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3 Approaches to Defining Your Brand Personality

Personality is such a vague thing to define. Building your brand personality traits can seem confusing, and most people don’t really know where to start. But if you find yourself being responsible to manage situations like this, here’s what you can expect from the process. By the end, I hope you feel confident to manage this part of the rebranding process with insight and intelligence. Here are 3 ways to approach personality traits.

Brand personality traits come in many different processes. You can start visually, you can start verbally, or you can start with an archetype.

Everything we talk about here is informed by the brand’s values. If you don’t have that, you won’t understand what the brand naturally does well. You also won’t quite understand the “why” behind the brand and what the brand’s leadership is attempting to live out. What do they naturally do that helps them to live out the brand? What about their personalities? And how do they interact with each other?

Culture of Trust

The best brands have an internal culture of trust. When you have this trust, individual personalities come out. When there is trust, people say things that are maybe just a little bit risky. They’re able to show some of their personality and then hand that off to others, who then process it through their personality and throw it back at them. These kinds of interactions, within the company, show you what a brand’s personality actually is.

When you rebrand, you’re writing the definition. In other words, one of the effects of a well-executed rebrand is that you end up capturing all this and then making it more explicit and easy to follow.

Why do you want to do this? Because it makes you scalable. That’s really the answer. But if we want to unpack that just a little bit, we’re talking about taking your personality and sharing it with more people more accurately, making interactions more powerful and able to get to the point a lot quicker. This also, from a scalability standpoint, helps you to delegate all creative work, all customer service, all front-line staff, and can even help you understand how to plan and run corporate meetings.

Archetype

So let’s start with the brand archetype. You might call this a “celebrity-minded” thinker. Commonly used, a brand archetype is a well-known figure that captures the brand’s personality. If, for instance, you have a brand that is intelligent and thoughtful, yet able to make decisions and take a strong stance on things, you might think of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. If your brand is a little more rebellious and not afraid to make an enemy or two in order to inspire others to find their own path, you might go with Billy Idol.

I say that this definition is “commonly used,” because we sometimes use this loosely in advertising/branding. For you purists out there, this originated as a Jungian concept. Karl Jung defined 12 archetypes, and he used this system as a theoretical framework by which he understood (or thought he understood) humanity.

A useful exercise might be finding television personalities that you think your brand represents. Watch Oceans 11 or some other team movie with well-defined characters and see if you can figure out which character you are. This will give you a good start in figuring out your brand archetype, which can then be used to build your visual and verbal guidelines.

Verbal Guidelines

If you’re more verbally inclined, for example, maybe you’re inspired by the values you’ve already defined, you might start with verbal guidelines instead of an archetype. The verbal approach begins with values and the personality traits of the company’s leadership.

One thing that’s helpful in all these approaches is validation research post-values. In other words, once you have built your list of values, did you vet that with others in the company? Have you gotten agreement and qualitative hints about who the brand is and what it is from others who might know?

In one case, we developed a brand for a CEO who really takes care of the people inside the company. He might be like a reluctant politician that you’d really want to vote for because he’s genuine and has been involved in the community, showing real leadership and care. We’ve all seen this guy on TV, and we all love him. He’s authentic, especially compared with others who are a little bit inauthentic. He holds his ground because he believes in doing what’s right.

When starting with verbal guidelines, it’s sometimes easier to just to think about the actual personality traits that come out of the brand. It’s what we talked about earlier. Here’s another way to ask this question: How does the leadership talk to each other and then how does that translate to what the people in the company do?

So you take these personality traits and then you list them and describe them and talk about what they mean. Then you test them with other people using these questions as examples:

  • First off, does it seem true to you? Does it pass your sniff test?
  • And then does it resonate with other people in the company?
  • What kinds of exceptions can you see with those personality traits?
  • Is there a better word? Are the words literally true?
    For example, what if we said we were at a generous company because we pay our employees above market rate? But then we don’t give a lot to charity, and we don’t foster a generous culture in the organization. If that’s the case, it might be difficult to really claim generosity. Because you could have other motives. You could be paying more for your employees just because you know you need to because it sucks working there.

On the other hand, if you pay market rate to your employees but are generous in your praise and in career opportunities for them, sending them to conferences and helping them to excel, it may not matter how much you give to charity. You are creating an organization that is generous in a very literal and felt way. If someone says you’re not generous at that point, they’re just being nitpicky.

Start Visually

Maybe the archetype or the verbal guidelines aren’t your thing, and you’d rather start visually. This may mean going to Pinterest and finding some brands that seem to reflect your personality. What would our brand wear in jeans? What would our brand wear as a watch? Does our brand even have a watch? Would we carry an iPhone or an Android? What kind of car would the brand drive? What kinds of restaurants would the brand go to? if there was an earthquake, what would the brand do and care about? Does the brand like to go out and party or does it like to stay in and watch Netflix?

You can find these images in Pinterest and then build a board. Once you’ve done that, you may actually move to verbal guidelines and play the two back and forth.

Next Steps

So what’s next? Once you’ve explored and discussed your brand’s personality, you can move to mood boards, where the brand starts to come to life visually. If the Pinterest board is a collection of things that represent you, the mood board is the first time you see those things actually become owned by you. And that’s exciting.

Usually, you would see three mood boards with the brand’s personality and values taken in three different directions. You would have potentially three color palettes, three typeface choices, and then three layouts and three icon ideas. Actually, you wouldn’t have three layouts. That’s really for the next step. Visual guidelines.

After that, you’ll move to all the design work. And by design work, I’m talking about the logo and visual guidelines.

Your Inclination Determines Your Approach

Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s right. But sometimes the right approach is the one that gets you inspired to begin. Rebrands, for the uninitiated, can be tough. I’ll take any advantage I can get on the way to a great rebrand.

The brand’s personality matters because it’s the face have the organization. But it’s not just the face, it’s the expression, it’s the specific kinds of jokes the brand would laugh at. What kind of car or truck is it?

A brand’s personality is the final step between your brand and a quicker, more trusted connection with an audience who now sees a brand it wants to do business with. A brand they feel they can trust.

It’s the single best approach to making money by being yourself. Personality helps them to get to know someone a lot quicker. The more you show your personality and the more vulnerable you can be, the more the hard-to-serve clients will steer clear of you, and the best clients, the ones that really appreciate who you are, will seek you out.

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