Brand Personality: Helpful Frameworks For Discovering Yours

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What is brand personality and why should you care about it?

Brand personality is what makes your business human in the eyes of your potential customers. It’s communicated through tone of voice, visuals, and even customer service policies. Anything you do to inform your audience what the experience is like to be your customer can benefit from conveying consistent personality traits. 

If your brand doesn’t have a defined personality, people will have a much harder time reaching the conclusion that you’re the one for them.

Consider this:

People purchase things from brands they like and relate to–it’s really just that simple. If people don’t have a clear sense of you, they’re just gonna keep on scrolling.

Inconsistent, generic brand messages with no real strategy or intention behind them aren’t going to get you anywhere–there’s just too much noise competing for your dream clients’ attention.

To put it plainly, when you define your brand personality, you give people a reason to choose you.

Here’s the good news:

This is one of the most FUN aspects of branding and it’s quite simple too! So let’s define what brand personality is and then dive into the frameworks you can use for defining yours.

Brand Personality Definition

Brand personality refers to human characteristics associated with a brand.

They’re expressed as adjectives that convey how you want people to perceive you (e.g. cheerful, youthful, dependable, friendly, responsible, sophisticated and so on).

It can also refer to demographic characteristics like gender, age, and social class. For example:

  • If Harley Davidson were a person, it would be a man. Victoria’s Secret, a woman.
  • Apple would be a young, hip, creative and Microsoft would be a mature professional.
  • Chanel would live in a mansion and TJ Maxx would live in a low-rent apartment.

If you think about your brand as a person with unique personality traits, you can begin to show up in a way that allows you to connect with your humans (the clients you want to attract) on an emotional level.

And that’s important because emotion is what drives decision-making, and that includes purchasing decisions.

Think about Apple customers. You know there’s no point in arguing the merits and benefits of purchasing a PC — for them, there is no substitute. Buying an Apple product says something about them. 

Apple’s brand personality enables its customers to express themselves–the ideal version of themselves–through the use of their brand.

Who do your dream clients aspire to be? How does your brand help them?

Further Reading: Understanding Customer Needs

Brand Personality is a Way to Drive Customer Preference and Differentiate

Your dream customers have infinite options for things to pay attention to

Each and every day they’re scrolling through social media and bombarded with thousands of brand messages–meanwhile, they’ve got to run to the grocery store, drop the kids off at soccer, and schedule an appointment for Lasik surgery. Busy, overwhelmed, and distracted, they simply can’t pay attention to everything.

A differentiation strategy is crucial if you want to break through the noise.

When you have a clear and consistent brand style and voice — which starts by defining your brand’s personality traits — you shorten the time it takes for people to recognize, remember, and pay attention to you.

And you have a lot of direct competition, too

Your dream clients are also comparing you to what your competitors have to offer and if they can’t tell the difference, they’ll probably choose the one with the lowest price.

Humanizing your brand is one way for you to distinguish yourself from your competitors as something more special and valuable than what others are offering.

We humans like to think we're logical, but never forget that it's emotions that drive your customers' decision to choose you.Click To Tweet

Brand Personality Enhances Your Brand Story

At the core of your brand story are the reasons why your customers should care about you.

  • What do you stand for?
  • What are you here to contribute to your tiny corner of the world and the people in it?
  • How do you do business differently than your competition?
  • What is the experience like to work with you?

The personality characteristics you choose to focus on must be rooted in your larger brand strategy.

Humans (and brands) all have underlying beliefs, values, core principles that guide them. Personality traits — the things we perceive on the surface — give us insight into who people are deep down.

Brand personality is really about personifying your brand in a way that has meaning to the people you wish to attract

If you’re not crystal clear about who your dream clients are and what they need to hear from you, I recommend working through the exercises in The Brand Story Blueprint as a first step.

How to Define Your Brand Personality

There are two main approaches to defining your brand personality, and a third method that combines the first two. There is no right answer — choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

Personally, I use the first method but many of my branding colleagues use the second.

The important thing to remember is your goal: to create a consistent tone of voice in your messages and to create a visual identity that’s in alignment with your personality. If you can do that, how you approach it doesn’t really matter.

Method #1: The Brand Personality Framework

I always find it’s helpful to use a framework and luckily for us, a Stanford researcher named Jennifer Aaker in her paper Dimensions of Brand Personality created one for us and it’s a great starting point.

Brand Personality Framework

Brand Personality Framework

Aakers’ model groups brand personalities into five broad categories:

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

You want to pick 3-5 adjectives (personality traits) you want to “own” when somebody thinks about your brand.

The adjectives (traits) you choose will fall under one of these five personality dimensions. For example, daring or adventurous go under excitement. Charming and feminine fall under sophistication and so on.

This simple framework can help you distinguish yourself from your competitors

For example, if you’re a virtual assistant, your main competitors may focus on competence — they’re all about reliability, hard work, and responsibility.

