Brand Personalities Are Like Snowflakes

Who wants to spend time with someone who is so boring that he’s described as having no personality? Maybe it’s better to be a jerk because at least you’ll be interesting. Having a personality is equally helpful to brands, especially in the digital age.

Not all brands have, or even should have, a strong, distinctive personality, but those brands that do have a significant advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd, having an on brand message, and supporting a relationship with customers. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like the human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.

Enhancing Self-Expression Benefits

People express their own or idealized selves in part by the brands that they buy and use, especially when the brands are socially visible and have a personality. Such a brand is a badge that tells others what you value and how you live, and, more importantly, reaffirms to yourself what is important in your life.

Using an Apple computer expresses for some a non-corporate, creative self, based in part on the perception that the Apple brand’s personality is irreverent, creative and young, and challenges convention. The use of Betty Crocker expresses the home/mother/nurturing side of some of its users because “Betty Crocker-as-person” is a mother figure: a traditional, small-town, all-American person who cares about cooking and about her family. Wearing the Nike brand reflects “Nike-as-person”: someone who is exciting, provocative, spirited, cool, innovative and aggressive, and into health and fitness. Being a Patagonia fan expresses a passion for the environment and for sustainability. Being a Dove user reaffirms a belief in real inner beauty.

Providing the Basis for a Relationship

A brand personality can help build an understanding among the brand’s company, and can communicate internally, about a brand-customer relationship that can suggest programs and be the basis of brand loyalty.

For example, consider the following relationship metaphors: A well-liked and -respected family member—a warm, sentimental, family-oriented, traditional personality—would match brands like Hallmark, Hershey’s, John Deere and Campbell’s. A person whom you respect as a teacher, minister or business leader—someone who is accomplished, talented and competent—is like IBM or The Wall Street Journal. A companion for an outdoor adventure—an athletic, rugged and outdoorsy personality—is like Nike or The North Face.

A stimulating companion—an interesting personality with incredible stories—is like the Dos Equis beer spokesman, “the most interesting man in the world.” A “brand-as-person” who has a passion for healthy, organic foods is reflected by the Whole Foods Market personality.

Representing a Functional Benefit

A brand personality also can be a vehicle for representing and cueing functional benefits and brand attributes. It can be easier to create a personality that implies a functional benefit than to communicate that functional benefit directly. Further, it’s harder to attack a personality than a functional benefit.

The Harley personality is a rugged, macho, America-loving, freedom- seeking person who is willing to break out from confining society norms of dress and behavior, which suggests that Harley motorcycles are powerful and have substance. Meanwhile, MetLife has used the Peanuts characters to create a personality of being warm, approachable and humorous, a highly desired but hard-to-achieve personality for an insurance company.

The Energizer rabbit is an energetic, upbeat, indefatigable personality who never runs out of energy—just as the battery runs longer than others. Wells Fargo, as represented by the stagecoach, reflects an independent, cowboy type who delivers reliably. Although competitors may actually deliver superior reliability and safety of assets, because of the stagecoach, Wells wins the battle of perception.

Guiding Brand-Building Programs

Tactically, the brand personality concept and vocabulary communicate to those who must implement the brand- building effort. As a practical matter, decisions need to be made about the communications package, including advertising, packaging, promotions, events, customer touch points, digital programs and more. If the brand is specified only in terms of attribute associations, little guidance is provided.

To say that TaylorMade golf equipment is of high quality with an innovative design does not give much direction. However, to say that “TaylorMade-as-person” is a demanding professional conveys much more. A brand personality statement provides depth and texture, making it more feasible to keep the communication and other brand-building efforts on strategy.

One retail chain created a mythical “brand-as-person” with a home setting, a family, interests, opinions and activities. The company gave that person a name. Let’s call her Sue. Then whenever a product, communication or operation initiative was proposed, the criterion was: Would Sue do it? The concept led to easier and better decisions.

Helping to Understand the Customer

The brand personality metaphor can help a manager gain an in-depth understanding of consumer perceptions of the brand. Instead of asking about attribute perceptions, which can be both boring and intrusive, asking people to describe a brand personality often is involving, and can result in more accurate and richer insights into feelings and relationships. The arrogant and powerful personality ascribed to Microsoft, for example, provides a deeper understanding about the nature of the relationship between Microsoft and its customers. Or the personality construct might be a better entry into understanding the calm emotion associated with Celestial Seasonings tea than a discussion of attributes.

A variant is to ask what a “brand-as- person” might say to you. In a credit card study, one segment who perceived the brand as being dignified, sophisticated, educated, a world traveler and confident believed that the card would say things like, “My job is to help you get accepted,” and, “You have good taste.”

A second intimidated segment perceived the card to be sophisticated and classy but snobbish, aloof and condescending, and believed that the card would make comments like, “I am so well-known and established that I can do what I want,” and, “If I were going to dinner, I would not include you.” The perceived attitude of the brand toward the customer was a big insight into where an important customer segment was coming from.

Providing Energy

When developing a brand vision, there frequently comes a point at which someone asks: Does the brand contain any energy? And if not, how is it going to communicate and succeed or even be relevant in today’s environment? A brand personality often is a good way to introduce energy into a vision.

A strong brand personality, such as those surrounding Mercedes, Muji or American Express, can provide energy by adding interest and involvement. It effectively amplifies brand perception and experiences. All airlines seem very similar until the energy created by the personality profiles of brands like Singapore, Southwest and Virgin are considered. Think of the energy surrounding the personality of the AXE brand, which is obsessed with being successful with attractive women.

Brand Personalities as a Sustainable Advantage

A brand personality can be a vehicle to express a person’s self, represent relationships, communicate attributes, guide brand-building, help understand the customer, and contribute energy. In doing so, a personality can be a point of differentiation that is sustainable because it is very difficult, and usually ineffective, to copy.