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Brand Positioning

Discovering Brand Personality


Discovering Brand Personality

I have helped organizations position their brands through consensus building brand positioning workshops since the mid-1990s.  As a part of that process, I have the workshop participants (mostly organizational leaders) select the brand personality attributes for which they want their brands to stand.

The organizations with which I have worked span a wide range of sizes and industries. They include manufacturing companies, consumer products companies, aging services firms, wealth management firms, medical supply companies, real estate investment trusts, municipalities, high schools, environmental conservation organizations, public service organizations, professional associations and many others.

I thought it would be interesting to identify the most popular personality attributes across all of these organizations.

Following are the most popular personality attributes (in decreasing order of popularity):

•    Innovative (45%)
•    Professional (41%)
•    Responsive (36%)
•    Caring (32%)
•    Reliable (27%)
•    Customer focused (27%)
•    Trustworthy (23%)
•    Service oriented (18%)

Others with frequent mentions:

•    Approachable
•    Collaborative
•    Committed
•    Creative
•    Dedicated
•    Dependable
•    Diverse
•    Dynamic
•    Easy to work with
•    Efficient
•    Entrepreneurial
•    Focused
•    Friendly
•    High quality
•    Honest
•    Inspiring
•    Leader
•    Positive
•    Practical
•    Resourceful
•    Respected
•    Science-driven
•    Visionary
•    Welcoming

Slightly unusual personality attributes:

•    Heroic and proud (a watch brand)
•    Light-hearted (an advertising agency)
•    Low key, not glitzy (a wealth management firm)
•    Non-confrontational (an environmental conservation organization)
•    Servant leader (a local United Way agency)

Overall, my clients have used 140 different words and phrases to describe their brands’ personalities. Each brand describes itself using between 6 and 12 words or phrases, with the average brand using 9 words or phrases.

At The Blake Project, we help brand decision makers arrive at a set of intended brand personality attributes in the following way. First, we survey target customers, workshop participants and other brand stakeholders about the brand’s personality using projective techniques. Then, in the workshop itself, we compile that list of brand personality attributes to stimulate discussion and decisions about the ideal brand personality.

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Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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Eric Brown on November 24th, 2008 said

Hi, Great Post, But at the end of the day, isn’t Brand Personality pretty much aligned with the owners personality, or the CEO’s personality?

Bridget Cavanaugh on November 24th, 2008 said

Thanks for this post. Have used many of these words in the past, but have added a new filter that helps clients to push beyond the adjectives that many “default” to to find the verbs that warrant the adjective. I hold a hard line with clients that branding is behavioral and the brand is what their customer says it is. If they live by their personality… you get the idea….

Try putting a few of your brand words through the verb filter? Can you use it in a sentence as a verb? Can a company service-orient? But it can be fair, smiling, listening, empathetic.

Thanks to @themarketingguy for finding and sharing this on Twitter!


Phill Barufkin on November 24th, 2008 said

Thanks for the post. I have a suggestion for building on this useful technique. While words are fine, stories are better. For over 15 years, I have conducted similar techniques and expanded these types of exercises beyond words to stories. When aiming a brand in the marketplaces, words are helpful but the stories are more poignant, emotive, and actionable.

Brad VanAuken on November 24th, 2008 said

Eric — Yes, for many companies, the brand personality is closely aligned with the leader’s personality. It is not always true however. I have found that it depends on the leader’s style (how much he or she imposes his personality on the organization), the size of the organization, how long the leader has been in charge, whether the leader manages by consensus, whether there was a strong founder who is different from the current leader, etc.

Brad VanAuken on November 24th, 2008 said

Bridget —

Yes, the adjectives must reflect real behaviors. Branding is as much (or more) about delivering on the promise as it is about making the promise. Thank you for suggesting that one must find the verbs that warrant the adjective. I had not previously put the chosen adjectives through that hurdle, but I think I now will.

Brad VanAuken on November 24th, 2008 said

Phill —

I am with you. In branding, stories are very powerful. I talk with my clients all of the time about creating powerful stories. Combining your comment with Bridget’s, I think it would be a very powerful exercise to ask each client to come up with real life stories/proof points for each adjective they intend to have describe their brand before they finalize the list of adjectives. I work with clients to ideate new proof points (actual behavioral changes at customer touchpoints) that validate the intended personality attributes, especially if they vary from past behaviors.

Mario Sanchez Carrion on December 11th, 2008 said

I wonder if there is a correlation between what the executives think about their brand, and what real customers actually perceive.

Ellen Devries on April 06th, 2009 said

As a brand language consultant – I believe in trying to use even more evocative language to describe a brand – so that where people might at first jump at using the term ‘accountable’ what they actually mean is ‘purposeful’ same goes for ‘efficient’ and ‘time-saving’ – what do you think of this? I get the feeling it helps people to own the brand more if they understand the terminology properly? (Helps it look like more of a human exercise too)

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