You might position yourself as the one who’s sincere – cheerful, casual, and relatable.

Yes, of course, you’re also reliable, hard-working and responsible… it’s about choosing specific traits you’ll put forward and lead with.

Choosing specific qualities to focus on (rather than every trait you possess, the complex human creature that you are), allows you to create a powerful value proposition:

“I’m the one that’s __________.”

Being able to fill in that blank means you’ve provided your potential customers with a clear and easy-to-understand differentiator and they’ll be able to base their choice on the qualities they feel more attracted to and aligned with.

Brand Personality Quiz

Brand Personality Quiz

You’ve chosen your personality traits… now what?

Rather than brand personality traits, I like to call these helpful adjectives “brand anchors.” I’m a visual person and this helps me burn it into my subconscious that I’m supposed to actually do something with these words:

Everything you do, say, write, share and even how you present yourself (your brand visuals) should be “anchored by” these adjectives.

This is what goes on in my crazy head. The graphic below represents the way I approach branding my business and how I anchor these characteristics to everything I say, create, and do. This little metaphor helps me to be consistent.

Brand Personality

Brand Personality Anchors

Brand Anchors Example

Using Aakar’s framework, I clearly fall under the “sincerity” category. I’m not wild and zany, or tough and rugged, unfortunately I’m not glamorous or fancy, and while I like to think of myself as intelligent and hard-working, I don’t quite qualify for the “competent” category — which doesn’t mean I’m not competent, it’s that I don’t lead with this quality.

Because a lot of my clients have described the process of working with me as fun, I wanted to convey friendliness in my branding. For example, rather than corporate blue — appropriate for a ‘competent’ brand — I use bright, playful colors in my brand visuals. Cheerful, but not so over-the-top as to spill over into the “excitement” category,

Method #2: Brand Archetypes

Another way to personify your brand is to choose an archetype. This is a model based on Carl Jung’s theory that people tend to use symbolism to understand concepts. He defined 12 archetypes that represent different groupings of characteristics, aspirations, values, and attitudes.

The question to ask yourself is, which one of these identities will YOUR dream clients relate to most?

Brand Personality Archetypes

Brand Personality Archetypes

The Social Types
want to connect with others

THE REGULAR GUY/GAL
Goal: To fit in
Wants their customers to feel a sense of belonging
Traits: Casual, down-to-earth, folksy, guy/gal next door, supportive, solid virtues, real, democratic, equality, community, lack of pretense
Famous examples: IKEA, Visa, Levi’s

THE LOVER
Goal: Intimacy
Wants their customer to find love and connection
Traits: Romantic, sensual, passionate, warm, intimate, giving
Famous examples: Chanel, Victoria’s Secret

THE JESTER
Goal: to enjoy life
Wants their customers to have more joy and laughter in their daily lives
Traits: Fun, light-hearted, quirky, zany, irreverent, humorous, enjoyment, never boring
Famous examples: M&Ms, Skittles

The Order Types
want to give the world structure

THE CREATOR
Goal: To innovate
Wants their customers to believe in what’s possible
Traits: Imaginative, creative, artistic, entrepreneurial, inventive, non-conformist, visionary, innovative, non-conforming
Famous examples: Adobe, Crayola Lego

THE RULER
Goal: Control (in order to lead)
Wants their customers to feel more organized, stable, secure
Traits: Organized, leader, role model, responsible, controls the chaos, boss
Famous examples: Microsoft, Mercedez-Benz, Rolex

THE CAREGIVER
Goal: To serve others
Wants their customers to feel understood and protected
Traits: Maternal, generous, compassionate, caring, nurturing, parental, empathy, selfless
Famous examples: UNICEF, Johnson & Johnson, Heinz

The Ego Types
want to change the world

THE MAGICIAN
Goal: Power (to make magical things happen)
Wants to make their customers’ dreams come true
Traits: Inspirational, idealistic, charismatic, visionary, imaginative, spiritual
Famous examples: Apple, Disney

THE HERO
Goal: Mastery (in order to make the world a better place)
Wants to help their customers: by rescuing them from their troubles
Traits: Bold, honorable, confident, strong, courageous, inspirational
Famous examples: Nike, FedEx

THE REBEL
Goal: Liberation
Wants to help their customers break free from the status quo, overturn what’s not working 
Traits: Wild, change-maker, rebellious, rule-breaker, revolution, edgy, misfit, outrageous, radical, free, disruptor, shocking
Famous examples: Harley Davidson, Virgin

The Freedom Types
want to find paradise

THE INNOCENT
Goal: Happiness 
Wants to help their customers feel great on the inside
Traits: Positive, kind, good, pure, simple, young, loyal, optimistic, trustworthy, moral, reliable, honest, good virtues, nostalgic, sees the good in everything, faith, does the right thing
Famous examples: Coca-cola, Dove

