Understanding Brand Personality and How it Affects Brand Identity

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Have you ever felt so loyal to a brand that you just couldn’t see yourself settling for a similar product from another store? You feel like the brand just complements your image or lifestyle? And it just “gets you”?

Guess what? This connection that you have with that brand is largely driven by your emotions and subconscious feelings towards it.

Surprisingly, it is emotions that drive our purchasing behaviour, not logical thinking. As a matter of fact, while it may seem like rational choices lead us to choose one product over another, 95% of us make decisions about brands subconsciously.

Photography: Frankie Cordoba on Unsplash

In my role as a brand consultant, clients often come with the keenness to raise brand visibility, awareness, and recognition. In writing this post, I hope to explain how creating a distinct brand personality will not only help to position your brand, but also guide the voice, tone and style of how your brand communicates both visually and verbally to resonate with your target audience.

So what is Brand Personality?

If you have read my last post, you might probably remember me saying that brands with personality often have the advantage of enjoying consumer preference. And that’s because personality is a quality that both differentiates and endures.

I find it helps clients to think of brand personality as the thing that humanises their business. You could also think of it as a set of traits you might look out for in a friend – a set of personable characteristics that customers tend to enjoy or want to be associated with.

Photography: Erik Mclean on Unsplash

I guess more officially, we could define brand personality as the personification of a brand by attributing human characteristics and qualities to the brand.

Now, where do you begin? You might ask. Do you start by listing all the traits of your brand? Or find an adjective that best describes all of it?

I’ve got your back. There are a number of frameworks that you can use to help identify or define your brand personality (or archetype). But I’ll use the one developed by Stanford University researcher, Dr Jennifer L. Aaker, in her study Dimensions of Brand Personality, to keep things light and share a few resources on other brand personality frameworks at the end.

Aaker’s brand personality framework is widely used by branding professionals across the globe and works by grouping all the various brand personality types into five broad categories:

    • Competence
    • Excitement
    • Ruggedness
    • Sincerity
    • Sophistication
Image: Trendjackers.com

So, say for instance, you were thinking of setting up a new grocery store in the estate and your main competitors focused on things like value, variety and wholesome offerings – “traits” that would fall under the category of Sincerity. You could then use Aaker’s framework to decide on an area that would set you apart – you might instead want to focus on things like quality, speciality and hospitality, which would place your store in the category of Sophistication.

Photography: Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Of course, none of this implies that you don’t provide value, variety or wholesome products. Just that while your competitors focus their businesses on impressing customers; that they’re no-frills by keeping packaging generic and encouraging self-service, you’re focused on making sure the shopping experience and high levels of service keep your customers coming back to you. Key word here – FOCUS!

To know which category you fall within, simply pick 3-5 adjectives that customers should use to describe your business. These adjectives you use will form your brand’s personality traits and help guide the development of your brand identity.

So whether you’re reliable, humble and family-oriented or premium, specialised and service-oriented, it’s good to have a grasp of how you want to appear to customers so that you can incorporate elements of these traits into your brand identity – that is, your logo, colour palette, typography and tone of voice.

Choosing your logo type

You’ll find that once you’ve decided on your brand personality, things start to get a lot easier. But boy – do you still have a number of options to sift through as you build a brand identity that will reflect the personality you have chosen.

When it comes to choosing a logo, there are just so many types to choose from. While some are made entirely out of letters or words (aka lettermarks or wordmarks), some look like mascots and there are those that look like official badges.

Photography: Morning Brew on Unsplash

No need to ask – I’m about to cover some ground on these various types of logos:

    • Wordmarks – Brand names made out of stylised texts to convey the brand’s personality or attribute. Think Google or Vogue.
    • Lettermarks – A little like wordmarks, these logos are uniquely-designed letterforms that act as mnemonic devices for business or company names. Think Facebook or KFC.
    • Picture Marks – These days, picture marks have become widely associated with symbols or icons that represent quite literally, the product or service they are applied to. Think Apple or Twitter.
    • Emblems – These are logos that may sometimes be a combination of words, images and symbols but which are contained within a shape. Think Harley Davidson or Starbucks.
    • Abstract Marks – Finally, abstract marks are logos that represent a “big idea” and may be deliberately ambiguous. Think Pepsi, BP or Razer Inc.

Whichever mark you choose, make sure it’s SIMPLE, MEMORABLE and APPROPRIATE. And like I promised, here are some additional points on things to avoid:

    • Simple – Don’t go crazy with intricate details. Logo sizes need to be increased and decreased. Overly detailed logos end up looking like blobs of ink when reduced.
    • Memorable – Generic’s great when it comes to water, maybe. But where your logo’s concerned, try not to be that yoga studio with a lotus symbol, that legal service with a gavel or that design studio with a pencil.
    • Appropriate – Well of course, your logo needs to make sense to whoever sees it. So make sure it’s relatable to your product and audience. But appropriate also means that your logo should be versatile enough to be applied to all the various mediums you intend to apply it on.

Choosing brand colours

We’ve nailed down your personality, and we’ve decided on a logo. Now let’s talk about colours. Colours – yet another buffet of options. Crazy, isn’t it? I was hoping to finish writing this by now!

The role of colours in branding is both psychological and emotional. Brands wear colours in a strategic way to elicit associative feelings. It’s a little similar to how you might wear a bright-coloured outfit if you felt particularly chipper one day and a more sombre-looking ensemble if you felt miserable on another.

