Our personalities are what make us likable or annoying, inspiring or dull, magnetic or off-putting. The same goes for a brand. An effective brand personality puts a human face on your brand, making it relatable and unique in a crowded competitive landscape.
Its personality signals whether your brand is adventurous or safe, fun or serious, trustworthy or suspect. And brand personality is just as important for B2B brands as it is for consumer-facing brands.
Whether they realize it or not, customers in both sectors are looking for a brand that speaks to them in a way that’s human and relatable.
So, what is brand personality? And why does it matter? In what follows, we dive deep into all things personality, so you can put a face on your brand that won’t soon be forgotten.
- What is Brand Personality?
- Why Does Brand Personality Matter?
- The Brand Personality Framework
- How to Define Your Brand Personality Traits
- Where Does Brand Personality Come to Life?
- Brand Personality Examples
- The Takeaway
We cover everything you need to identify your brand’s personality traits and create a brand that customers relate to on a deep and lasting level.
What is Brand Personality?
Brand personality is the collection of emotional, intellectual, and behavioral patterns unique to a brand and consistent over time. In short, your brand personality is how you would describe your brand if it were a person.
Just like people, brands have recognizable traits that stem from the way they think and feel about the world. The authenticity and consistency of these traits are what separate a strong brand from a weak one.
Brand personality drives decisions in both brand design and brand messaging. Just as Apple has come to be known as a chic, minimalist creative type, or REI as a bold and adventurous explorer, the best brand personalities are instantly recognizable and deeply relatable.
Why Does Brand Personality Matter?
Brand personality is a critical component of brand positioning and differentiation. An effective brand personality humanizes a brand, giving it depth and nuance, and making it relatable to its target audience.
Brand personality is the part of your brand that your customers identify with and build a relationship with. Because of this, it plays a huge role in driving customer acquisition, fostering brand loyalty, and building brand equity.
Its personality is why Starbucks customers feel so at home in its cafes, and why BMW customers can’t picture themselves driving anything else.
A well-defined and effectively implemented brand personality…
Drives Competitive Differentiation
Brand personality is one of the most important factors in differentiating your brand from the competition. The same product or service can be marketed in distinctly different ways depending on personality.
The key is cultivating a personality that is authentic to your organization, consistent over time, and relatable to your ideal customer.
Boosts Brand Awareness
A distinct brand personality makes your brand experience both recognizable and memorable. These are the key components to brand awareness.
Brand awareness isn’t just about potential new customers becoming aware of your brand through marketing and promotion. It’s also about fostering awareness in existing customers, so it evolves from recognition to preference.
Bolsters Brand Loyalty
No one leverages the power of personality better than Apple. The brand’s devotees see themselves—if, perhaps, idealized versions of themselves—in the sleek, artistic, somewhat nonconventional personality the brand has cultivated over decades of purposeful advertising.
This has resulted in a legion of brand-loyal customers whose identities are at least partially defined by ownership of an Apple product.
The Brand Personality Framework
The Brand Personality Framework is a way to think about brand personality types in terms of five distinct dimensions: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness.
These dimensions were first defined by branding and marketing expert Jennifer Aaker in a seminal article in The Journal of Marketing Research.
Each dimension is further defined by brand personality traits, and it’s the combination of these traits that makes a brand distinct and recognizable. The various types of brand personality below can be seen in many of the world’s top brands.
When thinking about where your own brand falls on the types of brand personality spectrum, the key is to identify brand personality traits that are purposefully aligned with your positioning, including things like your brand compass, core values, and brand archetype.
Sincerity is a goal of every brand of course, but as a dimension of brand personality, sincerity is reserved for brands that are wholesome, honest, cheerful, and down-to-earth.
Brands with these defining traits are often found in the hospitality, food service, and safety industries. Think Campbell’s Soup, Hallmark, Oprah, Pampers, and Allstate.
Often targeted at youthful demographics, brands in the excitement dimension have traits like daring, energetic, imaginative, and cutting-edge.
Excitement brands traffic in unlocking wonder or thrills, and leverage high-octane advertising or cool celebrity endorsements. Examples include Nike, MTV, Disney, GoPro, and Red Bull.
A competent brand is reliable, intelligent, and successful. Brands within this personality dimension are confident thought leaders and responsible stalwarts of trust.
Think brands in the financial, insurance, healthcare, and logistics industries, to name a few. Some examples include Chase, UPS, Volvo, Microsoft, and Blue Shield.
Brands in the sophistication dimension are characterized by traits like refined, luxurious, and charming. These are premium brands aimed at a discerning, status-conscious audience.
Brands in the sophistication dimension cut across industries, but are readily found in fashion, luxury, and automotive. Think Hermes, American Express, Apple, Mercedes, and Nescafé.
