Does your brand need a personality review?

Charlie Rose

As a Senior Strategy Consultant, Charlie leads brand strategy and brand architecture projects for the Melbourne arm of independent brand consultancy Principals. With more than 10 years experience in the branding and communication industry, he is a passionate collaborator who combines strategic rigour and creative thinking. Recent brands he has worked with include Australia Post, Carsales, CSIRO, AGL, Australian Unity, Beyond Blue, Transurban and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. He is also a contributor on the subject of brand strategy at the Melbourne Accelerator Program and Code for Australia.

Every brand has personality. While many are dull or unremarkable, the best brands imprint themselves onto our collective consciousness with indelible personalities.

Powershop is defiant, McKinsey is proudly elite and Channel 10 is cheeky. These leading brands know who they are and consistently communicate with a distinctive tone of voice. But not all brands have such noticeable personalities.

Brand personality is defined by a set of traits, typically three or four, which enable more consistent and expressive communications across paid, earned and owned channels. When done well, brand personality is the key to creating an experience that matches your promise in a way that’s consistent, authentic and distinctively you.

Yet despite its power, too often brand personality is neglected by marketing experience teams. So how can you tell if your brand needs to reassess or even establish a personality?

Here are some signs to look out for:

Personality isn’t core to your brand strategy

Brand personality helps businesses stand out and improve customer preference through human connection and emotional appeal. The best personality traits are an authentic reflection of organisational ambition, culture and strategy.

As a result, the personality of your brand needs to be defined and co-created with the people at the heart of the business, informed by insight into how to connect with the brand’s target communities in a way that differs from competitors. The sweet spot is being ambitious about the brand’s potential while remaining true to its culture.

It’s vital to look at the personality traits together, ensuring they align with brand strategy and work as a coherent set that describes someone real and authentic.

Your team, agency or organisation can’t consistently define your personality

For many organisations, brand personality is an afterthought. At best, it is integral to marketing teams when writing copy and front and centre in agency briefing packs. At worst, personality is overlooked, forgotten and not informing content. Too often, brand traits are an under-utilised list of words that are plucked from nowhere.

Not sure if this describes the state of your brand personality? There’s an easy way to find out: ask your team how they would define the brand. If they hesitate, chances are, you’ve got some work to do.

Your business lacks the tools it needs to deliver personality consistently

In the age of customer experience, brand personality needs to go beyond communication and inform all physical and digital customer interactions, enabling the whole team to create a consistent and impactful presence across all communications and experience touchpoints. The tools required to achieve this varies across teams and disciplines.

For writers, a helpful tool is guidelines that detail how the tone of voice should adjust based on audiences and communications. The best guidelines look at areas such as energy, attitude and humour and have a clear position on how they work for the business. Coupled with tips and examples, this is all writers need to write distinctively. 

For communication designers and agency partners, a set of rules that give guidance on how each of the personality traits are expressed visually is key. These should clearly answer questions such as how personality applies to the brand assets you want to invest in, how personality dials up or down for each identified audience and which personality trait is most relevant for each type of communication.

For experience and UX teams, design principles are required that align with the brand’s personality. This is a smart and practical way to align the output of the user experience and communication teams to ensure the brand delivers and exceeds customer expectations distinctively.

Setting all of this up will enable teams to go beyond generic principles such as simplicity, efficiency and ease and create a brand experience that’s packed with personality.

Your communications look or sound like your competitors

Personality informs a brand’s tone of voice and writing style – a component of brand identity that unifies communication and experience, often in ways channels and visual elements cannot. Tone of voice helps to align and differentiate communications, whether it’s a social media post, annual report or big budget campaign.

Tone of voice is a way for brands to tap into the human traits we associate with people, to signal a brand’s intention around the type of experience a person will have with it and the kind of company it seeks to keep. Whether it’s ScoMo’s daggy suburban approachability or Nigella Lawson’s natural warmth, these tonal cues bring attitude to the sharply defined rational messages that the best marketing teams excel at.

Tone of voice, led by brand personality, packages the proposition with an emotive edge, drives desirability through relatability.

If your brand is operating in a category where competitors are functionally similar or there are strong sector conventions, sounding different is a way to stand out. If you sound like everyone else, it could be time for a rethink.

Your personality isn’t able to be used in setting the tone for frontline staff

Brand personality also has the ability to be tailored for spoken communications and adopted by customer service teams. It’s vital that when you finalise your personality traits you test them with your frontline staff to ensure the tone of voice can be brought into every conversation, to make a first impression or a lasting connection.

For example, Qantas is famous for its warmth and authentic Australian spirit, but this needs to be consistently applied across all of the brand’s communications from letters, to menus, social content and promotions. Doing so harnesses the power of personality to create a consistent yet distinctive experience that helps set the brand apart in a hotly contested market.

Investing in brand personality can deliver tangible and real return for any business. Not only is it the quickest way of improving the overall quality of your communications and experience, relatively inexpensively, but being a more human brand, more of the time, will engender trust and preference with customers. And it will go a long way to surprising and delighting people that meet your brand.

Tags: marketing strategy, brand strategy

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