Photography: Alex Jackman on Unsplash

Here’s a quick list of colours and how they’re supposed to make you feel:

    • Red – the colour of passion and excitement. It’s the perfect choice if your brand identity is loud, youthful and exciting like Coca-Cola.
    • Orange – another high-energy colour that is great if you want to appear friendly and playful like Nickelodeon or Hooters (playful, indeed).
    • Yellow – the colour of happiness and fun. A great choice if you want to appear fun, accessible and affordable like McDonald’s or IKEA.
    • Green – a colour well-known and liked for its neutrality and versatility. It’s a colour that nearly every brand can use, like WhatsApp, Starbucks and Spotify (and these days, even Giant).
    • Blue – a lot like green, blue is a popular colour among people. The feeling of composure that comes with blue makes brands that use it appear reliable and trustworthy like IBM and Citibank.
    • Purple – the colour of creativity. An appropriate choice if your brand inspires imagination and innovation like Instagram and FedEx.
    • Pink – yet another versatile colour. These days, pink is considered modern, unconventional and exciting. It speaks more of being bold and daring like Lyft and Airbnb, than it does to convey femininity, sensitivity and compassion like it used to.
    • Black – and finally, my all-time favourite. There’s just something about black that conveys power and authority. It’s a great colour to use when you mean business and are all about taking action like Boss and Nike.

Oops, that list was getting a little too long so I skipped grey. Look, I wouldn’t be surprised if you disagreed with some of the examples above. I mean I personally feel that colours can and should be associated with a mix of feelings. They can also evolve and be applied in more ways than one.

Photography: Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

In fact, the commercial world is booming with an assortment of hues – what with the blue-greens, orange-reds and what-have-you these days. And that’s because serious businesses need to stand out. That’s what branding is – differentiating yourself from the competition.

So I say put the theory of colour aside and pick a colour that vibes well with your brand personality. Like I said – it’s all about the personality. And if you’re happy, I’m happy.

Choosing fonts

Are we there yet? Guess not. Developing your brand identity is almost like constructing a house – drawing up a blueprint, demarcating the rooms and finally, getting down to selecting your materials. So hang in there!

Photography: Clay Banks on Unsplash

At least when we talk about fonts or typefaces, I only have three different species of fonts to discuss. There are the Serifs, the San Serifs and the Scripts. For your sake, I’ll bullet-point this (waitaminute – I have been doing that):

    • Serifs – These are the font types with the little hands, feet and coat tails. These are what I call the “serious” fonts and offer brands that sport them a traditional but classic and sophisticated look. These fonts could almost say, “Look, I know what I’m doing and I’m great at it.” Think Rolex and TIME magazine.
    • San Serifs – These are the clean, minimalist font types. These are what I call the “modern” fonts that can reflect a feeling of being casual, efficient or even young. Think Google and Apple.
    • Scripts – These are the cursive, handwritten fonts that give a feeling of being genuine and authentic. It’s befitting of brands that believe a great deal in democracy or being suitable for the masses. Think Instagram and Budweiser.

Once again, pick a font or typeface that will suit your brand personality and that you will use predominantly to deliver your brand story and message.

Of course, you don’t always have to choose only one or the other. If you feel that both a serif and a san serif font will fit well with your brand, consider matchmaking them to get a more balanced feel. General rule of thumb? Keep to no more than three different fonts at the most! Having too many fonts only confuses your audience and we won’t want that, would we?

Deciding on a tone of voice

Personality. Check. Logo. Check. Colours. Check. Fonts. Check. Now, we’re really close to the finish line.

When deciding on a tone of voice – repeat after me – “It’s all about your brand personality.” As if you haven’t read enough of that by now. But hey, at least there are no lists this time.

Writing this post, I made very many deliberate attempts to make sure you could hear my voice – how I typically communicate if I were speaking to a friend or a fellow colleague. And if you heard it, then you would probably have a sense of what tone of voice is. But let’s define it.

I love this description by the Acrolinx team – tone of voice is how the character of your business comes through in your words, both written and spoken. It’s not about what you say, but how you say it and the impression it makes on everyone in your audience who reads or hears you.

Photography: Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

In addition to explaining the meaning to clients, I also like to remind them that while your brand voice should always be consistent and unchanging, your tone should always be adjusted according to context and suitable for the intent.

To get started on this, focus on your brand personality and list down what your tone of voice is and what it is not.

For instance, if you’re a business that retails luxury cars, your tone of voice could be sophisticated, measured and hospitable; and may not be chipper, casual or salesy.

Or if you’re a business that offers quick turnaround laundry services, your tone of voice could be cheerful, snappy, and confident; and may not be formal, serious or careful.

Something like this:

Image: The Outsiders Co.

Once you’re done, breathe life into your voice by coming up with a few test phrases or sentences to make sure your brand personality shines through.

If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back ‘cos you’re a real trooper. And now you see how having clarity on your brand personality is the first step to guiding style choices concerning your brand and how it is eventually perceived by customers to affect their purchasing decisions and feelings of loyalty.

I’m out of steam by now but are there other topics on branding that you’d like to know about? Let me know by writing a comment or email. Don’t be shy and most importantly, don’t be a stranger.

Additional references

If you’re keen to read more on brand personality frameworks, here are some resources:

Nadine is the Creative Director of The Outsiders Co. and is a nonconforming, divergent thinker with a conviction that effective branding is the cornerstone to a successful business.

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