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What is Brand Personality? Expert Insights From Our Head of Brand, Jo

In this latest blog post, we’re diving head first into brand personality as we sit down with our Head of Brand, Jo, to discuss what brand personality means, how brands build it, and some real-world examples of great businesses that show off their personality well in their communications.

In this latest blog post, we’re diving head first into brand personality as we sit down with our Head of Brand, Jo, to discuss what brand personality means, how brands build it, and some real-world examples of great businesses that show off their personality well in their communications.

Jo reid LR

Jo Reid, Head of Brand

How Would You Define ‘Brand Personality’ And Its Importance In Today's Competitive Market?

“A brand's personality works the same way as a human. It’s the total of how you represent yourself, how you speak, and the ‘face’ you put out into the world. It’s a mix of your conscious and subconscious actions.

Your brand will give away little signs about who they are as a brand in unguarded moments - personality is conveyed inadvertently as well as by design (even the best poker players have 'tells'). It is important that a brand's personality, when allowed to show in unplanned moments, is consistent with that conveyed elsewhere as an overall perception is formed from any and all encounters a consumer may have with it. This means that personality is something that needs as careful curation as positioning, values or application of visual identity. Social media presence is an area in which to be particularly vigilant: when multiple different people are effectively representing the brand online they are also showcasing its personality. Everyone playing a part in these comms must be aware of their subconscious moments and make sure they have a clear understanding of what the personality is and what they want it to be to fit in with the whole personality of what they want to convey.

These unguarded points are really important in how your brand's personality is perceived. For example, with a brand's social media presence, multiple people usually represent the brand online and showcase its personality. Everyone playing a role in the comms must be aligned with the overall personality of the brand.

I think some people confuse personality with a brand being charismatic. A brand personality can be charismatic, but they can also have a personality that is not charismatic and considers itself to be quiet, considered, and modest, almost the opposite of charismatic.”

What Factors Contribute To Shaping A Brand Personality?

“The factors contributing to shaping a brand's personality are primarily internal to the brand itself. It's rooted in the brand's sense of self, encompassing its desired identity and the values it upholds. These internal elements play a pivotal role in defining the personality and guiding how the brand wishes to be perceived by its audience.

Additionally, external factors such as the competitive environment and the personalities of other brands within the sector can also influence the brand's personality to some extent. In the same way that people consciously and subconsciously adjust and change aspects of their personality, playing up certain things and playing down others, in different groups and settings. Brands need to be able to flex their personality to fin the best space for them in their sector.

However, the most significant influence stems from what people expect the brand to represent and the role it plays in their lives.

It’s very easy to confuse personality, values, and tone of voice as we use these interchangeably, although they are all different. Your personality is innate—who you are as a brand, how you react to things, and the brand's unguarded moments. Values are much more rational, the things that you think are important. Your tone of voice is how you speak. They are all interconnected, and the best way to build a strong and trusted brand is to leverage all of those things both separately and collectively.

Ultimately, every aspect of the brand, from its core values to its relationships with its audience, must resonate authentically and genuinely. Attempting to impose a personality that does not align with the brand's essence can result in it being perceived as disingenuous.”

To What Extent Do You Need To Ensure Consistency Across All Brand Touchpoints When It Comes To Personality?

“Some people take consistency to mean it’s got to be the same everywhere all the time, but when it comes to brand personality, this is not the case. Being consistent and being the same are slightly different things. Being consistent means being true to a set of personality features but not necessarily demonstrating all of them all the time - a brand can pick and choose which features are appropriate to a touchpoint or scenario and in what combination. Human personalities are never linear and able to be described with one adjective - in any moment we bring different aspects of our personality to the fore and brands need to work in the same way. They need to draw from a bank of personality attributes but apply the right ones at the right time as people will want something different from brands at different moments. So a brand's personality has to have enough stretch within it to be able to present slightly differently according to the circumstance, environment or needs of its customers. It’s got to be a flexible and evolving thing. I always think of brand personality like a guitar. You can play multiple different chords or single notes, but always on the same strings and that's exactly how we need to look at brand personality.

So in answer to your question, we don’t have to be consistent in the traditional sense. Of course, you want to keep that same similar feeling for your brand, but depending on the touchpoint, time, or environment, you may not want it to be identical; you may want to emphasise or downplay certain things at different times.”

How Do You Identify And Define The Target Audiences' Preferences And Values And Align Them With The Brands Personality?

“The first thing to remember is that you don’t want to shape your brand’s personality to only meet the consumer’s needs, preferences or values. Of course, you may need to adjust your personality to empathise with their preferences and needs to be successful, but you cannot force a personality without it feeling fake. Your brand's personality needs to come naturally and from the brand's sense of self.

It's key to understand what the audience wants your brand to be like, by listening to what they say about you and observing how they interact with you. You may want to do this by looking at other brands in your industry and seeing how they interact or by observing consumer behaviour around your brand and others. However, this should never replace what comes from within the brand and what it seeks to be and feels it can be otherwise, it will come across as disingenuous.”

