Curious about brand personality and how it’s relevant to your business? Want to build a more engaging, relatable brand that will boost customer loyalty? If so, you’re in the right place.
Just as our own personalities make us likable or annoying, inspiring or dull, magnetic or off-putting, brand personality can do the same for your business.
A well-defined personality gives your brand a more human voice, making it relatable and unique in a crowded competitive landscape. It signals whether your brand is adventurous or dependable, fun or serious, classic or modern.
Brand personality is just as important for B2B brands as it is for consumer-facing brands. Customers in both sectors want to work with brands that are human and engaging.
So, what is brand personality? In what follows, we’ll answer this question and more, exploring a brand personality definition before exploring how to define your brand’s personality traits and looking at some brand personality examples in the world’s most successful companies.
- What is Brand Personality?
- Why Brand Personality Matters to Your Business
- The Brand Personality Framework
- How to Define Your Brand Personality Traits
- How to Implement Your Brand Personality
- Brand Personality Examples
- The Takeaway
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, also known as personality branding, is central to brand strategy, informing 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 immediately recognizable and deeply relatable.
Why Brand Personality Matters to Your Business
Now that we’ve explored our brand personality definition, let’s look at why brand personality is so important to your business’s success.
Brand personality is a critical component of brand positioning and competitive differentiation. It may seem like a soft and fuzzy concept, but the world’s most valuable brands have timeless personalities that are instantly recognizable to customers.
Its personality is why Starbucks customers feel so at home in its cafes. Personality branding is the impetus of the thrill that every BMW owner feels when they get behind the wheel.
Personality is the part of your brand that your customers identify and build a relationship with. Because of this, personality branding plays a huge role in driving customer acquisition, fostering brand loyalty, and building brand equity.
At the end of the day, its personality determines whether or not your brand experience is an authentic one. And, according to research, no fewer than 88% of customers say authenticity is a key factor when deciding which brands they like and support.
Let’s take a closer look at a few ways that personality branding can translate into measurable value for your business.
Drive 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 vastly different ways depending on personality. The key is cultivating a brand character that is relatable to your ideal customer, distinct from your competitors, and consistent over time.
No need to be different just for difference’s sake. As we’ve seen, authenticity is one of the most valuable drivers of brand personality. Customers know an authentic brand when they see one, and they’re especially good at recognizing it as distinct from other options in the market.
Boost Brand Awareness
A distinct brand character makes your brand experience both recognizable and memorable. These are the key components to brand awareness.
The more relatable and consistent your brand personality is, the more your audience will come to recognize, even in a highly competitive market. We naturally resonate towards brands that have recognizable faces and recognizable voices, just like we do with our friends and family.
And brand awareness isn’t just about making new customers aware of your brand through marketing and promotion. It’s also about fostering awareness in existing customers, so that that awareness evolves from recognition to preference.
Bolster Brand Loyalty
Finally, personality branding is key to long-term brand loyalty. Want proof? Just look at Apple. The brand’s devotees see the best parts of themselves in the sleek, artistic, unconventional personality the brand has cultivated over decades of purposeful marketing.
Apple’s imminently unique, immediately recognizable, and timelessly consistent brand personality has resulted in a legion of brand-loyal customers whose own identities are at least partially defined by ownership of an Apple product.
This is the power of a great brand personalities. Of the three types of brand benefits—emotional, functional, and self-expressive—brand personalities are especially good at conveying self-expressive benefits. That is, customers simply want to be associated with businesses whose brand personalities they relate to. They see their products as extensions of themselves and take pride in buying and owning them.
The Brand Personality Framework
One way to think about brand personality types is to break them down into five distinct dimensions of brand personality. First defined by branding and marketing expert Jennifer Aaker in a seminal article in The Journal of Marketing Research, the Aaker Brand Personality Framework includes the following dimensions of brand personality:
In the Brand Personality Framework, each of the above dimensions is further defined by a unique collection of brand personality traits. It’s the combination of these traits that makes a brand distinct and recognizable. As we’ll see, 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 traits that are purposefully aligned with your positioning, including things like your brand compass and especially your brand archetype.
