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Understanding Your Brand's Personality

Understanding Your Brand's Personality
Image credit: Josh Liba | Getty Images
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The following excerpt is from Karen Tiber Leland’s book The Brand Mapping Strategy. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

My mother tells me that when my brother Scott was a baby, he would lie peacefully in his crib for hours watching the mobile my parents had hung above the bed. I, on the other hand, was so agitated at not being able to touch the darn thing that they had to take it down. I’m still that way. An essential part of my brand quality is that I love to roll up my sleeves, get my hands into the mix, and bring structure and clarity to things.

Our fundamental character, disposition, outlook, and spirit are qualities we can usually perceive all the way back in our childhood. The same is true for our personal brand tone and temperament, aka our brand personality, character, and mood. In terms of a business, we can clearly see brand personality playing out daily. Consider how Apple is known for their friendly, innovative design, Disneyland for their family-oriented fun, and Walmart for basics at value and price.

Understanding and articulating your brand’s core personality traits (be it business, team, or personal) is critical to creating a consistent brand across all platforms and an essential first step in forming your overall brand identity. The visual elements that make up your brand identity can include:

  • Overall color palette
  • Logotype
  • Fonts
  • Logomark
  • Website design and layout
  • Business name
  • Images
  • Background and clothing choices for headshots

Failing to articulate your brand tone and temperament prior to selecting these elements can lead to brand identity choices that are inconsistent, inappropriate, and even harmful to your overall brand. Without exception, I often hear tales about how someone spent money on a logo, website, or collateral materials that in the end just didn’t seem to fit. In 99 percent of the cases, the brand tone and temperament weren’t deeply explored as part of the design process.

On the other hand, a clear knowledge of brand personality can make choosing the elements of your brand identity a much smoother and more successful process. For example, Ericka Curls Bartling, a client of mine, is a business attorney whose brand tone and temperament was “a critical thinker with a persuasive yet friendly negotiation style.” To translate this into a web design, we needed to strike a delicate visual balance between the harder-edged quality of “persuasion” and the softer tone of “friendly.”

We ended up with an atypical lawyer’s site with warmer colors; clean, Zen-like images; and single-sentence, bold branding statements. While this approach would not be the right one for every business law firm, for Curls Bartling P.C., it was an accurate reflection of her personal brand tone and temperament.

What’s Your Brand Personality?

To begin to define your brand personality and identify your major brand tone traits, choose 10 of the following words that you feel describe you or your business most of the time, under the widest possible set of circumstances.

To make this list a bit more manageable, these traits are organized into four general quality groups. These groupings borrow from some common categories used in assorted personality type assessments. They are:

  1. Analytical qualities. These reflect our logical, methodical, rational, orderly, and systematic abilities.
  2. Achiever qualities. These reflect our go-getter, self-starter, accom­plishment, drive to succeed, and desire to prosper abilities.
  3. Agreeable qualities. These reflect our amiable, good-natured, people-oriented, cooperative, and compassionate abilities.
  4. Animated qualities. These reflect our expressive, animated, enthusi­astic, vibrant, and creative abilities.

One note: Almost everyone possesses at least some qualities from each of these four groups. However, you may notice that your qualities tend to cluster in one or two areas. Remember, the point of this exercise is to begin to hone in on your (or your business’s) essential brand tone and temperament.

Analytical Qualities

  • calm
  • conservative
  • dependable
  • detailed
  • disciplined
  • efficient
  • fair
  • methodical
  • observant
  • organized
  • practical
  • precise
  • punctual
  • rational
  • realistic
  • reliable
  • responsible
  • thorough

Achiever Qualities

  • ambitious
  • articulate
  • assertive
  • autonomous
  • candid
  • confident
  • decisive
  • dedicated
  • determined
  • driven
  • entrepreneurial
  • independent
  • industrious
  • persistent
  • productive
  • structured
  • tenacious

Agreeable Qualities

  • adaptable
  • appreciative
  • approachable
  • authentic
  • collaborative
  • compassionate
  • congenial
  • conscientious
  • considerate
  • cooperative
  • empathetic
  • flexible
  • friendly
  • generous
  • helpful
  • inclusive
  • pleasant
  • poised
  • polite
  • personable
  • sincere
  • tactful
  • thoughtful

Animated Qualities

  • adventurous
  • cheerful
  • creative
  • curious
  • dynamic
  • eager
  • energetic
  • enthusiastic
  • imaginative
  • influential
  • innovative
  • inquisitive
  • intuitive
  • optimistic
  • outgoing
  • passionate
  • persuasive
  • resourceful
  • spontaneous
  • visionary

If you’re saying, “Only ten? Don’t you know I am a multifaceted, fully realized professional (or company) with a plethora of top-notch brand personality traits?” Well, yes I do, but a true brand tone and temperament is composed of a limited set of leading qualities. When choosing your top ten, look for the following:

  • The quality is consistent across the board (for a personal brand, this means at work, play, and home).
  • As far back as you can remember, you (or your business) have had this quality/trait.
  • People often comment to you that they feel you (or your business) possess this quality.
  • People describe you (or your business) to others as having this trait.
  • You feel like this quality is a major part of what you (or your busi­ness) bring to the party.
  • You don’t have to think about expressing this quality; it just seems to be there most of the time.
  • This trait is the most representative of the group of traits it is related to (e.g., friendly might be the main trait, but it includes other nested qualities such as warm, personable, people-orient­ed, etc.).