How Does Brand Personality Influence Consumer Perception, Loyalty And Engagement?

“It’s crucial to remember that brand personality isn’t the only thing that shapes consumer perception, loyalty, and engagement; it's a mixture of many components. I think there are many examples where consumers have had positive perceptions, been loyal to and engaged with brands that don’t seem to have very much personality at all, in the same way they can identify with celebrities and other people in their lives.

Personality isn’t everything, but it is absolutely important - it can also have a negative effect. A brand that doesn’t behave in a way consumers like, doesn’t understand its audience’s world and frame of reference, that doesn’t attempt to speak to relate to them on their level may be seen to have negative personality attributes that will put off their audience. But equally, a brand with a strong personality that reflects what the target audience finds important can make its audience engage with it and encourage brand loyalty, even if there are other areas where the brand is less perfect.

Personality can influence loyalty if it is applied with consistency, so the audience knows what to expect from the brand and feels comfortable with it. Crucially it’s important to not come across as disingenuous. If a brand looks like they’re trying too hard to put on a personality that doesn’t chime with other things that it is, does or believes, just to grab attention, it can actually become a bit of a turn-off and be seen as trying too hard. If a brand has a really dominant personality that is clearly being put on, this can make the audience question whether the brand is trustworthy.”

What Strategies Do You Use To Communicate A Brand Personality?

“The most important thing is to make sure that everybody that is working on brand comms has the same understanding of what that personality is and that it is always present and understood at the start of any process. Whether it's creating a TV commercial or a smaller social campaign, it needs to start with an understanding of what the personality of the brand is, which must be clearly communicated to everyone who uses it.

However, it’s not just across marketing channels and campaigns; it needs to be included in every single touchpoint that consumers have with the brand. Communicating a brand's personality through marketing channels is actually quite easy, as we have tools such as brand guidelines, style guides, books, and all those sorts of things that are the basis of what the brand does. However, ensuring everyone involved in delivering or representing the brand across more disparate, further removed and less controllable touchpoints e.g. in independent retail environments or through influencers is much harder, so consideration needs to be given to the sort of tools that might help them stay aligned with activity elsewhere.”

Can You Give Us An Example Of A Brand That Has A Successful And Distinct Personality?

“It’s important to note that there is a difference between brand personality and campaign personality, and I think sometimes these two are easily confused. For example, I am not sure exactly what Specsavers’ brand personality is but their campaign personality is slightly irreverent and humorous, poking fun at the absurdity of life, which is very appealing to the audience. I imagine this represents part of their brand personality and that this has more expert, serious and efficient dimensions to it too. But it chooses to use certain parts of it in communications and other parts in store but with just enough cross-over between the two to build a picture of what the brand overall is like.

Specsavers advertising

I really like the Barbican as they have a strong sense of who they are and have a really uncompromising personality to the extent that if they came to life, you could imagine what they’d be like. You may not necessarily like them as a person if they were real, but they have a sense of bravery and willingness to be different, and I think this is clearly evident in everything they do, from their communications to their programming. Everything they put on and even the building itself has a really strong sense of personality, so like them or not, their brand personality is strong, clear, and it's absolutely true to what it believes, what it is, and what it's always been.

Another brand that shows its personality well is Sky Arts. Again, it’s that feeling that if they were a person, you’d know what they’d be like. A lot of the big brands, like Apple and John Lewis, also have personalities, and clearly there's something in them that makes them successful. None of these examples feels forced or imposed; it all comes from within the brand itself.”

Looking Ahead, Are There Any Trends OR Shifts You Foresee In The World Of Branding?

“I think in the world today, it's getting harder to control a brand's personality with the rise of influencers and other voices on social media, all of which are part of representing a brand publicly and not necessarily in ways that are controlled or controllable. There must increasingly be cases where a brand's personality has evolved in a direction that it hasn’t necessarily planned because it has become confused with the personality of the influencer or channel.

There is also another risk, which is the tendency for brands to water down their personality, particularly if they have that edgy side to them. There are still many brave brands that are true to themselves and act as they want to (Hooch is a great example of this). But in a world where people are more empowered to call out things they don’t like, agree with or that make them feel uncomfortable, some brands may start to play it safe and tone things down, in order to avoid criticism in order to not lose respect, appeal or to be rejected and cancelled.

The challenge is to be consistent while also being multifaceted and adaptable. It’s important for brands to not take themselves too seriously and know they can poke fun at themselves to be relatable to their audience. Remember, brand personality isn’t a substitute for anything; it needs to work alongside other things such as your values, proposition and tone of voice. Being very clear on all these things, being authentic to the internal brand, and tying them together nicely is what will make a successful brand.”

When it comes to branding, it’s not one size fits all, and there are a lot of moving parts to make up a successful brand. If you want to dive deeper into the world of branding, you can head over to our blogs to find out more.


Specsavers from Campaign Live

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