Sincerity is a goal of every brand of course, but as a brand dimension, sincerity is reserved for brands that are wholesome, honest, cheerful, and down-to-earth.
Sincere brands usually embody the Caregiver brand archetype. As such, they are warm, nurturing and safe. They are maximally transparent and always have our best interests in mind.
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 brand personality traits like daring, energetic, imaginative, and cutting-edge.
Exciting brands usually fall into the Hero brand archetype. They speak to our desire for exhilaration and enjoyment. These brands throw caution to the wind, encouraging audiences to go big or go home. They embrace a lust for life and a love of energy.
Excitement brands traffic in unlocking wonder or thrills, and leverage high-octane advertising or cool celebrity endorsements. Examples include Nike, MTV, GoPro, and Red Bull.
A competent brand is reliable, intelligent, and successful. Brands within this dimension are confident thought leaders and responsible stalwarts of trust.
Competent brands exist across a broad spectrum of archetypes, including the Ruler, the Everyman, and the Sage. They are the brands we trust with the most important things in our lives, including our money, our health, and our safety.
Fittingly, you’ll find competent brand personality types 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 with a sophisticated personality play on our longing for premium, elevated products and experiences like fashion, jewelry, travel, and luxury automobiles. Often embodying the Creator or the Ruler archetypes, sophisticated brands target audiences who only want the best of the best.
Brands with a sophisticated personality cut across industries, but are readily found in fashion, luxury, and automotive. Think Hermes, American Express, Apple, Mercedes, and Nescafé.
Finally, 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.
You’ll find brands with a rugged personality in the Everyman and the Outlaw archetype. Typically imbued with a traditionally masculine vibe, rugged brands roll up their sleeves and give us the tools we need to get outdoors and/or get the job done.
Rugged personality brands 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
Once you have a general sense of which of the above brand personality types best describes your brand, the next step is to define the brand traits that comprise its personality.
Since brand personality traits are ultimately human traits, the best way to define your brand traits is to think of your brand as if it were a person. This is where the psychology of brand personality 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. Think of a brand like Dove vs. a brand like IBM. The way these brands look, feel, and sound in the world is entirely different. The former is driven by emotions like beauty and body positivity, while the latter is driven by intellectual pursuits like data and insight.
Many brands will have a mix of both emotion and intelligence, but understanding where your brand falls on the EQ to IQ brand personality spectrum is the first step in defining its more tangible attributes: its characteristics and behaviors.
Characteristics vs. Behaviors
The other axis of the quadrant of human emotions is a spectrum marked by brand characteristics on one end and brand behaviors on the other.
Your brand characteristics describe how its perceived externally by its various audiences. Just like people have characteristics defined by their height, weight, facial features, and fashion style, brands have characteristics based on the visual and verbal identities. Harley Davidson, for example, is rugged powerful, and masculine.
Your brand behaviors, by comparison, are how it acts in the world—the same way a person would conduct themselves in their day-to-day lives. Red Bull, for example, is daring and bold, sponsoring events around the world that push the limits of extreme performance.
Defining your brand personality starts by deciding which brand adjectives best characterize how your brand looks, feels, sounds, and acts. The best way to do that is to create a brand personality traits list in a team-based brainstorming exercise.
Choosing Your Brand Personality Attributes
Let’s look at a simple post-it note exercise that can help you put the power of collective thinking to work in creating a brand personality traits list.
Gather a team together and have each person come up with as many brand personality attributes as they can in 5 to 10 minutes. Focus on the characteristics and behaviors of your brand and pick an adjective for each attribute.
When it comes to its characteristics, how do you want your brand to look and feel to those who experience it? If it were a person, how would you describe its outward appearance? It is stylish? Corporate? Rugged? Dynamic? Modern?
As far as its behaviors go, ask yourself: how does our brand approach the world? If it were a person, how would we describe its demeanor? Is it bold? Intelligent? Caring? Trustworthy? Insightful? Casual?
Write each brand adjectives idea on its own post-it note, and tack it to a wall or whiteboard.
