the simple instructions to rate how well each set describes to your business.
When you’ve finished, think about sets you’ve ranked highest. Summarise them as 4 adjectives that best describe your business. Your four words don’t have to be on the form. In fact it’s even better if you can find your own distinct words that mean most to you – just make sure those words express the qualities you rated highest.
Your 4 adjectives are the recipe that make up your brand personality. They’re how you want your imagery to look, your writing to sound, and your customer interactions to feel.
You’ll probably find your 4 adjectives also happen to describe one or two of the brand archetypes. But you’ve expressed your personality in a much deeper way, that will also be distinct from other businesses sharing the same archetype.
Going ethical, and other traps.
Before you lock in any decisions, though, here are a few things to bear in mind.
1. You’re defining the personality of your business, not the owners. If you’re Richard Branson, this rule doesn’t apply to you. But if you don’t have a strong, pre-existing public image, keep your focus on what the business should feel like.
2. If you’re doing this exercise, it’s usually because your brand isn’t currently where you want it to be. So don’t worry about what your brand is like now, answer the questions based on what you want your brand to feel like.
3. Don’t choose too many options. Pick 4 adjectives, or no more than 2 archetypes. Why? If you describe yourself too many different ways, no distinct identity can emerge.
And last but most importantly for social enterprises:
4. Think hard before choosing “ethical” or “wholesome” as your main descriptor.
What’s the problem with doing that? Look, your mission is awesome. That’s why you’re our people. But browse the plant-based or health food sections of your supermarket and you’ll see the problem when you root your brand personality in your ethical credentials or “earthiness”:
If you want to win attention, you need to stand out from the crowd. You need to make the public feel how you’re different to competitors. You need to capture imaginations.
So while it makes sense to choose an adjective or archetype that speaks to your category (if you’re in baby health, for example, you’ll probably want a “caring” adjective or the “Caregiver” archetype as a part of your personality), try to find something different and more “uniquely you” to mix with it.
For example, rather than playing the Caregiver like other animal conservation organisations, Sea Shepherd has carved out a distinct identity by owning the Outlaw. (Just a warning: this next video gets graphic. But so is the subject. We love it.):
Similarly, plant-based meat wizard Beyond just came out with its first TV ad. The message is about healthiness and doing good, but the look and feel is not:
Beyond has chosen the Hero as its brand archetype (the cape in the logo is a bit of a giveaway). This ad shines with that personality by being active, upbeat and bouncing with the positivity of a better life for everyone. The result? It doesn’t feel worthy. It feels cool. And like it or not, coolness changes feelings faster than worthiness every time.
Which gets us to the second problem with basing your identity around your ethics. While more and more consumers value a product that is doing good for the world, for most sustainability won’t change buying decisions unless the product is also great at what it’s supposed to do.
Furthermore, years of bad experiences have “taught” many of us that healthiness and wholesomeness equals a lack of enjoyment.
So your first job of your marketing is to convince the public that you offer the tastiest, fastest, smartest, most efficient, splendiferous widget on the market. And that starts with building a brand personality that is about something more than being kind, honest, caring and down-to-earth. If you want an example of that in action, look no further than Lord of the Fries.
It’s Australia’s most successful vegan fast food chain. But many customers don’t know they’re not eating meat until after they’ve chowed down (if ever), because Lord of the Fries’ vegan credentials are so minimal in their messaging. As co-founder Amanda Walker says, that’s intentional:
“We like to put the emphasis on the food tasting good, and the experience being great. A cool place to eat and have good vibes, and it just happens to be vegan.”
That approach increased their market. Vegans support Lord of the Fries because it’s a tasty way to get their fast food hit. But those who aren’t vegan (and may even oppose what they construe as vegan values) eat there because to them it’s just tasty chips, burgers and hot dogs. While Lord of the Fries is growing from the dollars of those customers, in return it’s quietly giving them a healthier, lower impact takeaway option – and first-hand experience that vegan eating can be delicious.
So now it’s over to you. Grab your Brand Personality Questionnaire and get thinking and talking. Find the qualities that make you “you” – other than that you’re great citizens.
You have more that makes you special, so sing about it. Paired with your social credentials, that’s a powerful combo.
Want help defining your brand personality? Or a full Brand Style Guide that ensures consistency across your business and helps communicate the brand to your team?
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