Characterize your brand personality

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 1, 2002

MARKETERS behind many of the world’s most powerful brands have spent a great deal of time and effort building a personality into their brands.

A brand like Marlboro is made successful by a great brand personality brought to life by the American cowboy. McDonald’s larger than life Ronald McDonald character gives the brand a spirited human personality. The stylish, enduring Nike brand is represented by real-life health and fitness sports moguls like Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi and Tiger Woods.

This relentless effort to build a brand personality stems from the way consumers relate to products and companies as if they were persons. Consider common reactions like, “I think that credit card company is downright rude in its manner of collection”, or “That car dealer’s offer seems really sneaky to me”, or “That real estate company is not friendly at all”.

This tells us that consumer minds work in a personality-driven way that all the more necessitates a marketer to rise to the challenge of creating a personality behind the brand. Justifiably, the brand’s personality should convey a clear and distinct image that is at the same time relevant and differentiated from the rest of competition.

Today’s highly competitive and globalized environment compels marketers to review their brand’s personality or develop one, if they have none. After all, it may be the one and only factor that may differentiate it from competition.

Kevin Lane Keller, a renowned strategic brand management guru aptly defines a brand personality as the values, traits or human characteristics that can be attributed to the brand.

Following are some of the stringent disciplines required to develop a brand personality.

Create and characterize the brand vision. The key is to create a clear brand vision, definition or identity that is greater than the product’s features or attributes for unfortunately, the latter can easily be imitated. A good brand personality must represent the entire organization’s people, culture, programs and values, and not to forget – the customer’s identity and expectations. It must be based on genuine qualities present in the product, service or company.

A brand personality makes a brand more interesting, memorable and difficult to copy. One, it can easily become a medium to symbolize the customer’s identity and two, it represents the organization’s people and culture which may emphasize innovation, quality or customer service.

For example, Singapore Airlines’ Singapore Girl, one of the best brand personality to come out of Southeast Asia epitomizes the airline’s focus on customer service. Or the Energizer bunny, the vigorous, tireless brand personality that keeps on going and going and going just as the battery it
symbolizes runs longer than others.

Create the tie that binds, a personality that provides the emotional link with the customer. The essence of this discipline is to define your target audience clearly. The brand personality need not mimic exactly the target audience’s description or lifestyle. The brand personality may be aspirational or at the very least must be compatible with the target audience. Whichever way, it must match the consumer’s profile and expectations.

The best way is to think about how the product fits into your target audience’s life, what emotional needs it satisfies. This makes the brand more relevant and familiar to your target audience, allowing the user to think of the brand as “my kind of product”.

A classic example is the Harley Davidson motorcycle which has turned to become more than a motor bike but has transcended to a self-expression, an attitude and experience, a lifestyle and vehicle to express who the rider is.

Harley Davidson motorcycles are not exactly the best functional motorcycles around. In fact, Japanese bikes are far better, more capable of greater speeds, quiet and smooth rides as well as sport the latest digital features and designs. In contrast, Harley Davidsons are the biggest, heaviest, loudest motorcycles on the road. Ironically, it is this sound, feel and look that capture the brand idea of the “most macho motorcycle on the road” and has largely been a part of the experience and Harley Davidson phenomenal success.

The Harley Davidson brand personality – a macho, freedom-seeking person who is willing to break out from the mould and confining societal norms of dress and behavior. Ever wonder why Harley Davidson enthusiasts sport tattoos, black leather jackets, heavy boots, gloves, chrome and other macho
accessories at Harley rallies?

A positively appealing and likeable, strong visual symbol can help cue the brand personality thus reinforce the brand’s attributes. For example, the cartoon-character symbol of the Pillsbury Doughboy is a likeable symbol that reflects the desired attribute of bakery products that is freshness. The Pillsbury Doughboy represents a brand personality of a happy chef who
loves to bake fresh-bakery goodies.

Reinforce and sustain the brand personality in visual symbols, experience and events via a total brand experience. Where there may or not be visual symbols, the brand’s personality must nevertheless be integrated to the actual experience with the brand to create a positively, deep relationship between the customer and the brand.

Year 2000 is Apple’s come-back year with the brand earning a rank as number 36 overall and number 11 in technology in Interbrand’s World’s Most Valuable Brands survey. The Apple Macintosh brand is perceived by many of its users as friendly, unpretentious, and easy to use. There is a massive awareness and recognition of the popular, simple Mac symbol of a rainbow colored apple with a bite.

One Philippine-original brand personality, the Jollibee mascot, representing the brand idea “Jolly workers, busy as bees” has created a franchise with families and children. Its image truly represents the hardworking Filipinos love for life and family, captured in images of relatively middle-income
families enjoying Jollibee value meals, birthday celebrations and fun activities with the entire brood in Jollibee outlets.

Create a brand personality as soon as you can. It is never too late or too early to develop a brand personality. An example of a brand in the preintroduction stage of its service life cycle is Asian Hospital, a soon to open tertiary care hospital in Filinvest, Alabang. This early, through its marketing communications efforts, hopefully made real and sustained during its operations stage, it aims to communicate a brand positioning of “patient centered care in a total healing environment”.

This positioning statement has been fleshed-out in a brand personality described as a warm, friendly medical doctor with compassion for his patients and passion for his craft. A doctor, much like Patch Adams who firmly believes that his relationship with his patients goes beyond the usual examinations and prescriptions.

Creating a brand personality is by no means an easy task. But you can begin the process by describing your brand in one short paragraph as you would describe a real person based on that person’s expectations, attitudes and behavior. If your brand where to come alive as a person, who would it be, who would it be like, who would it talk to, who would its friends be, where would it live,
what would it wear, what places would it frequent………