There’s no right or wrong balance between the numbers of characteristics vs. behaviors you come up with. Use the attributes outlined in the Brand Personality Framework above as a starting point, but don’t let them limit your brainstorming.
After 5 or 10 minutes, stop ideating and start sorting your post-it notes. First, combine all of the duplicates, then group the remaining ideas by theme into separate columns. Ideas like courageous, bold, and daring might be in one column, while ideas like caring, compassionate, and helpful could be in another.
Continue to group and consolidate until you have as few columns as possible. Next, talk through your options among the team and decide which columns are the best contenders for your brand personality attributes and which can be ruled out. Be realistic about how your brand is (or will be) perceived in the world. Remember, your ultimate goal is an authentic brand personality—one that genuinely captures the true essence of your organization.
Ultimately, your goal is to whittle the list down to 4 columns and pick a word for each column that best describes the theme. These 4 words will be your brand personality attributes.
Defining Your Brand Personality Attributes
The final step in defining your brand personality is to come up with short definitions for each of your brand attributes that unpack how they should be interpreted by the creative teams who will use them to bring your brand to life (more on that in the next section).
For each attribute, you can use the other words in the corresponding post-it note column as fodder for your description. Let’s say you’re a fintech brand and your final brand attributes are modern, insightful, confident, and trustworthy. Your brand personality attribute definitions might be something like:
We are sleek, minimalist, and technologically innovative.
We are known for our financial wisdom and intelligence.
We are bold and courageous in the face of market volatility.
We are reliable copilots on the journey to financial freedom.
These four declarative statements are designed to serve as inspiration and guardrails for designers and copywriters as they create the numerous touchpoints where your brand will engage with audiences. As we’ll see next, they should inform everything from your logo to your copywriting to your advertising campaigns and beyond.
How to Implement Your Brand Personality
You brand personality attributes are only useful if they’re actually implemented. That means using them as inspiration in creating the many touchpoints that comprise your brand experience.
Your brand experience is shaped by two fundamental aspects of your brand: its visual identity and its verbal identity. And your brand personality is instrumental in defining how each of these identities comes to life.
Let’s take a look at a few ways your brand personality can—and should—inspire your visual and verbal identity.
Your visual identity is essentially your brand’s look and feel. It’s all the visual manifestations of your brand, including your logo, colors, typography, photography, etc.
A well-defined, authentic brand personality is essential for creating a visual identity system that’s instantly recognizable as your brand’s signature, overarching aesthetic. Your brand personality attributes will define everything from the colors you use to the type of logo choose.
A bold, dynamic brand personality, for example, calls for daring color choices, high contrast design, and energetic photography. A caring, compassionate personality, on the other hand, will come to life in softer shades, muted tones, and humanistic imagery. And brands that are minimalist and modern often feature clean lines and ample negative space.
Your brand’s verbal identity is all the ways your brand comes to life in words, from its type of brand name and tagline to its brand story and messaging. A key part of verbal identity is brand voice—the recognizable style and tone that pervades your brand messaging.
Brand personality is just as important for verbal identity as it is for visual identity.
A brand with a personality that’s corporate and trustworthy will use more formal language in a confident and assured tone, whereas a brand with a hip, youthful personality won’t be afraid to break the rules of grammar and use quirky turns of phrase that its audience understands.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
At the end of the day, there’s only one right way to apply your brand personality across your brand experience: consistently. In fact, one of the most valuable things about defining your brand attributes is that they provide clearly defined creative parameters that you can codify in your brand guidelines for anyone tasked with bringing your brand to life.
By consistently implementing your brand personality in all the numerous iterations of your visual and verbal identity, you will ensure that audiences recognize your brand, regardless of channel or touchpoint.
You’ll start to build the type of deeper, human connections with customers that only an authentic brand can facilitate.
Brand Personality Examples
We’ve mentioned quite a few of them throughout this post, but for strong brand personality examples one need look no further than the world’s most successful brands.
Below are a few brand personality examples from both the B2C and B2B spaces, and from different ends of the brand attribute spectrum, to give you a sense of how these strategic assets drive customer engagement and build brand loyalty in the real world.