Rugged brand traits include adventurous, outdoorsy, and tough. These are brands that are built to last and seen to be hard-working, strong, muscular, and authentic.
Brands in the rugged dimension are commonly found in construction, outdoors, and sports industries. Examples include Patagonia, Yeti, Jeep, Levi’s, and Jack Daniels.
How to Define Your Brand Personality Traits
Since personality traits are ultimately human traits, the best way to define your brand’s personality is to think of it as if it were a person. This is where the psychology of branding comes into play.
Much like the human personality, a brand’s personality can be segmented into four distinct facets: emotion, intelligence, characteristics, and behaviors.
Emotion vs. Intelligence
Just as with people, some brands are more emotionally driven: motivated by passion or zeal. And some are more intelligently driven: inspired by rational analysis and logical insight.
An emotion-driven brand looks and feels a lot different than its intelligence-driven counterpart.
Understanding where your brand falls on the EQ to IQ spectrum will help you define its more tangible attributes: its characteristics and behaviors.
Characteristics vs. Behaviors
Characteristics are how a brand is perceived by those it interacts with. They are its outward, most readily observable attributes. Harley Davidson, for example, could be said to be rugged and masculine.
Its behaviors, by comparison, are how a brand acts within the context of the world around it. Red Bull, for example, is adventuresome and bold, as we explore further below, sponsoring events around the world that push the limits of extreme performance.
In defining brand personality, we select four attributes—usually two characteristics and two behaviors—from a wide-ranging list inspired by the five dimensions of brand personality listed above. We then give these attributes short definitions customized to the brand in question.
These four declarative statements define the brand’s personality for anyone responsible for bringing the brand to life. They serve as inspiration and guardrails for designers and copywriters as they create the numerous touchpoints where the brand will engage with audiences.
Where Does Brand Personality Come to Life?
As with people, a brand’s place in the world is largely determined by its personality. There are three primary areas we can look to for markers of brand personality: how a brand looks, sounds, and acts.
When we say Coca-Cola, what color comes to mind? Which typeface? More so than perhaps any other brand, Coca-Cola has a look that is recognizable from miles away.
2. Sound: A brand’s sound is embodied in things like its voice, music, and other sonic branding. The style of the verbal language it employs in conveying its message and the tone in which that message is conveyed are the primary attributes that define brand voice.
As the voice for Lincoln, Matthew McConaughey brought a cool, aloof, and at times inscrutable personality to a previously staid and stodgy brand. It was nothing if not differentiating.
3. Action: Finally, a brand’s action is the way it behaves in the context of the larger world. It’s the unique way it engages with customers to foster a feeling of identity and special connection.
Virgin has positioned itself in the role of Robin Hood in its various brand iterations. It disrupts industries that are dominated by monolithic corporations, stealing from the proverbial rich and giving to the “poor” (read consumers) via lower-cost, higher-quality experiences.
Brand Personality Examples
We’ve mentioned quite a few of them throughout this post, but for examples of well-executed brand personalities, one need look no further than the world’s top brands.
Below are a few brand personality examples from both the B2C and B2B spaces, and from different ends of the personality spectrum, to give you a sense of how brand personality drives customer engagement in the real world.
Edgy and energetic, caffeinated and invigorating, Red Bull’s personality is conveyed by everything from its aspirational messaging to its charging bull logo to the sports and events it sponsors.
You’ll find the brand boldly represented at the world’s most extreme sports, like auto racing, climbing, and skateboarding.
Dove’s brand personality is elegant, innocent, and pure. Its encouraging brand voice speaks to customers about beauty and femininity a way that’s more than just skin deep.
Dove is a great example of a personality born from purpose, as it evokes honesty and positivity in its campaigns, championing self-confidence and beauty in all shapes and sizes.
The Slack brand personality starts with a name that’s hard to believe made it out of committee. The brand has coopted a synonym for laziness to revolutionize workplace communication.
An effortless extension of its name, Slack’s personality is easy and personal, but above all, helpful. Its tone is fun and engaging, like a friendly HR rep introducing you to a new company.
If IBM were a person, they might be wearing glasses and a pocket protector, with a brand personality centered on technical expertise and education.
IBM leverages its decades of experience as an industry leader to offer practical solutions backed by useful, intelligent content that addresses the specific needs of its many audiences.
We may not be able to shake their hands or give them hugs, but that doesn’t mean we don’t relate to the brands in our lives as if they were people themselves. In many cases, the connections we forge with our preferred brands define who we are.
Its quirks and idiosyncrasies are what make your brand relatable, and differentiate from the competition—ideally on a deep and meaningful level. How it looks, sounds, and acts as an agent in the world should be purposefully aligned with your brand positioning.
Understanding the psychology of brand personality will help you craft an authentic, magnetic, and, above all, consistent brand personality that keeps customers coming back, again and again.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated with additional insights.