• Brian Fleming

Building your brand: Personality

Part 8 in our series on building your small business brand.


Your brand’s personality defines how it expresses itself and its core story, how it presents itself to the world, how it looks and speaks, what it says, how it conducts itself. It draws on and crystalizes much of what you’ve done up until this point.


Why it’s essential


A brand without a personality is like a person without a personality. It’s like a robot. Personality is what brings a brand to life and makes it emotionally identifiable and liable to its audience.


What it covers


Your brand’s personality includes general personality traits, the name, its core message, its core story, the visuals associated with your brand, it’s tone of voice, when to use which tone of voice and the brand’s vocabulary.


How you’ll use it


Your core message and story will be used throughout your marketing and PR material. At the same time, visuals, voice and vocabulary serve to guide the creative process and keep everyone working with your brand speaking the same brand language.


How you’ll create it


Personality Traits


When you run a small business, it can be hard to separate your brand’s personality from your own. Or, at the very least, it’s an extension of your own. And your brand should definitely reflect your personality so that it feels true to you and so there’s no cognitive dissidence.


But at the same time, your company’s brand is also distinct from your own and occupy its own space.


Remember that people tend to have different personalities depending on whom they’re dealing with. For example, an asshole boss can be a kind and loving mother or father. Your brand’s personality, on the other hand should be consistent, though not rigid and carved in stone. Like a person’s personality, it needs room to move and adapt to different situations and customers. So, choose a personality that reflects your brand, not you yourself.


In choosing a personality, you should consider your positioning on the market, your perceptual positioning and your positioning strategy. Your brand’s personality should be in line with these. You could, for example, live up to your industry’s stereotype, if this fits your strategy, or you could purposefully buck the stereotype in order to differentiate yourself and get noticed.


For example, if you’re positioning your brand in relation to your competition and you work in a serious industry, you may want to give your brand a fun-loving personality that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of your work.


Or you could logically design a personality based on what your research tells you your targets most respond to. Here, your own personality won’t even enter into it.


On the other hand, your brand’s personality could be an idealized or fantasy version of yourself. This doesn’t mean you should make stuff up about yourself. It means that your business brand is a fantasy reflection of your personality traits.


Or maybe – if your strategy calls for you to tap the long history of a family business – it’s how you remember or imagine your grandmother’s or grandfather’s personality.


On the other hand, your brand’s personality could reflect the quick and agile innovation of a young startup, if appropriate.


However you start to develop the personality, make sure it takes into consideration everything you’ve worked on so far: your core vision and values, the perception you want to create, what you’re offering, who you’re targeting, what your competition is up to and your positioning, of course.


With that in mind, think of your brand as a person, then assign it personality traits that reflect all of the above. Here is an example from our logistics provider:

  • Smart & reliable

  • Uncomplicated

  • Fun & energetic

  • Practical & knowledgeable

  • Forward thinking

  • Tech savvy

If you like, put together a mood board that reflects the personality you want to create. It could consist of photos, paintings, films clips, ads, font styles – anything really.


Name


What’s in a name?


Everything and nothing, really. Silicon Valley has shown us that the silliest word can become an iconic brand. Apple, Google. Most people have no ideas where those names came from. They have nothing to do with the products the companies sell and don’t have anything to do with their positioning. And yet, you couldn’t image those companies having different names.


So, to me the two most important things in naming your company are:

  • That it’s in line with the brand personality

  • That you like saying the name – because you don’t want to be embarrassed of your company’s name.

That said, there’s a good chance your company already has a name that does one or several of the following:

  • Says exactly what the company does

  • Incorporates your own name or nickname or the names of you and your partners

  • Is some variation on some aspect of what it does

  • Is an abbreviation of some industry buzz words

  • Is simply a word you like.

All of these are a good basis of naming your brand. Whichever basis you use, though, you want the name to be in line with your brand’s positioning, personality or products.


You also want to make sure it’s not easily confused with something else, e.g. your competition or an entirely different area of business. This may mean coming up with a new name or creating an abbreviation or acronym from your existing name.


For example, I chose the name “Mongrel” for my company because, growing up bi-culturally in Germany and the US, and now living in Prague, I’ve always been an outsider who goes his own way, like the mongrel dog that’s not part of any one pack. This is a reflection of me. But it’s also the same vision I had for my company and reflects our positioning.


But I also just love the word. Mongrel. I love the way it sounds.


Core Message


Your brand’s core message should be one short sentence that summarizes your offer – that is, the problem your brand solves, for whom it solves it, how it solves it and what benefit it provides. This is basically what you want to answer whenever someone asks you, “So, what does your company do?”


Make your answer succinct and to the point. Don’t try to explain it. If they’re interested to know more, they’ll ask!


