Standing out from the crowd is tough! It is common to find products, services and brands making the same claims. In other words, occupying the same brand positioning spaces. For example, almost every business service claims to improve business efficiency. In consumer goods, almost every washing powder washes clean. Most food also tastes good, and nearly every feature film entertains. These are examples of ‘basic’ or ‘generic’ category benefits – they match the most basic or prevalent consumer needs.
This is where the idea of brand personality has a role to play. Brand personality can transform your brand into a super brand. Thus as well as selecting distinctive benefits, communication of benefits should also be distinctive. All needs distilling into an idea that is clear and compelling.
So what is brand personality?
Brand personality confers human characteristics on a brand; physical characteristics, beliefs and behaviours – these guide how the brand looks, speaks, what it thinks, believes and how it behaves.
While there are usually few benefits to express, there are almost limitless ways to express the benefits. For example, with candour, authority or through humour.
A brand personality helps engage
A great deal of psychological literature suggests that people have a tendency to perceive those they like as more similar than those they dislike. People also have a tendency to perceive themselves in a positive light and seek congruence (1).
Thus a brand personality helps attract and engage. Consider the criteria involved in selecting a mate. Other than physical attributes it mostly comes down to personality and the consequential benefits of a personality. Beyond the obvious, “And Mrs. Ecclestone, what attracted you to the multi-millionaire Bernie?” other potential benefits include reinforcing self-knowledge, self-consistency and self-esteem (2).
Brand personality also enriches differences and helps attract and cement relationships. There are three main strategic applications or benefits of a brand personality (Figure 1) (3). To:
- express or enhance either functional or emotional benefits (these are essential criteria for strong brands). Mr Muscle adds strength to a cleaning brand, Fairy suggests a delicate touch or care, while Nike suggests those who wear their sports-wear are winners (4).
- reflect consumer types/enable self-expression. BMW creates stylish automobiles (this is aspirational to non-owners and confers ‘cool’ on owners), Fosters imbues macho and comedy to beer drinking (and thus confers self-esteem and sociableness on the drinker), while Apple suggests high style, easy communication (and confers cool and feel-good in belonging to an ‘elite’ group).
- strengthen consumer-brand relationships; The ‘cool’ of Starbucks is attractive as a place to chill while John Lewis is trusted as a place to shop (because of their clear and consistent trading and returns policies). The passion and success of Manchester United not only generates extraordinary physical support but club shirts are labels (akin to high-style and premium brands).
Archetypes add meaning to brands
Considering and applying archetypes to brands helps distil and define a brand’s personality. Archetypes came to popular consciousness through the work of Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Carl Jung – the founder of modern psychology. An archetype is collectively inherited unconscious idea, a pattern of thought, behaviour, image, etc., that is universally present myths, legends, literature and art. Archetypes are neither good nor bad, they simply exist. Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few notable, recurring archetypes, “the chief among them being” (according to Jung) “the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother … and her counterpart, the maiden, and lastly the anima in men (the feminine side in a man’s psyche) and the animus in women (the masculine side in a woman’s psyche)” (5).
Humans automatically inherit archetypes and enrich them based on our own experiences. These archetypal images call people to fulfil their basic human needs and motivations. Mark and Pearson (6) summarised these needs along two axes: belonging/enjoyment versus independence/fulfilment and stability/control versus risk/mastery.
The strongest brands are clear and familiar archetypes
Though it is likely that few were deliberately designed with archetypes in mind! Figure 2 shows the twelve main archetypes mapped on two axes, together with examples of well-known brands that fit each archetype. Some will be readily understood and others may trigger subliminal thoughts. Virgin will be familiar to many as an Outlaw brand. Think Robin Hood. A challenger to authority, taking from the rich and ‘evil’ (as they have variously portrayed established national airlines, banks and railway companies) and giving to the ‘poor’. Think also Zorro and Rebel without a Cause. This is a useful positioning for pioneering brands and those taking on the establishment.
Archetypes add meaning and convey messages that verbal and written information cannot. They help bring brands alive. They are powerful in revealing new ideas to help brands challenge category conventions, stand-out and reconnect with consumers. Understanding the archetypal nature and power of a brand is the first step to realising the strategic benefits outlined in Figure 1. Archetypes can also help explain brand successes and failures; brand marketing activity that correlates most strongly with archetypes tends to be more successful and value enhancing (and vice versa) (6). Once you name your archetype and understand how it works, the more you can express it, use it and avoid career-limiting mistakes!
The right positioning, personality and archetype for your brand will depend on the market in which you compete, your customer segments and their needs, the positioning spaces occupied by competitor brands, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses.
- As the world of search engine marketing relegates brands to a few keywords, don’t be suckered into dumbing down your brand. Invest in a colourful brand personality to be seen and heard. If you are #2 or #3 in a category, this could give you an edge to overtake a competitor.
- Understanding and optimising brands transform the ability to compete. So search for and express the distinctive and engaging combination of personality traits to build consumer-brand relationships. If products are people, then brands are friends or loved ones.
- A distinctive brand personality and archetype will also aid brand management. If you have a service glitch, customers will more forgiving.
- For service or digital brands, that customers meet through people, such as in call or service centres, a brand personality or archetype blueprint will help staff to communicate and behave consistently.
- A good place to start is with a brand and competitor assessment that encompasses personality and archetypes.
Now read how brand storytelling helps too.
- Sirgy, M. J. Self-congruity: Toward a Theory of Personality and Cybernetics, United States. Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 14, (1986).
- Sirgy, M. J. “Self-concept in consumer behaviour: A critical review,” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 287-300, (1982).
- Ahmand, Anees and Thyagaraj, K.S. Understanding the Influence of Brand Personality on Consumer Behaviour (2015).
- Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. The figure of Nike also appears on the bonnet of Rolls Royce cars, ‘the best cars in the world’.
- Jung, Carl. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Second Edition (1996).
- Mark, Margaret, Pearson, Carol S. The Hero and the Outlaw – Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes (2001).
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Batman vs. Superman 2016.