THE EXPLORER
Goal: Freedom
Wants to help their customers have new experiences, adventures, discoveries
Traits: Adventurous, independent, pioneering, individualism, wanderlust
Famous examples: REI, Corona, The North Face

THE SAGE
Goal: To understand
Wants to help their customers by sharing knowledge
Traits: Wise, visionary, knowledgeable, intelligent, trusted source of information, thoughtful, mentoring, advisor, guru
Famous examples: Oprah, Google, NPR, Quora

Method #3: Combining Personality Dimensions & Archetypes

By now you’re probably wondering if you can combine these two methods. It just so happens that some researchers set out to do just that! In Advertising between Archetype and Brand Personality, the authors combined Aaker and Jung’s work and the result turned out like this:

Archetypes and brand personality

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Bechter, Clemens & Farinelli, Giorgio & Daniel, Rolf-Dieter & Frey, Michael. (2016). Advertising between Archetype and Brand Personality. 

The personality traits and dimensions they chose were subjective, so this means if you want to use an archetype and combine it with some brand anchors, you can create your own framework to follow. Just use your best judgment when choosing the traits that fit your archetype.

Be Who You Actually Are

An important thing to remember is that these exercises intend to help you create a consistent voice and style so people can understand what you’re about and connect with you on a deeper level.

But it’s not about strategizing ways to trick people into believing something about you that’s just not true and that’s not necessary anyway. Your greatest competitive advantage is there’s only one YOU. It’s just that people tend to see their personality traits as “flaws” and they downplay them.

What do they do instead? They look around at what everyone else is doing and copy it. This tendency is called social compliance and you must resist following what everyone else is doing if you want to stand out. (See: What This Experiment About Murder Teaches Us About Branding).

Maybe you’re…

  • Adventurous and spirited but you’re a financial planner, so you think you need be corporate, responsible, dependable.
  • Sophisticated and feminine but you work in tech so you think you need to be tough and masculine.
  • Down-to-earth, warm, and laid-back but you’re in fashion so you think you need to be glamorous and refined.

Branding is not trickery. It’s about showing up as authentically as you can so people know what to expect.

Now let me ask you this:

  • Who do you think adventurous and spirited people would rather work with when they need a financial planner?
  • Who do you think sophisticated women will want to work with when they need technical expertise?
  • Who do you think laid-back people will choose when they need fashion advice?

The beautiful silver lining about having so much competition these days is that you have a huge opportunity to get narrow and worry only about finding your people. They notice us when we’re showing them exactly who we are.

People like to work with people they like and relate to. Your people will get you, so don’t try to be something you’re not -- that’s only going to backfire and attract the wrong people to you.Click To Tweet

Communicating Your Brand Personality

Now that you’ve chosen your personality traits, you need a strategy to communicate that personality with consistency. You’ll do that in three ways:

  1. Visual Identity: This is your logo, your fonts, your color palette, and the image and design style used in your marketing materials.
  2. Brand Voice: This is your tone of the language you use–how you say things; the words you use and the ones you don’t.
  3. Actions: Basically, everything you do contributes to your customers perceiving you in one way or another, make sure your actions are intentional and in alignment with the personality you define.

Visual Identity

Once you have your brand anchors, you can make choices about your visuals–your graphics, brand colors, and so on—so they’re in alignment with the traits you want to become known for. They include…

  • Your Logo
  • Color Palette
  • Fonts
  • Visual Style Rules
  • Image Style Rules
  • Design guidelines

(Check out my Font Personality Swipe file with 75 Google Font combinations and a brand personality exercises to find the perfect fit for your brand!)

Brand Voice

Your brand anchors can also help you create a consistent tone of voice in your brand copy and marketing messages, including…

  • Naming strategy
  • Tagline
  • Tone of Voice
  • The words you’ll use and the ones you won’t
  • Editorial guidelines

Actions

This is where people fall off when it comes to branding–thinking that their brand visuals and voice are all that’s required. But keep in mind that people’s perceptions of you are largely based on experience. Your actions are brand promises fulfilled. How will you walk the walk in your…

  • Customer service policies
  • Product and service offerings
  • Processes — onboarding, offboarding, etc.

Your brand personality is the promise, but you must live up to it in everything you do. The idea is that when your work together is through, people will automatically describe you with the same personality characteristics you defined in your brand strategy.

In Summary

The real magic happens when you convey a consistent personality in your branding — your brand voice, visual identity, and even your actions. WIth consistency, people start to “get to know you,” which leads to trusting and choosing you.

Having a distinct personality means you’re not just some anonymous, generic company offering the same things a lot of other companies are offering. You become known and remembered as the one that’s ________[insert personality traits here].

Don’t forget to grab my Brand Personality Adjective Swipe file below!

Was this helpful? Have a question? Hit me up in comments!

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