Nike’s Brand Personality
For decades now, the Nike brand has been synonymous with athletic greatness. But its brand personality is instantly recognizable both on and off the court.
Nike’s Brand Personality
Visually, the timeless Nike Swoosh is a representation of the winged god after which the brand is named. The brand’s marketing campaigns invariably use dramatic photography to portray the world’s top competitors midstride.
Verbally, there’s no mistaking the brand’s inspirational “Just do it” tagline, while other campaigns have featured encouraging slogans like “It’s only crazy until you do it” and “Don’t wait until you’ve won a ring to play like it.”
Apple’s Brand Personality
If ever there were an unmistakable brand personality, it is Apple’s. Since its earliest days, the company has cultivated a striking brand experiences that urges customers to “Think different.”
Apple’s Brand Personality
So, how does Apple’s brand personality come to life? For starters, no one does design better than Apple. Every product feature is designed with usability in mind. Beyond being maximally user friendly, however, Apple products are simply beautifully made. Every detail is intentional and there’s never any unnecessary complexity.
Apple’s creatively designed products are also designed to inspire creativity in those who use them. Its playful yet powerful ad campaigns remind customers what’s possible with a little ingenuity (and the right devices).
Red Bull’s Brand Personality
Red Bull’s recognizable brand attributes are embodied in everything from its high-flying messaging to its charging bull logo to the extreme sports and events it sponsors. Just as there’s no mistaking the feeling that pounding a Red Bull gives you, there’s also no mistaking the brand’s high-octane brand personality across its brand experience.
Red Bull’s Brand Personality
The brand’s signature blue and red color scheme is now synonymous with action and adventure the world over. From auto racing and rock climbing to skateboarding and cliff diving, Red Bull has extended its adventuresome brand identity far beyond the visual and verbal.
And after years of simple yet clever advertising featuring an immediately recognizable signature animation style, even non-Red Bull drinkers know by now that “Red Bull gives you wings.”
Dove’s Brand Personality
For decades, Dove differentiated itself from the competition by positioning its product as not just soap, but rather as a “beauty bar.” In more recent years, however, the brand has cultivated a uniquely encouraging voice that speaks to its customers about beauty that’s more than just skin deep.
Dove’s Brand Personality
Dove’s is a great example of a personality born from purpose. The brand as it embraces honesty and body positivity in its campaigns, championing self-confidence and #RealBeauty in all shapes and sizes.
In redefining the notion of “beauty,” Dove has managed to create a uniquely authentic brand in an industry that’s increasingly fraught with public perception pitfalls.
Slack’s Brand Personality
The Slack brand personality starts with a name that’s hard to believe made it out of committee. Somehow, however, the brand has been able to coopt a synonym for laziness and turn it into a revolution in workplace communication.
Slack’s Brand Personality
Slack is far from a stodgy business brand, of course. An effortless extension of its name, the company’s brand experience centers on connection and ease of use, especially for the post-pandemic, remote business model.
Slack is all about making work easier, more efficient, even fun. Its breezy brand personality shines through in its brand voice, which is helpful and engaging, like a friendly HR rep introducing you to a new company.
IBM’s Brand Personality
Once upon a time, IBM was essentially the pocket-protector-wearing nerd of brands. The ostensible target of the classic “Get a Mac” ad campaign from Apple, IBM was implied to be anything but cool. The company has since been able to double-down on its technologically sophisticated perceptions, however, and establish itself as one of the most respected B2B brands in the world.
IBM’s Brand Personality
“No one ever gets fired for buying IBM,” the saying goes, implying a brand personality that is maximally trustworthy.
While the sheer scope of its offerings have resulted in a somewhat chaotic and diffuse brand these days, IBM’s most recognizable characteristics still center on eminently practical solutions backed by useful, intelligent expertise addressing the diverse needs of its many audiences.
We may not be able to shake their hands or give them hugs, but as you can see by famous brand personality examples, 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 personality branding will help you craft an authentic, magnetic, and, above all, consistent brand personality that keeps customers coming back, again and again.