An authentic brand — a brand that’s rooted in the very values and identity of the company — is one that people will grow to trust, recommend, and spend more with.
But, even with the best of intentions, it can be easy to go wrong when developing a Brand’s Personality.
We’re going to go over the six common mistakes that organizations make when developing their Brand Personalities, explain what not to do and then, give you a simple exercise to start developing your own Brand Personality.
If you take the time to discover your company’s Brand Personality when building your brand, you’ll ensure that the resulting brand will be an accurate and authentic outward reflection of what the company is at its core. When your brand is aligned in this way, customers will more easily be able to connect with it; they’ll understand it, and they’ll come to believe that your company will deliver what it promises and that it practices what it preaches. You’ll find your company starts to resonate with and attract like-minded people, customers, and employees that align with your visible authenticity.
Mistake 1: Delegating the entire development of the Brand Personality to an outside firm.
While it’s vital to have outside help to facilitate the process, it’s a mistake to develop Brand Personality without the intimate involvement of the organization’s leadership. Remember, as your brand strategists, we aren’t creating anything, we’re uncovering what already exists. That can only be done in partnership with people who are integral to the organization on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we create the Branding Team.
Mistake 2: Changing Personality with the message or audience.
Your Personality is your Personality is your Personality. The letter to customers about a service mistake won’t have the same feel as the new product announcement on the website, but they should both be “confident” or “nurturing,” or whatever else the team has chosen for the company’s Personality. Changing the organization’s Personality with the message or audience creates brand confusion, which raises doubts and mistrust, just as it would in a personal situation.
Mistake 3: Misjudging the balance of Emotion vs. Rational.
There’s a delicate balance between “what is said” and “how it’s said,” or the rational vs. the emotional part of the Brand Personality. It’s important to have both — to be able to engage the audience with the emotional aspects of the organization’s Personality while still projecting the practicality of an organization that can contribute, and get things done. Also, once the team has captured the emotional reasons for people’s buying, then the rational reasons become powerful ways to close the sale. The bottom line is that you need both, just be careful not to go too far overboard one way or the other, either when setting the terms for the Brand Personality, or when carrying them out in the communications.
Mistake 4: Creating an idealized or unrealistic Personality.
Remember we’re talking authenticity here. We’re uncovering the best of what already exists, or can exist with a bit of polishing. You can use a real person as a template, consider which people are respected and rewarded in your company to determine which traits are valued, or even use cultural icons as a guide. Above all, don’t force it or create anything you won’t be able to sustain over the long haul.
Mistake 5: Creating traits the company can’t back up.
It may look good on the surface, but remember how intelligent customers are. Don’t promise anything the company can’t deliver. Make sure you can back it up.
Mistake 6: Creating traits that are difficult to apply to marketing materials and communications.
Here’s where we need to come back to the reason we’re doing this in the first place — to be able to communicate better with our audiences so they’ll connect emotionally with us. Try to develop the organization’s Brand Personality in a way that you’ll be able to apply it to your communications — some traits and terms are just too difficult to communicate effectively. Use words that clearly indicate a specific tone and attitude, so that when you’re judging the communications, you’ll be able to say, “This commercial needs to be funnier,” or “This copy needs to be more dynamic,” instead of, “I don’t know why, but I just don’t like it.”
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Branding is like “dressing” the company. If a company is like a person, then the process of creating Brand Personality is the equivalent of “dressing” that person. A person’s clothing, accessories, and demeanor are an expression of who they are. You can’t see the personality trait “rebellious,” but you can see a person’s wild haircut, punk rock t-shirt, facial piercings, and the way they carry themselves. And when you do, you will understand that you’re looking at a person who is fiercely individualistic, who tends to be rebellious. The way they walk, talk, and the things they say complete their brand.
Developed correctly, your Brand Personality can be a vital part of the outward, visible, audible, and touchable manifestation of what’s “inside” the company. The marketplace will experience your brand and believe that the company is what its “dressing” says it is — which is why it’s important to base the brand on Values, Character, and Personality in order to “dress” accordingly.
Think of the rebellious-looking individual mentioned earlier. What if, after experiencing the punk, facial-piercing personality of this person, the next time you saw him, he was in a business suit, talking seriously with a group of other people in business suits? Would you be totally trusting of him at that moment, or would you wonder what he was up to? In the exact same way, customers might distrust your company if your brand does not reflect the truth about who your company is and what it does — or if it’s inconsistent, so your brand truth is difficult to grasp.
Personality = distinctive individual qualities of a person, considered collectively (Webster). The totality of qualities and traits of character or behavior that are peculiar to a specific person (dictionary.com).
So, how do we avoid making these mistakes in our Brand Personality?
Think of the organization as a person. This is vital because people know how to talk to people, but this does not come naturally to organizations. Organizations are like crowds — crowds yell, they’re impersonal. Organizational instincts for survival are different than an individual’s, too, a person’s first instinct for survival is to connect with people.
Brand Personality can be very visible to customers, as it should become the way that everyone in the organization acts and speaks. It should become the guide for external and internal communications and all company interactions. If one of your organization’s Brand Personality traits is “friendly,” then you’ll be able to judge your communications — advertising, executive speeches, internal memos, website copy — for “friendliness.” If it doesn’t sound friendly, you’ll know it doesn’t fit your brand personality.
What to do instead.
Brand Personality can often be a sustainable point of differentiation for your company. Remember Dave Thomas of Wendy’s, or Steve Job’s leadership of Apple? Their strong personal personalities carried over as the Personality for the entire organization. If your organization has a strong leader, you can do this too. Most organizations, however, do just fine building a Personality out of the combined values of the people in the organization.
Gather your branding team and begin by visualizing your organization walking down the street. Don’t describe the head of the company, but have your leadership team describe what traits they see from their perspective. Do they see a man or woman? Is this person highly educated? What level — high school, university — what? Are they married, have kids, drive a car? What kind of car? Are they innovative? Charitable? Keep the suggestions coming. The goal is to get all the ideas out and begin to define the personality. Then, one by one, go through the ideas and whittle them down to the most authentic — remember to avoid the mistakes above. This personality is all part of the relationship you will have with your key stakeholders, accurately revealing the brand’s nature, strengths, and weaknesses.
Building brands is about delivering an authentic experience, not one that is faked. Once your Brand Personality is defined, you and your team will clearly understand the company’s true personality and how customers are reacting to it. Negative points can be worked on, bringing the brand into a brighter light.
Also published on Medium.