Brand humanisation: using brand personality to improve customer relationships
We are naturally drawn to people with charisma, people with a personality that’s engaging, entertaining and brings a smile to our lips. And the same goes for brands.
It’s the brands that manage to create a well-defined and distinctive personality – consistent with their values – which we connect with and buy most often. Today, brands are genuine influencers that might support the causes we hold dear, use an entertaining tone of voice that makes us smile when we’re feeling down, or become that friend we can no longer stand because they have ideas that are too different from our own. The most important thing is to be consistent with who you are. In the age of social networks and web 3.0, having a clear identity is key to maintaining a strong relationship with customers.
What brand personality is and why it’s important for a brand
A brand’s personality can be summed up as all the emotional, intellectual and behavioural models that characterise it and remain consistent over time.
If your brand were a person, what would it be like?
Just like people, companies have a physical appearance, experience emotions and think. The brand identity prism devised by Jean-Noel Kapferer – an influential scholar of international marketing – analyses these aspects, breaking them down into six key traits: physique, personality, culture, relationship, self-image and reflection.
As Ben Harmanus (International Brand Strategy Lead at HubSpot) explains:
“A brand’s personality is a set of human traits that define a brand. These traits set one brand apart from others, and make it unique.”
And attractive, I would add, because attraction happens when a customer begins a relationship with a brand. A relationship that, to last, requires loyalty and consistency; in fact, 86% of consumers believe that authenticity is a key factor in deciding which brand to choose. After all, once customers have performed an act of loyalty, like making a purchase, they expect brands to remain true to themselves. This is especially important to Millennials and members of Generation Z, who want brands to care about more than just making money. And they won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere if they believe a brand falls short in this area.
So, with the above in mind, there are three reasons that an SME should focus on building its own unique brand personality:
- Differentiation: personality sets a brand apart from the competition and allows it to sell its products in different ways, depending on the brand’s characteristics.
- Brand awareness: a clear brand personality significantly improves its positioning in the minds of consumers, making it recognisable and memorable.
- Loyalty: an attractive personality will improve relationships with customers, increasing conversion rates over the long term.
Types of brand personality
Back in 1997, the behavioural psychologist and Stanford University professor Jennifer Aaker conducted a series of in-depth studies into how brand personalities are constructed. Aaker devised a taxonomy that she called the brand personality framework. It describes the personality traits of a brand based on five main dimensions:
- Sincerity: being sincere should be every brand’s goal. However, as a dimension of brand personality, sincerity refers to firms that are healthy, honest, cheerful and “down to earth”. Brands of this type are often found in sectors like food, security and hospitality.
- Excitement: brands in this dimension attract a younger audience by being bold, energetic, creative and cutting edge. Companies like Red Bull, Nike and Disney fall into this category, because they convey feelings of wonder, amazement and excitement.
- Competence: reliability, intelligence and success are the distinctive traits of brands in this third dimension. These are companies that customers know they can rely on because they’re leaders in their industries. Examples include Microsoft, UPS and Volvo.
- Sophistication: fashion and luxury brands are part of this category. They are aimed at customers who are very discerning and concerned with social status.
- Ruggedness: tough and adventurous are the adjectives that best describe brands that stand out because of their ruggedness. Sectors where this is an asset include construction, sport and leisure.
You’ve undoubtedly felt attracted to one brand rather than another at some point in your life. Now you’ve seen these five dimensions of brand personality, you’ll hopefully better understand why you felt this preference. And, more importantly, you should now be able to better define the personality of your own brand.
How to build a strong and effective brand personality
Let’s start by laying the foundations for your brand personality. Where to begin? The first step is to consider the very essence of your business. Take your firm’s raison d’être, think about the back story and values that set you apart, and you’ll get to your brand’s soul. Boiling these down to the essentials will help you to identify the core values that guide the brand’s every action. These will help you to explore the distinctive traits that make up your personality. It’s normal to have lots of adjectives at the start, but it’s advisable to narrow down the list to a maximum of five characteristics to avoid confusion and keep the direction clear.
Once you’ve reached this point, four more steps remain to clearly define your brand personality:
- Look at people: a brand like Patagonia would get nowhere if it decided to target car lovers instead of outdoorsy types who like adventure. Once you’ve defined your core values, you need to focus on your target audience, understanding their preferences, the expectations they have of their purchases and the needs that inform these. The more in depth you go in this phase, the easier it will be to create an attractive and solid personality. Ask yourself questions like: “What do my customers do in their spare time? What are their likes and dislikes? Do they prefer luxury goods or affordable products? Are their buying decisions driven by logic or emotion? What do they worry about?”.
- Think of the brand as a human being: once you’ve identified the best target, assess your personality. Think about what it would be like to meet your brand in person. How do you imagine it? What does it look like? Does its voice sound deep and rugged or soft and sensual? What does it talk about most? What does the brand worry about? What excites it? These questions may seem ridiculous, but this exercise in introspection will enable you to describe in detail who the brand will be and how it will act when the key moment arrives: contact with the public.
- Create guidelines: Over time, your business will encounter numerous challenges that will lead to changes in its strategy and organisation. That’s why, once you’ve outlined your brand’s personality, it’s important to create guidelines that set out in black and white how it will behave in different situations. It’s a sort of manual that will inform every current and future aspect of the business. From the logo to tone of voice, from the font used in marketing materials to the voice used for answer phone messages, every aspect must remain consistent across all channels. And in this “personality manual”, it’s also important to describe who you don’t want to be to ensure that you don’t stray from the character that you initially created.
- Don’t stand still: you should carry out market research periodically to see whether the brand personality that you devised is working, or whether there are some things that need fixing. You’ll always find the best insights in feedback from your target audience: they will tell you if you’re being too aggressive in your marketing or you’re overlooking something that means you don’t fully connect with them.
Putting time and effort into brand personality is something you should do as soon as possible if you haven’t already. At stake is the success of your business, one based on authentic, healthy and profitable relationships.