Here’s an example from our logistics developer:


We give online retailers the speed, agility and flexibility to deliver great customer experiences in 30 minutes or less


Core Story


Your core story is really just your origin story condensed down into a few sentences that answer the famous journalistic questions “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, “Where?”, “Why?” or “How?”

  • Who started it?

  • Who’s involved?

  • Who loves it?

  • What is it?

  • What makes it special?

  • When was it founded?

  • Where was it founded?

  • Why does your brand exist?

  • Why does it do what it does?

  • Why is it important or necessary?

  • How did it come to be?

  • How does it do what it does?

Your core story doesn’t need to answer all these questions – that would be too long. But start by writing down answers to each of these. Then pick out those answers that are unique, startling, inspiring, visionary. Anything that stands out as special.


Then craft those special bits of biography into a short paragraph, let’s say a maximum of three sentences, but two is better. That’ll be your core story.


Visuals


Your brand’s visuals are how you brand expresses its personality through imagery. To create this, refer back to your mood board from your vision and values. If you put together a mood board for your brand personality, refer back to that as well.


Select those images that best fit with everything you’ve done throughout this course.


Next, do another Google image search to find new ideas in line with your positioning and personality. Look at websites outside your own industry that you like. In particular, check out webbyawards.com other resources such as digitalsynopsis.com.


Once you’ve collected all your images, edit them down to ten or twelve that best reflect your brand and everything it stands for.


Here’s an example of from our logistics developer:


What we chose these visuals because of their

  • Vibrant primary colors

  • Elegant, clean lines

  • Clutter-free design

  • Uncomplicated functionality

  • Smooth and seamless U/X

These were all taken from websites, because they best reflected our vision of the brand, but you don’t need to limit yourself to websites.


I also want to stress that it was a deliberate choice on our part to only use animations and not use pictures of real people. You’ll make different choices as your brand demands.


Voice


Your brand’s voice is how it expresses its personality in words. This can be:

  • Serious

  • Wise

  • Funny

  • Snarky

  • Irreverent

  • Sentimental

  • Authoritative

  • Personable

  • Logical

  • Technological

  • Hip

The list goes on and on and can be a combination of several.


If you don’t have a strong idea about what your brand’s voice should be, check out other brands to see how they “speak” in their advertising and marketing. Or search for classic ads on YouTube and find ones that hit the right tone for your brand. Or think of movies or TV shows. Then write down how to instruct people speaking or writing in that voice.


Here’s how we created it for our logistics developer (I’ve redacted the client’s name):

  • First and foremost, [the brand] talks about its customers and how it can solve their problems, not about itself

  • [The brand] wants the customer to feel smart for choosing it

  • [The brand] talks the way its customers talk, using casual, everyday language rather than using industry buzz-words

  • [The brand] is someone the customer trusts – knowledgeable but humble –who wants to help them solve their problem

  • [The brand] wants to make everything as easy as possible and doesn’t use complex language

  • [The brand’s} voice is: fun, friendly, clear, warm, uncomplicated, unexaggerated, human, honest, functional

Next, we have, these guidelines:

  • Always address the customer as “you”, e.g. “How much space are you looking for?”

  • Use contractions, e.g. “You’re ready to get started," or, “It’s time to get started.”

  • Where possible, use strong Anglo-Saxon words instead of Latinate words, e.g. “grow” instead of “expand”

  • Avoid business-speak and buzzwords, e.g. "leverage, "core competency," "buy-in", "empower", "thought leader"

  • Don't try to impress people with fancy language – e.g. "We can," not "our capabilities allow us."

Tone Scale


Another thing to think about is tone scale. Different types of communication call for different tones of voice. To create a tone scale, map out the different types of communication your business will engage in and assign a “tone of voice” to them.


Here’s an example from the same client:


On the left we have a tone scale. This one goes from serious for whitepaper and sales material to fun for brand benefits and advertising, with practical in the middle for product materials, brand features and blog posts. What tone scale will depend on your brand’s voice.


For example, if your brand’s voice is hip and current, the scale could be from slang on one end to pop-culture references on the other.


On the other hand, if your voice is personal, the scale could range from funny to angry. And so on. The key here is to choose a scale that fits with your voice and, of course, the rest of your brand.


Create as many scales as you like to get your head around the possibilities. But, in the end, you’ll want to edit them down t one simple scale that’s easy to refer back to.


Language


Every industry has its own way of speaking, its own terminology, its own buzzwords that industry insiders immediately understand. Take the time to create a glossary of words unique to your industry. This will help educate anyone – from employees to creative suppliers – who is less familiar with your industry than you are.


This will also allow you to prove your knowledge and authority in your field by showing that you can talk the talk.


That’s it for your brand’s personality. Next up, we’re going to look at how you create your visual identity.

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