The article is written by Sherwood MacVeigh, Director, Senior Brand Strategist at Hyperquake, USA
Dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony use personality traits to identify potential matches between members that may turn into long-lasting romantic relationships. Similarly, consumer goods companies can use personality traits to identify potential matches between brands and targeted consumers that may turn into long-lasting purchasing relationships. Knowing how to create and nurture brand personality and use it to connect emotionally with consumers is an essential part of the brand-consumer dating game.
Just as every individual has a distinct personality —a combination of emotional, attitudinal and behavioral traits that drives who they are and makes them act or react a certain way in different situations—so, too, does every brand. Having a unique, engaging personality is important for a brand because it is the element of a brand’s identity that interacts with consumers’ emotions—which, research has shown, are primary drivers in the brand selection process. Facts alone don’t sell products—emotions are an essential part of the equation. They enable a consumer to look beyond solely quantifiable benefits (e.g., a detergent’s cleaning ability or a soft drink’s calorie count) and select the brand that best matches their temperament, attitude, values, age, lifestyle, etc. That’s why people frequently advise “trust your gut” when making a purchase decision—your “gut” is made up of myriad, tiny data points that have been filtered through your emotional brain, making you like, feel ambivalent toward, or dislike a particular brand.
Many of today’s leading companies have carefully cultivated unique brand personalities that resonate with key consumers and help to forge strong, enduring relationships. Examples include:
- Innocent—Leveraging polar bears and Santa Claus, Coca Cola enthusiastically projects an innocent, Norman Rockwell-life personality. The brand’s marketing tools effectively reinforce this personality by exuding happiness, goodness, and an attitude of gratitude.
- Jester—Pepsi dons the personality of a youthful jester, poking fun at its main rival’s more staid, traditional personality. Youthful and exuberant, Pepsi regularly conducts joint promotions with “cool” events and icons.
- Caregiver with a splash of wit—Vitamin Water combines vitamins and water in a way that makes consumers feel like they’re being cared for, but in a fun and delightful way. This personality is carried through on the brand’s packaging: even though Vitamin Water’s logo uses an authoritative font, the copy on the side of each bottle is designed to produce a smile or laugh.
- Ruler/monarch—American Express conveys the personality of a strong ruler/monarch that makes customers feel confident when they use the brand’s credit cards.
- American classic —Ralph Lauren’s iconic, “American classic” personality has enabled the brand to expand beyond its core clothing line to include paint, furniture, bedding and other categories. The master brand employs tiered, category-specific messaging that connects emotionally with multiple audiences without eroding the brand’s intention.
A brand that convincingly owns and effectively communicates certain personality traits can evoke corresponding traits (or the desire for these traits) in a consumer, thus forging a strong emotional bond and increasing the likelihood of purchase. For example, Harley Davidson’s free-spirited, rebellious brand personality attracts consumers who want to feel that way too—even if they are Baby Boomers seeking to rekindle the thrills of their youth. (Baby Boomers comprise the most significant portion of Harley riders.) Similarly, Clinique facial products’ professional and knowledgeable brand personality appeals to affluent, college-educated females who want to convey those traits.
First impressions count
People can’t help it; they often base initial judgments on a person’s —or a brand’s—looks. That’s why making a good first impression is important, both on a date and at shelf (aka the First Moment of Truth, or FMOT). In a store, package graphics, colors and language provide a visual expression of a brand’s personality; they need to quickly attract targeted consumers, convince them that the brand’s personality is compatible with their own, and encourage purchase. Creating a good impression online is also important—a brand’s website should be visually appealing, informative and easy to navigate, and its social media presence engaging and informative. However, brand owners also should be aware that external forces—bloggers, Facebook visitors, Twitter users— are commenting on their own experiences with the brand, posting ratings (both positive and negative), making referrals, and influencing other consumers’ opinions and purchase decisions. It’s analogous to being introduced to a potential partner through a friend; you trust your friends, value their advice, and follow their suggestions.
Sometimes, a brand’s personality can make a negative first impression or hinder its efforts to connect quickly and positively with targeted consumers. From an appearance standpoint, a brand that is using old fonts, colors and graphics on its packaging could be projecting an outdated image. Or a brand’s personality may be so strong that it causes a visceral reaction among consumers — a select few may like it but others are turned off — which can make it difficult to expand its customer base. Similarly, a brand’s personality may be initially designed to appeal to one age group, unintentionally excluding other potential customers. For example, when Honda launched the Element, its personality and attributes were specifically crafted to appeal to Gen Y consumers. However, the company soon discovered that many purchasers were Baby Boomers and quickly broadened the Element’s marketing focus to include this important audience.
Pump up brand personality
Numerous factors can contribute to a brand’s personality, such as why, when and where it was created; who (which company) created it; and the competitive set the brand lives within. The following steps can pump up a brand’s personality and help it to engage emotionally with target consumers:
1. Examine your brand’s history; the past often opens a door to the future. What key marketplace trends and/or consumer needs drove the brand’s creation? Have they changed over time? Such information can help to determine whether the core drivers of the brand’s personality are still relevant, whether they need to be tweaked, or if a major overhaul is required.
2. Interview both internal stakeholders and consumers. What does this brand mean to them? Determine if there is a gap between how your company perceives the brand and how consumers perceive it. If one exists, take steps to bridge it.
3. Examine the personality of the category as a whole. Sometimes there are dominant personalities that may be pressuring your brand to “fit in.” For example, many banking brands have a “ruler” personality. Rather than blend in with the crowd, is there a way for your brand’s personality to stand out?
4. Be authentic. Don’t change your brand’s personality just to be like the “cool kids” (e.g., trendy, flash-in-the-pan brands). Make sure your brand’s point of view is current and relevant then find new ways to connect with consumers over the long term. Redesigning a brand’s packaging is a relatively simple fix; updating product features can be a costly but worthwhile undertaking if the new offering brings to light a personality trait that consumers hadn’t realized it possessed.
5. Let a brand’s personality help guide its future. When your company considers line extensions and other innovations to move a brand forward, make sure they enhance and leverage the brand’s personality, not dominate or contradict it. Brands that exhibit multiple personalities via discordant, unrelated packaging, messaging or SKUs can cause consumer confusion and dilute brand loyalty. Far better to build on a personality that has already proved successful at the brand-consumer dating game.
About the Author
Sherwood MacVeigh is Director, Senior Brand Strategist at Hyperquake, a brand evolution agency. She can be reached at Sherwood.firstname.lastname@example.org.